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Death Valley 2-day itinerary

Ann Arbor, Michigan
posts: 36
reviews: 7
Death Valley 2-day itinerary

Planning to visit DV from Las Vegas(LV). Final destination is Simi Valley, CA.

Day-1 (Sun, 12/23): Drive from LV to DV via Jubilee Pass and visit the following places in that order with a late lunch stop at 49ers in Furnace Creek.

1) Badwater basin

2) Natural Bridge

3) Devil's Golf Course

4) Artist's Drive/Palette

5) Golden Canyon Trail

6) Zabriskie Point

7) Dante's View

Then drive to Beatty for an overnight stay.

Day-2 (Mon, 12/24):

8) Drive from Beatty on 95 and 267 to get to Scotty's Castle.

9) Ubehebe Crater

10) Drive on Scotty's castle road and 190 to get to Mesquite Sand Dunes

11) Mosaic Canyon

12) Darwin Falls

Then drive on 190/395 to get to LA/Simi Valley in about 4 hours (probably late at night)

Some questions:

a) I won't have a 4WD or a Jeep. Are the roads and destinations suggested above ok?

b) Is the above itinerary doable considering the short winter days? I can start early and am used to long days.

c) I can easily skip Scotty's castle to make is more workable. What other places could i skip (Ubehebe Crater is a must-go) to cram this in 2 days?

d) Would you change the order or move things between Days-1 and 2 ?

e) Is my plan to enter via the Jubilee pass the best way or are other ways more effecient?

f) Would park facilities be closed on 12/24 and 12/25?

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
posts: 10,449
reviews: 41
1. Re: Death Valley 2-day itinerary

With only parts of two days to spend in the park, I wouldn’t suggest entering on Jubilee Pass and north on Badwater Road unless you have some special reason for wanting to. It’s very scenic and I would certainly suggest it if you had more time. However, it adds almost an hour, and the southern 50 miles of Badwater Road are more about long-range vistas of the mountains and valley than specific natural wonders. The only real specific landmark on this stretch is Ashford Mill, the ruins of an ore smelter for mines in the nearby mountains. There’s little to see, the mines are not accessible except by a long and strenuous hike, and IMO it is not worth adding that much time. The main natural wonders that you want to see are in the northern 17 miles of Badwater Road.

If you take this route in and then 190 east to Dante’s View, the best way to Beatty is to go back on 190 west and continue on it to Beatty Cutoff Road. A route you may find on some map programs is east on 190 to Death Valley Junction, CA 127 and NV 373 north, but this is 5-6 miles longer and far less interesting.

From Las Vegas to Pahrump, Shoshone, and Jubilee Pass, including the trip to Dante’s View and ending in Beatty, will be close to 300 miles.

It’s shorter and just as scenic to go from Pahrump to Death Valley Junction, enter the park on 190 and go to Dante’s View first, then Zabriskie Point. After Zabriskie Point, you come to the 190/Badwater Road junction, and you could go down Badwater Road and see Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater, Natural Bridge, Artist’s Drive, and Golden Canyon. If you do it in that order, you’ll make a loop trip south and back north with a minimum of crossing over the road. It’s 17 miles from the 190 junction to Badwater.

Rather than doing Badwater Road first, you might make the 1-mile detour to Furnace Creek where the Visitor Center is, so you can see the park movie and exhibits and get your official map after paying the entrance fee. A little time there will give you a better idea of what you’re seeing. You could have lunch at that time or decide to wait until after the Badwater sights.

If you do this rather than the Jubilee route, the distance from Las Vegas to Beatty, including Dante's View and Badwater Road, will be closer to 200 miles.

I don’t know why you are staying in Beatty, but if you can get a vacancy at one of the park resorts and it fits into your budget, that is a far better choice. It will mean less time driving back and forth and a more authentic experience. Beatty is a nice little town, which you already know if you've read my User's Guide to Beatty on the Neavda forum, but it’s still a town. Staying in Death Valley will put you in natural surroundings with the magnificent landscapes all around, a chance to see the natural vegetation and probably some wildlife, and dark night skies. Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells Village are well situated for your itinerary and the things you want to do.

