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San Francisco to Death Valley in March

Fairfield...
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San Francisco to Death Valley in March

We're planning a road trip to Death Valley in March, and I wondered if we can expect Tioga Pass to be open? If not, do you have any suggestions on an alternate route?

I was thinking of spending 2 nights in Stovepipe Wells and 2 nights in Furnace Creek. Is it worth is to switch hotels or should we stay in one place the whole time?

Thank you!!

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1. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

I doubt that Tioga Pass will be open in March. The fastest route would be to go down I-5 and over to Bakersfield and Trona and then over to Death Valley.

Some people prefer Stovepipe Wells and some Furnace Creek. Personally I prefer Furnace Creek.

I would check the Xanterra website to make sure the dates you won't to go are available. Many European tours go to Death Valley and rooms are booked far in advance in high season (which March is).

Fairfield...
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2. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

Thanks RBcal. I'll be sure and make reservations early. Is the route through Trona much more scenic than taking US-395 to SR-190? (My map program says thr Trona route is 25 miles shorter, but takes 1-1/2 hours longer.)

Take care.

- Linda

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3. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

From Fairfield, I'd go via the Eastern Sierra Highway (395) maybe going via Stockton to go up the Alpine Highway (88) providing it's kept open. There's absolutely no chance that the Tioga Pass will be open.

San Francisco
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4. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

As noted, Tioga Pass won’t open until May or maybe even June, if it’s a heavy snow winter. If you want to take 395 south to DV (and it is much more scenic and diverse than the San Joaquin Valley route through Bakersfield and Trona), you need to check for any lower Sierra passes that may have opened early--but don't count on it. Otherwise, you’ll need to take 80 or 50 to 395, which adds 50-75 miles.

As for the Trona route, there are a couple of places that I think are reasonably scenic. One is going over Tehachapi Pass, which is SR 58. After you leave Bakersfield and get into the mountains, it’s kind of pretty, if not terribly exciting. An alternative to 58 is SR 178, which is gorgeous. It’s narrow and curvy and goes along the Kern River Canyon, to lake resort towns like Isabella and Kernville, and over Walker Pass. It ends up at SR 14 south of Ridgecrest.

After Ridgecrest and Trona comes the real natural scenic beauty. If you look at your maps, you’ll see that north of Trona is a junction where you choose either Panamint Valley Rd. to 190 or Wildrose Rd. Vehicles over 25' long must take Panamint Valley. The scenery is ”classic” Mojave Desert, fairly dry, sandy-looking, with sweeping views of the mountains. It’s pretty typical of much of DV, so if you can, I suggest Wildrose because it’s such a surprise to folks who expect DV to be just bare sand dunes. It’s a mountain road, steep and narrow in places, with lots of greenery. A couple miles are gravel, but any vehicle will be OK. It used to be paved, but flashfloods and water from a spring uphill near the road kept tearing it up, so it’s easier for the Park Service to just grade it occasionally.

The other way you mentioned, which I think you meant, was to go through Bakersfield, bypass Ridgecrest and go up 395 to 190? That adds a lot of miles, and that part of 395 is nowhere near as scenic as the northern stretch from Tioga to Lone Pine. The Sierra Nevada is not that spectacular this far south, and there is less variety. IMO, you’d be adding miles and taking up time that you could be spending in Death Valley.

Stove Pipe Wells and Furnace Creek are about 25 miles apart. I prefer Stove Pipe, a smaller, more rustic place with “atmosphere.” The restaurant has a western décor with Navajo weavings, old mine artifacts, and wood timbered walls and beams; the hallway to the bathrooms and saloon is like a mine tunnel, and the saloon is also an Old West design. There are rooms of varying quality in several buildings, and every room door and window has a view of the dunes or mountains. Furnace Creek is a busy place; Easter is in March and it will be a zoo. It has all the amenities you could want: a couple of restaurants, a bigger store than SPW, museum, tennis, golf, guided horse rides, and post office. The park visitor center is a short walk away.

SPW and FC are about the same distance to Scotty’s Castle. Stove Pipe is a good base for further exploring in the Panamint area (that’s the range on your right as you go up Wildrose Road), the Sand Dunes, and Mosaic Canyon. If you’re tired after driving from the Bay Area, SPW is a nice overnight rest stop, and you could maybe go to the Sand Dunes at sunset and hike Mosaic Canyon in the morning. Furnace Creek is closer to the better-known visitor attractions like Badwater, Golden Canyon, Zabriskie Point, and Dante’s View. You’ll have to decide how much time you want to spend exploring the different areas, and whether you want to pack up and move after two days.

