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Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

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Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

Hi, we will be taking a roadtrip to Death Valley from LA in mid-April. We've researched the main sights, however I'm looking for help on the best route to make the most of our trip. We'll be either leaving after work on a Friday or very early Saturday morning, returning late on Sunday.

What's the best route and itinerary to hit most of the sights in an organized manner? I've heard we should drive in and come back out two different ways. Do you agree?

Also, any recommendations on where we should stay? We don't want to camp so are looking for some sort of structured lodging!

1. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

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2. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

Take a look at the recent threads on "DV with young children" and "Traveling to DV from Bay Area for Thanksgiving." Both of these were started by folks with kids, and you might find some useful ideas.

Are you going back to Las Vegas afterward? If so, you can take one route in and another back. My suggestions would be Shoshone and Badwater Road on one way, and 190 and Death Valley Junction on the other. If you take 190 on the way in, you can see Dante’s View Point first, which is a wonderful intro to the park. It’s 5475’ above sea level and gives you a grand view of the salt flats, several roads, the Furnace Creek area, and the surrounding mountain ranges. A third way is Hwy 95 north to Beatty and NV 374 west, but this puts you on 95 for 100 miles, and it is not very exciting. It's scenic enough, but not as dramatic and diverse as anything within the park. The big advantage of this route is that it takes you right by the ghost town of Rhyolite; but Rhyolite is accessible from the DV side, and with three days in the park, you can go there during your stay if you'll be visiting other sites in the north end.

Summer is a long season in Death Valley. Because of the location and topography, it starts getting warm in March, and it starts cooling off in October. For every single month of the year except Nov-Feb., the historic record highs are at least 100º--and for Feb. and Nov. they are 98º and 97º. That doesn’t mean it is always this hot, but you do need to know that it CAN be nice and balmy. As a rule of thumb, every 1000’ of elevation change means 3-5ºF difference, so on any given day, you can be in shorts and lightweight tops at Furnace Creek and need jackets at Dante’s View. This can also mean a variety of wildflowers at different elevations, since the park goes all the way from 282’ below sea level to 11,049’ above.

This is the weather section of the park website, where you can find historic climate patterns, temperature and precipitation records by month and for every day of the year, and the current forecast.

www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/weather.htm

With three nights in the park, you’ll have lots of time for sightseeing and exploring and also some down time to relax. This will be good with the kids, since they might get tired of the “seeing and doing” sooner than the adults. Parts of April are likely to be someone’s spring break, so you should start thinking about lodging reservations. There are three resort complexes in the park: Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch (2 separate facilities, very different), Stovepipe Wells Village, and Panamint Springs. Here’s a little about each.

FC Ranch is the biggest resort, with the most services and amenities (several kinds of lodging, general store, gas station, restaurants, a museum, post office, golf, tennis, and from fall through spring, horses for guided rides. The National Park Service visitor center is a short walk away. The Ranch can get busy. FC Inn is a few hundred yards from the Ranch and is more upscale. It’s a historic Spanish-style villa built in the 1920s by the borax company; mining was slowing down in the area, but the company foresaw that the Valley’s weather and natural wonders would attract visitors. The Inn has beautiful terraced gardens where anyone is welcome, and it has its own pool (with fine crafted stonework) and tennis courts, so it doesn’t have to share with the Ranch. Furnace Creek is conveniently located to go to many of the famous natural wonders (Dante’s View and Zabriskie Point, for instance, which you might visit on your way in from Las Vegas or might leave until later; and the sights along Badwater Road).

Furnace Creek is about 125 miles from Las Vegas. Another 25 miles farther west is Stovepipe Wells, which is my own favorite. It has the necessary services but no golf, tennis, horses, or post office, and the ambience is quieter and more rustic. The food is good and the pool is nice. SPW is convenient for visiting the Devil’s Cornfield, Sand Dunes, and Mosaic Canyon (a wonderful hike for families, because you can see a lot of the beautiful colors and formations in about 20 minutes without rigorous hiking, and there is rock scrambling for the kids). Sunset at the nearby Sand Dunes is magical, and so is early a.m. when you can find tracks made by nocturnal critters.

Panamint Springs is a small, cozy, rustic resort at the west edge of the park. Because it is not very central, it is not too convenient for seeing many of the major sights in the park. It has about 15 rooms and a family cabin, and the rooms are all very small. I think you’d need the family cabin. The food is good and the setting is beautiful, but there isn’t much to keep little kids’ attention, and as I said, it’s a long way to many of the places visitors want to see. Panamint Springs does not have a pool.

This will give you a little to think about to start with. I’ll come back later and continue the conversation with more specifics about things to do.

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3. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

I think I got your thread mixed up with someone else's. We've had several recent threads for travel from both Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and this reply was meant for another thread. I'll sort them out and direct people to the correct threads.

Sorry, folks.

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4. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

No problem, thanks! I was a little confused when I read it and figured that's what happened but no worries. There was still some helpful information in there - just the route didn't seem right because of starting/ending points being different. Look forward to hearing more!

