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Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

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Sydney, Australia
posts: 11
Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

Hello, We are interested in traveling from Lake Tahoe down to Los Angeles via the eastern Serrias (Hwy 395) or something close to this route in late December.

We will have spent a week at the snow at Squaw Valley beforehand and weather depending we will decide if its viable or safe enough to attempt the trip south. Is it possible to take this route in winter (we are from Australia)? We will have a hire car and have set aside 2 days to get to LA... hopefully making use of the mid-morning to mid-afternoon hours to get through.

What would be the total travel time... 9 hours or so? Also are there any side trips or places that are 'must see', which are still accessible at this time of the year along this route? As we are planning 2-3 to get down to LA where would be a good place to breakup the trip and spend a night or two? Bishop?

What is it like to visit the Death Valley area at this time of the year? Any suggestions on a route itinerary for Death Valley or over to the Mojave? Many thanks in advance. Cheers!

Santa Clarita...
posts: 1,159
reviews: 4
1. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

The weather will determine the traveling day down Hwy 395. If

there's a storm and it's snowing, wind (blowing snow with whiteout

conditions) or ice, the CHP will probably close it or make other restrictions and require chains.

The CA Dept of Transportation does its best to maintain, clear and keep the road safe as possible because of the ski areas and those who are traveling to/from.

For road information enter 395: www.dot.ca.gov/

Webcam 395 and 203 (Mammoth Mt) and on the left you can check out "winter driving tips" - www.dot.ca.gov/dist9/cctv/

Roads should be good south of Bishop. Death Valley is a great place but reservations are required, especially with late December.

Edited: 3:55 pm, July 10, 2010
Sydney, Australia
posts: 11
2. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

Cheers mate, thanks for the info.

posts: 10,878
reviews: 12
3. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

We drove on 395 from Tahoe to Mammoth and back over MLK weekend which is in January. The drive to Mammoth was beautiful. The drive back was completely treacherous. No road closures and I didn’t see any chain restrictions. The wind was howling and snow was blowing across the road which made it super slick. A Tractor trailer had blown over in the southbound lane but our north bound lane was unaffected. So though it wasn’t actively snowing the snow was blowing like it was. I have never driven under worse conditions. Though the tractor trailer was blocking most of southbound lanes there was no back log of cars because driving down and driving back no one was on the road. Probably a testament to those who understand how bad conditions can get north of Mammoth. If it’s sunny, I’d do it but if it’s not, I wouldn’t

San Diego...
posts: 7,455
reviews: 29
4. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

You should stay on the 395 only until it splits and the 14 starts, then take the 14 into Los Angeles. If you stayed on the 395 you would end up in Victorville, then you would have to take the 15 south to the 10 west to Los Angeles. But that would be a longer drive, and not necessary. Approximately when you get to an area called "Inyokern" you would get on the 14 south towards Los Angeles. You would go through Red Rock Canyon State Park, then the towns of Mojave, Lancaster and Palmdale, then eventually you would meet up with Interstate 5 south at Santa Clarita, then just take Interstate 5 south to Los Angeles. Total distance from Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles by this route would be about 450 miles, about 9 hours of driving plus any stops.

There is a great deal to see along the 395, however most of the mountainous parts of the area won't be accessible in December due to snow and road closures. Mammoth Mountain is a major ski resort, so that will be accessible. Your drive along the 395 should still be a spectacular drive, with the eastern escarpment of the Sierras visible much of the way on your right as you drive the 395. At Lone Pine, you will have a view of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the United States except Alaska. The scenic Alabama Hills are just a 5-minute drive west of Lone Pine. In Death Valley, you can visit Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere. The oldest trees in the world that reproduce by seed are found at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, east of Big Pine, but I think that forest may not be accessible in December. For more information on this region see these web sites: http://395.com , http://www.thesierraweb.com/ , www.totalescape.com/tripez/trips/395.html , http://jrabold.net/mammoth/ and http://fs.usda.gov/inyo/

Destination Expert
for Kohala Coast, Island of Hawaii
posts: 8,595
reviews: 1
5. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

From Squaw Valley, I would allow at least 11 hours drive. You will have prepared for winter conditions if you are staying in Tahoe, so you need to make sure and take the warm clothing, extra food, water, tire chains, shovel, snow scraper for the windshield, etc.

