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Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

San Ramon...
posts: 3
Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

I want to do a road trip during the 3rd week in February with the final destination being Death Valley National Park. I live in San Ramon, CA and would like the trip to include some other stops. A friend suggested the road trip to include Hwy 395, with Bishop and Mammoth Lakes and then travel to Death Valley?? This is the first road trip I am putting together on my own and SO NEED HELP. I am a woman travelling alone and definitely need it to be safe. I'd appreciate your help. I am thinking a 5 day road trip.

Napa, CA
Destination Expert
for Napa
posts: 5,194
reviews: 22
1. Re: Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

Your friend's route is the most scenic but adverse weather conditions could make it dangerous. If the weather is clear, go for it. If not, take the I-5 - Bakersfield - Mojave - Ridgecrest route.

It looks like you will be traveling during President's weekend. Make sure you have reservations for lodging. That's a very busy time in Death Valley and also the Eastern Sierra.

Los Angeles...
posts: 3,677
reviews: 20
2. Re: Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

I agree with your fiend. I'd take I-80 to Reno and then south on US 395 then CA 136 and CA 190 to Death Valley. On the return you could take the quick trip home either on i-5 or CA 99.

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
posts: 39,576
reviews: 74
3. Re: Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

Here is a thread with some useful information: tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g143021-i2027-k428… Your neighbor, SFSusanW, made this drive in March 2011. Here is the itinerary she planned: tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g143021-i2027-k429… and here is her trip report: tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g143021-i2027-k432…

San Ramon...
posts: 3
4. Re: Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

THANK YOU EVERYONE! I am taking your suggestions and I am also looking at the itinerary SFSusanW posted (thank you PacificNWFamily for the info!). What an incredible source of information this sight is and again, thank you all for your posts. I feel much better about putting my first road trip together! = )

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
posts: 10,874
reviews: 42
5. Re: Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

Frisco Roadrunner is a hen, and wouldn’t send you on any roads that aren’t well traveled, with plenty of services. At this time of year, you just need to keep weather conditions in mind.

If you were making this trip in temperate weather, most of us would suggest either Tioga or Sonora Pass and then 395. This works especially well with a starting point near wy 580. As others have said, in winter you need to go up to Tahoe and over Kingsbury Grade if you want to take 395, because the trans-Sierra state highways are closed. It’s doable, but in January and February there is always the chance for storms with lots of snow.

Hwy 395 is right next to the east side of the Sierra Nevada with a high point of 8,100’, and can be windy as well as icy in winter, but if you’re up for that kind of trip it’s one of the most beautiful rides in California. In addition to Tahoe, you’ll get to see the Basque communities around Minden and Gardnerille; Topaz Lake; the hamlets of Coleville and Walker and their antique and craft shops (may have seasonal schedules); the quaint county seat of Bridgeport and its gorgeous wedding-cake historic courthouse; Lee Vining and Mono Lake (two visitor centers to help you enjoy it and several places to get close to the tufa and bird hangouts); the June Lakes and Mammoth Lakes all-year recreation areas; the Eastern Sierra “metropolis” of Bishop (Laws Museum for railroad history and local culture); Independence (county seat with lots of fine old houses); Manzanar, and Lone Pine (Mt. Whitney, Alabama Hills, Movie museum). Along with the weather issues, the Tahoe route will add about 80 miles to your trip.

You can pick the safe choice without having to settle for I-5, and take Hwy 99 if you have a bit more time and want more variety. There is an air museum at Atwater; several square blocks of antique malls and quaint shops and restaurants at Clovis (east of Fresno); a historic Swedish settlement (Kingsburg), Chinatown (Hanford), and the only U.S. town founded by freed slaves (Allensworth—now a state historic park; keep going south on 43 from Hanford); and all the sights and attractions of Bakersfield (go to that forum where the locals know more than I can tell you). From Bakersfield, you can take either Hwy 58 or 178. Tehachapi Pass, 58, is all freeway and somewhat hilly, with lots of green. On the way you’ll find the Cesar Chavez Center and Tehachapi Loop railroad grade (a full circle), both at the town of Keene; and a nice preserved historic district in the town of Tehachapi. If you pick 178, much of it is a rural road along the Kern River and Lake Isabella. This is a popular water recreation area; the lake is artificial, created by the damming of the Kern River for flood control.

Both 58 and 178 have towns or smaller communities where you can stay, eat, and get supplies. Both will take you to 395 and eventually to Ridgecrest or Lone Pine, the western gateway towns to Death Valley. if you have time, Lone Pine is a wonderful town with plenty to do, and the views of Mt. Whitney in winter will be splendid. In winter, you won't be able to drive all the way to the base camp where the climb starts, but you can still get to the Alabama Hills where many movies have been filmed.

San Ramon...
posts: 3
6. Re: Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

What a wealth of information! Thank you so much. Many of the places you mentioned weren't even on my radar and sound amazing. I hope the weather will cooperate and I can see as much as possible. Thank you again for the wonderful information.

7. Re: Best route to Death Valley from Bay Area

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