Are you returning to the Bay Area from DV? If you are, you might consider taking a different route each way for more variety. If you have time and the weather is OK (the peak of the winter snows may have passed), you can take 395 north to Tahoe. Along the way you can see Mt. Whitney, Mammoth, and Mono Lake. Even stay overnight somewhere if you havw time. Then it's an easy ride home from Tahoe.

Fairfield...
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5. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

Wow! Thanks for the excellent advice!! I think we'll do the scenic drive via Bakersfield/Wildrose on the way down and do the return to the Bay Area on 395 through Mono Lake. That way we can enjoy different views on the drive.

I've been wanting to go to Death Valley for years, and I saw an advertisement for the Green Tortoise's trip there the other day. (greentortoise.com/adventures/death.valley.na…) This prompted me to start planning. I prefer the flexibility of having my own vehicle and not having to camp or sleep on a bus, but their itinerary sounds great.

Is DV too far to go for just 3 or 4 nights? I was thinking we might drive down to Bakersfield the night before so it wouldn't be such a huge drive the next morning.

Thanks again.

- Linda

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6. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

Good idea to do the Bakersfield route on the way down. It will get you there quicker. The night before you leave DV, check with one of the ranger stations or the visitor center for current weather and road conditions on 395. By March, I think it will be pretty calm.

395 really is the most beautiful route. Check out the threads on this forum and the Death Valley forum for details about what to see along the way.

Some people like the culture of Green Tortoise. From what I've heard from people who have done it, it's like being in a rolling hippie commune. The buses make over into big sleeper coaches, meals are cooked by the group, etc. One of my friends didn't care for the pot smoking and free love.

If you stop on the way down, I suggest going beyond Bakersfield if you can, to give yourself more actual time in the park the next day. If you take Hwy 58, Mojave has lots of motels (nothing fancy--Best Western or Motel 6 class, but they'll do). If you take 178, the Kern River route, there are fewer choices, and you may as well go on to Ridgecrest. And once you get there, it's only about 100 miles to Stove Pipe Wells. The whole trip from the Bay Area to DV via Bakersfield is around 500 miles. You could do it in one day. It's slightly less by 395, but you'll be tempted to stop a lot oftener than on 5 or 99.

Salt Lake City, Utah
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7. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

Three or four nights is perfect for a DV trip. The Salt Creek pupfish should be active about that time.

I prefer Furnace Creek Ranch due to the proximity to Zabriske Point, Artist's Palette and Badwater ... and it being below sea level.

On the way down, it depends on if you do a drive through Yosemite (which might eat up too much time), Fresno and Bakersfield. Tehachapi has a nice Best Western.

Fairfield...
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8. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

We won't be able to go to Death Valley in March after all and were going to reschedule for the end of April.

Is this too late in the season and too hot to go? I can always delay the trip for next year if you think it's a bad time to go.

(Unfortunately Tioga Pass will still be closed anyway!)

Thanks!

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9. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

April will be OK, a little warmer than March but not unbearable. The average high will be around 90ºF and the average lows in the 60s.

Here is the page of the park website that tells all about weather. Click on "Historic Weather and Climate Data" for more detailed records.

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

Keep in mind that Death Valley is not only hot, but extremely dry. It is in the "rain shadow" of several mountain ranges. Storms from the ocean pour out their moisture over the the Coast, Transverse, Sierra Nevada and finally the Panamint ranges, so they are just about wrung dry by the time the little remaining energy gets to Death Valley. In the Bay Area, we think of the 90's as being pretty warm, but we are a lot closer to the ocean, the bay, and the delta. The low humidity helps moderate the heat a lot in the desert.

Just curious, you wouldn't be the Pinders who used to live in SSF or Pacifica, would you? There was a family by that name in my church; they moved out of state, but could have missed California and come back :)

Fairfield...
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10. Re: San Francisco to Death Valley in March

Thanks Roadrunner. I'll go ahead and change my hotel reservations for April. I was looking forward to seeing wildflowers in March, but what the heck. Hopefully the pupfish will still be hanging around:)

So - 90ºF in Death Valley must feel more like Las Vegas heat rather than the Bay Area? As they say ... "it's a dry heat," but it's hot nonetheless.

No, I haven't lived in SSF or Pacifica yet.

Thanks again!

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