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LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Pasadena, California
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LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

My son would like to plan a family trip this winter that would include Death Valley and Mammoth. We only have four nights due to work obligations. So we'd be starting from Pasadena on a Wednesday evening, driving to...?. We'd have all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, as well as some time on Sunday before heading back to Pasadena.

Our son would like to ski-- he has a Mammoth pass and would like to incorporate a couple days of skiing into this trip. (The rest of us don't ski but might hike or try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing if available up there. I've never been to Mammoth.)

None of us has been to Death Valley, at least not in the last 50 years...

Do you think it is reasonable to do Mammoth and Death Valley in a single, 4 night/3.75 day trip?

Just to get a taste of Death Valley? If so, do you have any suggestions how to structure the trip? (I'm thinking our son might prefer to do the Mammoth section first, for less crowded non-weekend conditions, but I'm not certain.)

We'd like suggestions on best roads to take-- probably Lone Pine to DV, and then DV to LA. Open to any suggestions though. We will probably have only one night in DV; driving to DV from Mammoth Lakes, and then the next day, driving back to LA in the evening. We'd like suggestions on the "do not miss" things that are in this section of the park or would not take us hours out of our way, and would also like a few walks or short (up to 2 miles) hikes.

I'm reposting on this forum (from the general state forum) in hopes of getting more specific advice. (Tet, Frisco Roadrunner? Love to get your advice, or others who really know this area.)

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1. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Tet and I are flattered that you are asking specifically for our advice!

You’ve already been diligent about your homework, so you know it’s over 300 miles from Pasadena to Mammoth. Not sure what time you plan to set out, but I suspect traffic will be light on 14 and 395 on a Wednesday evening once you leave the Palmdale-Lancaster area. There are few places to stay over along 395. Are you planning to go like bats out of Hades for as far as you can, or maybe just get half the trip done and stop over for a few hours of sleep, or ??? If you have several drivers, everyone could take turns driving and sleeping and not stop over at all on Wednesday night, but you’ll have to decide if that works for you.

Ridgecrest (not quite halfway) is just off 395, near enough that you could drive into town and return to the highway easily. It has plenty of motels, restaurants, and stores in case you need to buy anything for the trip. The next adequate stopover is the fine town of Lone Pine, about 2/3 of the way to Mammoth. It has good visitor services, but fewer motels than Ridgecrest, so you might consider a reservation if you will be arriving late (I like the Dow Villa and Mt. Whitney motels, but there are several attractive indies as well as Best Western and Quality Inn). From Lone Pine, it’s less than two hours to Mammoth for Thursday.

Whether you spend both Thursday and Friday nights in Mammoth, or move to Death Valley for Friday and Saturday nights, is something you’ll have to decide among yourselves. I don’t know what the snow is like at Mammoth now, and whether conditions will be adequate to satisfy your skier son for two days. The other major visitor attraction at Mammoth, Devil’s Postpile National Monument, is closed for winter. However, if other family members want to take a break from the slopes, Mono Lake is only a half hour north and it is well worth several hours. We can talk more about Mono Lake later if you like.

From Mammoth to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley (via Lone Pine) is a little under 200 miles. There is an alternate route, Big Pine-Death Valley Road, which goes east from Big Pine and includes about 70 miles of unpaved backcountry road. It has no services or settlements, and takes you to the north end of the park, from where it’s another 50 miles or so to either Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek. In winter, there can be snow, ice, or mud on this road if there has been wet weather, and 4wd may be needed. Because you have limited time, you should go through Lone Pine; it’s predictable, and snow or ice happen only occasionally at the high point on Hwy 190, which is 5,000 feet in elevation. Also because of your limited time, I suggest a reservation for lodging in DV, wherever you decide to stay; don’t risk finding a place sold out and have to spend time seeking other accommodations. We’ve talked about all the resorts in the park in various threads, and you definitely should pick one of them, not a town outside the park. We can also talk more about those later if you want/

I’ll pause for now, and come back later to continue talking about Death Valley. Whether you have one or two full days in the park will make a difference in what you can do, and the kinds of itineraries we might suggest, so mull over that a little. Also, since Death Valley is about 250 miles from Pasadena, this will not be your one and only chance to go there, so you might want to focus more on Mammoth, scratch the surface of Death Valley, and plan on another trip there in the spring or some other time.

Back later.

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2. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Wow...thanks so much for the wonderful advice, Frisco. I was hoping you'd come by and see my post.

At this point, we don't know if we will start in Mammoth and finish in DV, or visa versa. It may depend on how easily we can get a reservation in DV-- preferably Furnace Creek, I think, either the inn or the motel.