I would also make a point of driving during the warmer daylight hours, and be off the road by about 4pm. At that time, the sun will be over the Sierras and the roads will get even icier.

If there is a storm forecast, make sure and check the conditions periodically. The weather conditions may be substantially different from one area to the next. Generally, it will get warmer and drier the farther south you go after about Mammoth.

Also have a driving plan if 395 is closed.

San Diego...
posts: 7,455
reviews: 29
6. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

The hours of daylight are very short in December, in fact Dec. 20 is the shortest day of the year. So you may want to consider dividing this trip up into 2 days, staying overnight somewhere along the way such as Lee Vining, Mammoth, Independence, Bishop or Lone Pine. Then you could do your driving only during the sunniest, warmest parts of the days.

Edited: 5:09 pm, July 28, 2010
Sydney, Australia
posts: 11
7. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

Thanks people, this is great info. Yup! we are planning to do the run south from Tahoe over 2-days... if the weather conditions are good on route 395.

A few more questions here: What are/ could be the alternate routes to 395 south to LA from Tahoe along the eastern side of the Serria's?

Also where would be a nice place to stop for a night during a this 2-day trip south.. say a nice log-cabin somewhere, any ideas?

San Diego...
posts: 7,455
reviews: 29
8. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

On the eastern side of the Sierras there is really no choice except for the 395. A possible alternate route would be to go into Nevada, down Highway 95 to Las Vegas, then to Los Angeles, but that would be even longer, and a terribly boring drive through endless deserts. Another alternative would be to go through the central valley of California. Interstate 80 west from Lake Tahoe to Sacramento, then Highway 99 south to Interstate 5 south to Los Angeles. Also a very long, boring drive through the flat Central Valley. In December and commonly through the winter, the infamous "Tule Fog" blankets much of the Central Valley and makes driving difficult and dangerous, with very low visibility. I think the 395 is still your best bet, but it all depends on weather conditions.

The midpoint of your drive would be approximately in the area of Bishop or Independence, so you could look around there for lodging.

If you wanted to visit Yosemite National Park on your way, you would need to drive on the western side instead, as the only part of the park likely to be open at that time is Yosemite Valley itself. The eastern gate (Tioga Pass) will be closed for the season at that time.

posts: 32
reviews: 10
9. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

My family has made the trip twice in the winter months for our daughters State Ski Race in Mammoth. Yes it can be treacherous, however, you must moniter the storms for the week you leave Tahoe. From Squaw get back on 80 head down to Reno 395 then go South. If you stop in Mammoth the skiing will be incredible. Can be very windy and Icy but beautiful and adventurous.

Amazingly beautiful drive.

I drove down 395 to Palmdale for family business in August.A must stop is Eric Schat's famous bakery in Bishop. Once at Mohave stay south to avoid going East to Barstow. Head straight to PalmdaleLancaster-only place to stay is the new Embassy Suite in Palmdale.WOW more like a business luxury hotel. Then cross SouthWEST over to Santa Clarita landing in the Northwestern part of LA. If you choose the SouthEAST San Bernardino route it is not as desirable...depending on your destination in LA

Redlands, California
posts: 4,635
reviews: 26
10. Re: Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via Hwy 395 in December

We have done this drive numerous times during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King weekend, and President's weekend. We have had some hideous drives! This road can be very slick after dark. We will be driving to L.A. in January, taking two cars. I think I'll take I-5. DH will take 395 and I wish him luck!

If you make this drive, there are quite a few decent hotels mid-way. We either stay at the Elms, in Bishop, or Ray's Den, in Independence. These are both 2-star, spotlessly clean motels.

We usually eat at the Petite Pantry in Bishop. They serve homemade food, both authentic Mexican and real American diner food. Yum!