The ride from Beatty to Scotty’s Castle on 95 and 267 is questionable. North Highway (aka Castle Road) within the park is closed east of the Castle because of flashflood damage. This happened in the summer and there is no estimate on when it might be fixed. From the Castle down to 190, the North Highway is open. So from Beatty, you’d have to take NV Hwy 374 (with an optional stop at Rhyolite ghost town), then Mud Canyon Road and Castle Road north.

The Castle tour lasts about an hour, and there are grounds to walk around, a visitor center with exhibits, Scotty’s grave, the 1930s boneyard with surplus building materials and dead equipment, and other features. Since you are going to Ubehebe regardless, it’s worthwhile to see the Castle. The Castle and the park Visitor Center are open every day of the year, including Christmas Day. Castle tours are given daily, but on Christmas there are usually no special programs at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center other than the regular park movie. The Crater is a unique and interesting part of Death Valley, and the time you spend there will depend on whether you want to hike down into the crater or around the rim. Just to go there and see it will not take lots of time.

Devil’s Cornfield and the Sand Dunes are also open as to time commitment. Most people want to spend some time walking around in the dunes. You can pull over anywhere there is space to get clear of the traffic lane, but the closest place to walk to them is a marked asphalt parking area off Hwy 190, which also has an outhouse. Mosaic Canyon is a hike, but it doesn’t have to be long and strenuous. You can see some of the beautiful polished white walls and broken rock surfaces with a walk of 20-30 minutes. This will be very near Stovepipe Wells resort; you can stop there for a bite or wait until Panamint Springs, another 30 miles west and next to the Darwin Springs road.

As for access in a regular car, the Devil’s Golf Course, Natural Bridge, and Mosaic Canyon roads are graded gravel that’s maintained regularly. They are fine for any vehicle driven carefully. The road to Darwin Falls from near Panamint Springs often requires 4wd and/or high clearance. It can be rough enough that I would seldom suggest a regular car, especially in winter when there may have been rain. Also, by the time you do the other things, it will be afternoon when you get to Darwin Springs. It is a riparian environment with lots of vegetation and high walls, so there isn’t full sunlight even in much of the afternoon, and you’ll have limited time to get there and explore before it will be too dark to see anything.

Finally, after a full day of exploring Death Valley, it’s a long haul to Simi Valley. From Beatty to the Castle and the Crater, then the places along 190, if you go out to 395, the day’s mileage will be close to 400. Considering all the sightseeing and hiking, this can be a fatiguing day. West of Panamint Springs, Hwy 190 becomes narrow and twisty with steep drops, where there is no room for error or drowsiness. If you must do this at night, I would suggest not taking 395, but turning south at Panamint Valley Road (the major junction just east of Panamint Springs) and going through Trona and Ridgecrest. This also cuts off a few miles.

If possible, I wouldn’t suggest trying to make Simi Valley the same night. Can you add one more night and maybe stay at Stovepipe Wells or Panamint Springs? That will give you a desert experience that you’ll have missed if you spent the first night at Beatty, and you’ll be fresh for the morning’s drive. There are also lodgings at Ridgecrest, Mojave, and Lancaster.

Edited: 11:29 pm, October 21, 2012
Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 48,035
reviews: 42
2. Re: Death Valley 2-day itinerary

If you want to drive over Jubilee Pass you can take Old Spanish Trail from -160 first but its poorly signposted. I'd do as FR has said and drive via Pahrump, Bell Vista/State Line rd to DV Junction and to Dante;s View after that.

Ann Arbor, Michigan
posts: 36
reviews: 7
3. Re: Death Valley 2-day itinerary

Excellent suggestions FR!!

I will enter park via 160-Death Valley Junction-190.

And I will probably add 1 more day to the trip for a total of about 3 days.