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5. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

Here are two of the threads I was looking for, from the folks coming from the Southern California area. Hopefully you'll fnd some useful info. Your actual starting point will help us figure our a good itinerary to make the most of your time..

I'll give you a chance to look over these and come back a little later.

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g143021-i2027-k614…

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g143021-i2027-k610…

Southern California
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6. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

Thanks so much for posting those threads - I took a lot of notes! So just to confirm, if we want to see different scenery and we're leaving from LA proper (Glendale area) would you recommend going into the park on the west side (395 to 190) and then coming back out via Badwater / Shoshone or Death Valley Junction? If so which of the return routes would you recommend?

We're also debating whether to stay at the Furnace Creek Ranch or Stovepipe Wells. Is Stovepipe Wells much more inconvenient to the sights, or still fairly central? We do want to get up to Scotty's Castle and I see it's closer to that. However we will only be in the park 1 1/2 days (arriving early Saturday and leaving late Sunday) so we want to make the most of the time we have there. Any itinerary suggestions / route suggestions are very welcome.

Thanks again!!

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7. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

Typically, I like to suggest the western route from Los Angeles, via Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Mojave, and Ridgecrest, especially for folks west of about Pasadena or even El Monte. Two reasons: It’s much more scenic than going to I-15 and through Barstow and Baker; and the farther west you are, the more of the congested urban area you need to go through to get to I-15.

However, since you are coming from and returning to Glendale, it will be nice to take different routes each way so you can see different scenery without lots of backtracking. If you can leave at an off-peak commute time, I suggest I-15 on the way over and the western route on the way back. I would not suggest the reverse, because I-15 on Sunday evenings is filled with traffic from Las Vegas returning to California, and then you have all the regular metro Ontario to Pasadena area traffic to struggle through.

You’ll turn off I-15 onto CA 127 at Baker (that’s where the world’s tallest thermometer is; you can read about it in threads on this or the Baker forum titled “See It Before It’s Gone"). Take CA 127 to Shoshone. There, you have a choice: CA 178 (Badwater Road) or continue to Death Valley Junction (1920s borax mining settlement, now a ghost town) and CA 190. I suggest the latter for those with limited time. Badwater Road is scenic and lightly traveled, and I’m sure you’d enjoy it. However, it is longer, and the southern 50 miles are mainly about beautiful long-range views rather than specific places of interest. The major natural wonders (Badwater, Natural Bridge, Artist’s Drive, Devil’s Golf Course, and Golden Canyon) are in the northern 17 miles. If you enter on Badwater Road, you then have a 50-mile round trip detour to Dante’s View Point, one of DV’s must-see grand vistas. If you take 190, the Dante’s View side road (and 20 Mule Team Canyon and Zabriskie Point) are on your way to Furnace Creek, and from there it’s only a 35-mile round trip down Badwater to see those natural marvels.

There is only 25 miles difference between FCR and SPW. Coming from Shoshone, I think FC is better situated. It’s central to the 190 East sights (Dante’s, etc.) as well as Badwater Road, the park visitor center, and Harmony Borax Works. You can take your time sighseeing, perhaps saving some places to enjoy after you check in, rest, eat, swim, or go to the park visitor center (it’s worth some time to see the movie, look at the brand new exhibits, get all your questions answered, and browse through the book store). If you want to mail postcards at the Furnace Creek post office, in the special slot for a Death Valley postmark, be aware that the sales counter is closed on weekends and there is no stamp vending machine, so you’ll need to bring stamps.

For sunset, Zabriskie Point is just 5 miles from FC. Dante’s is farther. If you came in from the Junction, you'll probably have been to those spots. The Sand Dunes are about 20 miles from FC, and sunset is magical there. So is early a.m., when you can enjoy sunrise and find tracks from nocturnal wildlife while they are still fresh. You may see prints from coyotes, kit foxes, birds, beetles (the tracks look like zippers), and maybe a sidewinder rattlesnake (tracks resemble a series of loose S shapes, because the sidewinder moves in springing motions like a Slinky to protect its skin from hot surfaces).

If you pick SPW to stay at for this trip, you would want to complete your east side, FC, and Badwater area exploring before proceeding to SPW, or else backtrack the 25 miles later. Areas close to SPW include Salt Creek (on Hwy 190 between FC and SPW), Devil’s Cornfield, Sand Dunes, and Mosaic Canyon. Since you have much of Sunday in the park, you can get an early start that morning to see these places, maybe do the gorgeous Mosaic Canyon hike and then have a bite at SPW, and start down Emigrant-Wildrose Road with some daylight left to enjoy the mountain scenery and all the plants and trees. I usually suggest Wildrose because it is such a startlng contrast to what many DV newcomers expect. A couple miles is unpaved gravel, but it’s graded often and is fine for any car driven carefully. This road connects with the road to Trona and Ridgecrest.

