If I leave Las Vegas around 10AM will I have time to explore Death Valley and then drive to Bishop for the night?
It will be a long day and you'll see just some of the major highlights, but it can be done. The total distance, excluding any exra side trips, is about 350-375 miles. And it will probably leave you wanting to come back and see all the rest of Death Valley and the eastern Sierra!
Here is just one of a number of possible itineraries.
From Las Vegas, go through Pahrump and Death Valley Junction (take a picture of the quaint old Amargosa Hotel and Opera House), then SR 190 west.
Dante's View Point is off 190. Take a 14-mile paved side road to a vista area where you can look out over much of the enormous expanse of salt, sand, rock, and (yes) water that is Death Valley.
Back on 190, continue west and see Zabriskie Point, another spectacular view.
A short distance farther is the junction with Badwater Road. The lowest point in the Americas is 17 miles south (left). Golden Canyon is one of the first stops, on the left; it is one of the most beautiful hikes in the park. You'll be coming back this way, so you might choose to take a short walk now or on the return trip. For your reference, you are now about 150 miles into your trip.
Also on this road are Devil's Golf Course, a huge area of mud, sand, and salt that has formed fanciful crystals and pinnacles over eons of flooding and evaporation. It is a short graded gravel road off the paved highway.
Don't turn onto Artist's Drive yet; save it for the return trip. Continue down to Badwater, where you can walk all you wish. Be sure to have water, sunglasses, and hat; there is no shade or any vegetation higher than a few inches, and the surface is snow-white.
Badwater is the farthest south you need to go for the main sights of interest. Return north and take Artist's Drive, which leads to a place where mineral oxides have colored the rocks vivid shades of green, pink, purple, etc.
At the badwater Road-190 junction, turn left. Note the historic Furnace Creek Inn, a 1920s Spanish style resort; the public is welcome to look around and enjoy the gardens. A mile farther is Furnace Creek Ranch, a bigger, more casual resort (lodging, store, restaurant, gas). The park visitor center is just past it, and it's worth a stop to learn more about DV. If you have not already paid a park entrance fee or bought the America the Beautiful outdoor recreation pass, this is where you can do so.
Continuing north on 190, you will be gradually climbing in elevation. You'll pass turnoffs for Harmony Borax Works (the first profitable borax operation in DV, from the 1880s) and Salt Creek (habitat of the desert pupfish). Near Salt Creek, you will be at sea level.
The road to Scotty's Castle is just past Salt Creek. You'll have to decide if you have time for this; from 190 it's about 35 miles one way. From this same point, to get to Bishop, stay on 190 passsing the Sand Dunes (you can pull off anywhere and walk around; at the point where the road is closest to the dunes, there are exhibits). Stove Pipe Wells resort is on this road and will be your last real chance to stock up on anything for 80 miles. There is a small resort to the west at Panamint Springs with delicious meals, but the supplies are very limited and the cost of gas is usually the highest in DV (SPW is generally lowest).
From SPW to Bishop is 145 miles or so. You will pass the towns of Lone Pine, Independence, and Big Pine, where you'll find most visitor services. They are attractive small towns, so look around if time permits. Lone Pine has a good visitor center just as you enter town from the east, and it is the gateway to Mt. Whitney as well as Death Valley. You can drive to Whitney Portal and see the Alabama Hills, where many Western and adventures movies were filmed. Independence is very small, but it is the Inyo county seat and has a fine museum.
None of these roads are freeways or expressways, so you will not be averaging 65-70 mph. If you take time to enjoy all the sights, it could take 8 hours or more. If you need to leave Las Vegas this late and must stay over in Bishop, I suggest making a reservation to be sure you don't end up there late at night with no place to stay.
Thanks Frisco Roadrunner. You've given me such wonderful, detailed information. I'm staying in Bishop since the motels I've checked in Lone Pine are booked. I think I'll leave Las Vegas around 8AM' this will give me additional time. I have allowed 14 days for my trip to LV to Death Valley to Yosemite and then back to Las Vegas. Coming back from Yosemite I'll be heading south thru Bakersfield or maybe I'll go as far as Mariposa Grove and head back toward Yosemite and take 395 back and see the rest of death valley. What route do you think would be best? Yosemite to Bakersfield to Death Valley or backtrack? thanks
You've allowed yourself plenty of time, so you can take it easy and be fairly flexible unless your lodging reservations are carved in stone.