Either way, our older (skier) son has to work Wednesday, and we don't want to get on the road until after 6:30 pm, as we are all too familiar with the traffic from Pasadena to @ Palmdale at rush hour. We're not looking for an endurance test, so we probably won't push through to Mammoth. We'll probably stop at Lone Pine, and get an early start so our son can be on the slopes by @ 10 am.

So, roughly:

Wednesday, drive to Lone Pine, sleep.

Thursday am, drive to Mammoth, sleep Mammoth.

Friday, more skiing in the a.m., I assume, plus cross-country skiing or snowshoeing for the whole family in the afternoon. Sleep Mammoth.

Saturday am, get on the road by 9 am, drive into Death Valley. Sightsee/walk (which sites?) in the afternoon. Sleep, perhaps, at Furnace Creek Inn.

Sunday, sightsee most of the day, leave the park @ sunset, drive home.

If the DV hotels are booked up on the weekend that we choose, or have 2 night minimums, we may reverse the order of the trip and head directly to DV, finishing on the weekend in Mammoth. In that case, Google Maps gives three different routes, so I'm confused. And I can't see a good place to stop for the night short of DV except possibly Ridgecrest, which is not that far on the road to DV.

And of course, you are right, this doesn't have to be a comprehensive trip to DV. Just a taste would be great. Somehow, in a lifetime of living in California, I've never been there. Actually, it has been reading your posts on Tripadvisor that made me add it to our list of "must do's".

Edited: 12:20 am, January 14, 2014
Uden, The...
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3. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Well yes, flattered as well Pasca.

With your limited time and avoiding backtracking maybe consider to make it to Furnace Creek Ranch (The Inn is very expensive..) from Pasadena but you won't arrive before midnight (driving via Baker and Shoshone) There's a small motel in Shoshone but not sure it's open in winter and there's lodging in Tecopa as well.

On a sunday afternoon/evening I'd rather drive back from Mammoth Lakes to Pasadena instead via I15 with the Las Vegas traffic driving back to the LA area.

We: To DV

thu: All day for DV

fr: Early start for Mammoth

sa: Skiing

sun: ski and back to Pasadena.

Don't think there's a Quality Inn in Lone Pine but they have a Comfort Inn. Good place like the Best Western and Dow Villa.

Tet

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4. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Yes. Comfort Inn or Quality Inn--I couldn't recall which one. But for chain motels, it is that one and BW. Both of them are at the south end of Lone Pine, a long walk to downtown and the restaurants, etc. Dow Villa is a nice place right in the middle of downtown, with a historic 1930s period hotel and a motel, on the same property. Mt. Whitney Motel, a cute, well-kept mom-and-pop place, is almost directly across the street, and there are other indies close to the main business district.

I think Shoshone or Tecopa would be too much out of the way, especially if you decide to go to DV first; they are on the east side of the park. And I would never suggest I-15 and Baker for folks coming from the Los Angeles metro area because it is not that interesting or diverse; for the amount of time spent looking at buses and trucks, you could already be seeing some of the landscapes in the western part of the park.

More later when I get back on my own computer.

Edited: 10:31 am, January 14, 2014
Uden, The...
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5. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Not interesting but Pasca is driving when it's dark and outbound traffic from Pasadena won't be that bad on a wednesday and it's shortest route to Furnace Creek... and for the western part of the park there're the views coming from Furnace Creek heading to Lone Pine and I think from Ridgecrest the road along the west side of DV via Trona is still closed.

Tet

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6. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Yes, because of the scenery, it would be better to stop somewhere for the night and get a fresh start in the a.m. to enjoy the views. especially from Lone Pine on, Whether they go to Mammoth or Death Valley first, the views on 395 on the east side of the Sierra, or the views along the western approaches to Death Valley, are not to be missed.

The Panamint Valley Road and the southern stretch of WIldrose Road inside the park are still closed. So if they are going to Death Valley first, they'd need to take 395, but Ridgecrest is close enough that it would be only a small detour to go there for the night and then return to 395. However, it is then 80 miles from Ridgecrest to Lone Pine, which will add to the morning travel time.

If they decide to go to DV first, it is not necessary to go through Lone Pine; the closest turnoff from 395 is at Olancha, about 60 miles from Ridgecrest. However, lodging and other services are very, very skimpy at Olancha, and going to to Lone Pine offers more options in a nicer town and adds only about 25 miles overall.

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7. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

Frisco and Tet--

Thank you for the detailed posts. There is a lot to consider here (seems a little more complicated than the typical long weekend-- all these tiny roads that hardly show up on the map). I'm going to sit down with our older son and go over all this-- then get back to you with more questions, I'm sure.

Thanks again!

8. Re: LA-Mammoth-DV-LA loop: 4 days

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