I was planning on Beatty assuming that I won't find acco inside the park. If I find acco, i will stay at Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells village.

Day-1: Dante's view, Zabriskie Point, Devil's Golf Course, Badwater Basin, Natural Bridge, Artist's Drive/Palette, Golden Canyon (I might have to skip Golden Canyon and backtrack another day to complete as it seems like a lot to cover in a day, doesn't it?). This day would include 1mi RT treks at Badwater Basin & Natural Bridge.

Day-2: Scotty's Castle, Ubehebe Crater, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Salt Creek trail, Golden Canyon (backtrack from Day-1, 2mi RT trek).

Is Devil's Cornfield nice?

Why is 95-267 not a good idea from Beatty to Ubehebe Crater?

Sand Dunes are about 2-3mi RT trek, right?

Day-3: Mosaic Canyon (1mi RT trek), Darwin's Falls (2mi RT trek), maybe stop over at Red Rock Canyon State Park for a couple of hours on the way back to Simi Valley.

Where can one get good views of the Sierra Nevada range from the east side? A slight detour from 190 onto 395? Eastern Sierra Visitor Center is only 24mi detour.

Some of the above plan will depend on accommodation. Lots of backtracking if we stay at Beatty.

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
posts: 10,449
reviews: 41
4. Re: Death Valley 2-day itinerary

I'll respond to a couple of your questions now, and I'll be back later for more detail after letting other people chime in.

The reason not to take 95 and 267 in Nevada is ROAD CLOSURE. The US and Nevada highways are OK, but the park road that takes up where NV 267 ends is closed because of storm damage. It has been closed since August and there is no estimated date for reopening. There is no bypass; the only alternative is Hwy 374 from Beatty and Daylight Pass into the park.

Devil's Cornfield is an area where a plant called arrowweed grows in formations that resemble an Iowa cornfield. The individual plants even look a little like corn. They are called arrowweed because it's believed that past Native American residents used the straight stems to make arrow shafts. This is just east of the Sand Dunes, and like the Dunes, it offers great shadow patterns when the sun is low.

The Sand Dunes walk is whatever time and distance you want. From the parking lot off 190, it's only a couple hundred yards to the sand. The main vegetation is mesquite trees and creosote bushes (rustle some of the foliage in your hands and your nose will tell you how they got their name). If you go in the morning, you can find tracks from wildlife that forages at night: coyote, kit fox, bird, and even beetle tracks (those look like a round black olive and the prints resemble zippers). You might luck out and see a sidewinder rattlesnake track, a series of loose S shapes. Reptiles can't control their body temperature, so the sidewinder’s body is built to move in looping motions like a spring, putting only small patches of skin on the ground at any time.

If you’re adding a day to your DV stay, definitely go to Lone Pine and the visitor center. You can see Mt. Whitney from there. At that vantage point, it does not look like the tallest peak. It’s about perspective; a nearer mountain called Lone Pine Peak looks higher. In warm weather you can drive all the way from Lone Pine to the Whitney Portal base camp where the climb starts (about 8 miles). In winter, the upper portion of the road may be closed. but you can still drive to the Alabama Hills, 2 miles west of town, which has been a popular movie filming area. Lone Pine also has a movie museum and several hometown businesses that deal in Eastern Sierra and Native American specialties or outdoor recreation goods. You could spend a day or more in and around Lone Pine (I’ve been there many times, but when I was working in DV this summer I spent a weekend in Lone Pine). With an added day, you could enjoy several of its attractions.

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 48,035
reviews: 42
5. Re: Death Valley 2-day itinerary

Some of the best pictures on the Eastern Sierras are from 136 before you reach the VIC. Stop the car and shoot. Alabama Hills in front and Sierras beyond. On the way south from Lone Pine on 395 there's a parkinglot for Fossil Falls. Be careful. Rocks are sharp. Wear sturdy shoes.

6. Re: Death Valley 2-day itinerary

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