Scotty’s Castle is about 50 miles from FC or SPW. Tours run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the grounds stay open until 5:30. Other places of interest in the north end are Ubehebe Crater (volcanic) and the west end of Titus Canyon (rough gravel but OK for cars; a narrow canyon with sheer walls and flashflood marks). If you find yourself low on time, the Castle and the north end is what I would scratch; they are well worth seeing but the travel distance will eat up a lot of your time on a short visit. Fortunately, you live close enough that you can plan another trip soon, so don’t need to force yourself to see everything in a park as big as Connecticut this time.

In fact, the north end in itself would make a great couple of days on a future trip, also including the Rhyolite ghost town, all of Titus Canyon and/or the Racetrack (these two may require 4wd). The best bases for exploring the north are Mesquite Springs Campground or lodging in Beatty NV. In addition, there are scads of things to see along Emigrant-Wildrose that you won’t have time for if you’re trying to get home, but could see on a future visit; many are related to DV’s minin history. Another place to keep in mind is Lone Pine, one of the most delightful towns in the Eastern Sierra. It has enough to keep you occupied for a weekend or more. One of the Los Angeles area families that posted here went through Lone Pine on the way home and loved it.

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8. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

Thank you so much, this is EXTREMELY helpful! We're really looking forward to this trip and your advice makes planning an itinerary so much easier. Thanks again!

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9. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

Hi Frisco-Roadrunner -

I have a couple of additional questions. If we came back to LA via the west side of the park (either 190 to 136 to 395 or through Trona to 14), approximately how long of a drive is that from Scotty's Castle? Do you know?

Second, is there a big difference in drive time between those two western routes (Panamint/190 vs Emigrant-Wildrose)? Should we plan on a lot of extra time if we do the latter route?

Thanks again!

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10. Re: Best itinerary for two days in Death Valley from LA

If you return to LA on the west side from Furnace Creek, you will come to an intersection on 190 marked for Scotty's Castle. It's just before the Sand Dunes. The intersecting road is called North Highway or Castle Road. From the point where it meets 190 is a bit under 40 miles to the Castle. The road is slower than 190; it's somewhat narrower in places and has lots of dips because of the alluvial fans coming down from canyons on both sides of the Valley. There is no alternate return trip unless you have 4wd and several extra hours.

Figuring travel time, the tour, maybe looking around the grounds, and possibly a snack (sandwiches, candy, beverages available, no actual meal service), I would allow 3.5 to 4 hours for the trip. Ubehebe ("you be he be") Crater is also along this road, about 5 miles from the main highway. It's a volcanic crater that you can go into or walk around the rim.

There are 3 west side choices for you to pick for LA. Two of them begin at 190 and Emigrant Junction, where you’ll see a campground and two fine stone buildings made by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1940s: a restroom and a currently inactive ranger station.

1. At this junction, take the left turn for Emigrant Canyon and Wildrose. It goes along the west face of the Panamint range and is a pretty drive with scads of greenery. There is a 3-mile stretch that isn’t paved, but graded gravel that is fine for any car driven carefully. It kept getting washed out by flashfloods and runoff from a spring, so the NPS quit paving it and just keeps it well maintained. Because of some steep spots and tight turns, the vehicle length limit is 25’.

2. Continue on 190 past Emigrant junction to Panamint Valley Road and turn left for Trona (you’ll see Panamint Springs resort a couple miles farther past the turnoff). This route is scenic but has more of the same “classic” Mojave Desert scenery; I like to suggest Wildrose for folks who want a bit of variety and a more intimate connection with the landscapes, and don’t mind a patch of gravel. Wildrose and Panamint Valley roads eventually meet just south of the park boundary and become the road to Trona. #1 and #2 are both 30-35 miles; Wildrose may add 10 or 15 minutes because it’s curvier and has that gravel stretch.

3. This route bypasses the above two and is the one you mentioned, 190 to 136 and down 395. You would do this only if you want to go to Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney or points north; it adds about 50 miles over the other two. It’s also very scenic. You’ll see Panamint Springs resort (good food and a fine view of the Panamint Dunes from the dining room or patio). You’ll go by the hamlet of Keeler, once a stop on the old Carson and Colorado RR, a setting in Frank Norris’ 1900 novel “McTeague” and its silent movie offspring “Greed,” and now a center for harvesting of minerals off the Owens Lake bed. (If you had gone through Trona, you’d see similar operations at the Searles Lake bed). Across from Keeler is a road to Cerro Gordo, a mining ghost town that is now privately owned and not generally open. As you approach Lone Pine, you can see Mt. Whitney, but a closer mountain called Lone Pine Peak will actually look taller. Just before you hit Lone Pine, there’s a visitor center at the 136/395 junction with exhibits about the Mojave Desert and Eastern Sierra, and they’ll point out which peak is Mt. Whitney. The town itself will entice you to spend hours or a day or two, in fact the entire Eastern Sierra from Lone Pine to Topaz Lake is a wonderful area for a weekend or several weeks of exploring and R&R.

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