To me, there is no such thing as too much Death Valley. IMO (and I'm not the only one), the Bakersfield route to either DV or LV is far less varied and interesting. But it does give you access to some great places to see, so I'll pose one suggestion.
If you decide to do this one, I suggest modifying the first itinerary I gave, and go to Scotty's Castle. You'll be doing the Badwater road on this second itinerary.
I'm presuming you'll leave Yosemite through Fish Camp. From Bakersfield take SR 178, not 58. 178 is a narrow, winding road that will take longer, but it follows the Kern River and is very scenic. There are resort towns on the way with food, gas, and supplies. You'll come out on 395 south of Ridgecrest. Follow the directions to Ridgecrest and Trona, then Wildrose Road into DV. Part of the road is graded gravel and can be rough; if you have a rental car, just go slow (most rental contracts specify staying on the pavement, and gravel is borderline).
Wildrose is a big surprise for folks who think DV is just dry sand dunes. It's in the mountains and has scads of vegetation, including trees. There are backcountry roads to old mine sites and ghost towns, many of which are not suitable for cars. A few can be seen from the road; one is Journigan's Mill, a former processing site for gold ore.
This takes you to SR 190 at Emigrant Junction, where you'll turn right (a left turn goes back to Lone Pine). You'll see two fine stone buildings, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s as part of FDR's program to ease unemployment in the Great Depression. One is a restroom and the other is presently vacant. There is a picnic area with tamarisk trees, also a small campground.
At this point, you'll have driven 350-375 miles from Fish Camp, not counting any side trips. You'll be 9 miles from Stove Pipe Wells.
I'm presuming you did the Castle on your trip from LV and haven't been down Badwater Road. So stay on 190, and just past Furnace Creek, turn right on Badwater Road. Now you can take your time at any or all of these sites: Devil's Golf Course, Badwater, Natural Bridges, Artist's Drive, and Golden Canyon.
You can either go as far as the Badwater visitor area and return to 190 or continue to Shoshone. Either way will get you to Pahrump and then Las Vegas.
This trip will be close to 600 miles, so it would be best to stay over at least one night. Within the park, you have your choice of Stove Pipe Wells, Furnace Creek Ranch, or (Oct-Apr only) Furnace Creek Inn. These resorts are operated by Xanterra Corp.
Once again, thanks so much for the great, detailed information. The return route to DV looks great, I'll get a chance to see Sequoia Nat'l Forest plus any other stops I care to make Then I think I'll stop in Ridgecrest for the night and procede throughDV the next day and take my time. I don't want to return to Las Vegas until the day of my flight since it doesn't leave until 8PM; therefore, after leaving DV I'll still have one more night. Where do you think I should stop? I don't want to stay in the park since I think the prices for accommodations inside the park are ridiculous.
Yes, I agree there is no such thing as too much Death Valley. I would do everything possible to stay for at least for one night.
You can stay in Ridgecrest, but it will be just a roof over your head with a bed and shower. To really experience Death Valley, a night in the park would be special.
Rates at Stove Pipe Wells start at about $91 for a regular room. Panamint Springs has somewhat lower rates, but it is at the western edge of the park and is not that close to most of the main visitor sites. Furnace Creek has higher rates than either of the others. It has more facilities and services, but the minus is that it's often busy and crowded, which impacts the natural peace and quiet.
SPW is my favorite. It's conveniently located, rustic without being totally spartan, and typically quieter than FC. If you stay in any park lodging, you are paying for the location, not just for the room. You can enjoy an evening hike or ride, watch the sunset, have dinner with a view depending on which restaurant they choose, stargaze at night, and maybe hear coyotes in the middle of the night. There's nothing like it in Ridgecrest.
Where ever you do decide to stay, make sure to plan a stop in Bishop at Erik Schatt's Bakery, it is at the stop light in town and a great way to start the day!
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