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Staying and visiting options nearby DV

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Seattle, Washington
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Staying and visiting options nearby DV

I had already posted this questions for multi-city trip in California forums. Now I have question specific to places between Tahoe and Torrance, so probably nearby areas of Death valley, so putting this question here. I had planned my Thanksgiving vacationd like this -->

27-Nov Will leave from Torrance at 12:00 in noon via I5. Reach Folsom and overnight stay.

28-Nov Whole day at Lake Tahoe and overnight stay at South Lake Tahoe.

29-Nov Leave in morning towards Lake Mammoth (may be). Overnight stay at ???

30-Nov Stay overnight at ???

1-Dec Leave for Torrance in afternoon

I can give either two night to Tahoe and 1 night near DV/Mammoth OR one night at Tahoe and two nights in between somewhere. Most of people giving suggestions to give two nights to Lake Tahoe.

Where should I stay in between and what all places I can visit during that time ? Please suggest.

Seattle, Washington
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1. Re: Staying and visiting options nearby DV

Bumping it as I am expecting suggestions, specially from Frisco.

San Francisco
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2. Re: Staying and visiting options nearby DV

I remember some of your earlier posts about going to Death Valley, and how you changed your mind because of the summer heat. Now you are facing the opposite situation: traveling in the Sierra Nevada in winter, when there will probably be snow falling and/or.accumulated on the ground just about anywhere between Placerville and Tahoe, and all the way along the Eastern Sierra. Hwy 395 is mostly freeway with a few undivided patches north of Lee Vining, so it is inherently a safe road. But there are high-elevation passes with winds that gust off the mountains; because of the topography, there are curves in the road that can be treacherous when the wind is up. In the early morning, when temperatures have been at or below freezing all night, and early evening, after the sun has dropped down behind the mountains, any moisture on the road can freeze.

You will need to have 4wd and snow or all-weather tires, or carry chains. On some rare occasions, both are required, and at those times, I personally will not drive, but will stop and wait for better conditions. Just so you know; winter in the Sierra Nevada always means unstable weather and you need to be prepared to either drive in it or stay put in it.

From Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes is about 150 miles. To get to 395, the most efficient way is Kingsbury Grade, NV Hwy 207, which starts near Heavenly Valley ski resort. It is a steep, winding road with lots of curves (you can look it up on any state map). You’ll be climbing out of the Tahoe area, and it comes out near Gardnerville NV. There are settlements at Topaz Lake, Coleville, Walker, Bridgeport, and Lee Vining, where you can get food, gas, or other supplies. Mono Lake is next to Lee Vining, and it’s definitely worth a stop. It isn’t just any lake, but a unique natural wonder with an important place in the history of environmental protection and California’s “water wars.”

You’re traveling on Thanksgiving weekend, so there will be tons of traffic and people everywhere. Tahoe and Mammoth are very popular ski resort areas, and lodging may not be easy to find. They both have some economy places like Motel 6 or Econolodge, but you may be taking your chances if you just drop in looking for a vacancy. Ditto for all lodging in Death Valley, where Thanksgiving is also a peak period. It will be nice camping weather there at the lower elevations, but again, very busy.

You cannot consider Mammoth/Death Valley to be an area, because they are not near each other. From Mammoth to Death Valley is about 185 miles (this is the distance to Stovepipe Wells Village, one of the major resorts, which is about 30 miles in from the actual park boundary).

Between Mammoth and Death Valley are Bishop, Big Pine, Independence, and Lone Pine, all nice towns with visitor services. Bishop and Lone Pine are the biggest, and Lone Pine is one of my favorites. There are scads of things to see and do there, including a quaint downtown area with lots of locally owned businesses, a movie museum, and Mt. Whitney. You can look it up on its own forum or search it here, because we talk about Lone Pine a lot in the DV conversations.

Most of what you’ll be doing in Death Valley is mentioned in other threads, so you might check those out and then ask specific questions.

The decision of where to spend the two nights depends on your interests. Of course, I’m partial to Death Valley, and if you like hiking without lots of snow, it would be a better choice. If you are into winter sports, Tahoe or Mammoth would be ideal. Tahoe tends to attract the Northern California and Bay Area crowd, while Mammoth is popular with people from Southern California. You might post on the forums for those areas for specific info. I’m a desert rat, not a snow bunny, so winter sport destinations are someone else's expertise.

There may be another factor in deciding where to spend more time: Tahoe is much farther from Torrance—about 460-470 miles if you go up 395, and closer to 500 via Sacramento and Placerville. Death Valley is about 275 miles from Torrance. It still isn’t just a quick afternoon trip, but it’s easier for you to get to on a future trip, maybe in December if you get a Christmas-New Year break, or in the spring for the wildflowers.

Seattle, Washington
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3. Re: Staying and visiting options nearby DV

Thanks a lot for detailed description for my doubts.

I understand road conditions may be bad for my non-4wd (I have Camry) if I go all the way from Tahoe to Placerville/Mammoth. And since I never drove on ice, so it seems I may need to edit my plans.

Can you suggest me, if I should skip Tahoe this time and cover DV, Mammoth lakes and other places at this thanksgiving ? i want to see desert as well as snow too.

San Francisco
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4. Re: Staying and visiting options nearby DV

You’ll have to make the final choice about where you want to go. I personally wouldn’t recommend the original trip you’re thinking of in the winter with only 5 days. I can understand that living in the LA metro area (and IIRC, you are originally not from the US?), you’re excited to see snow and maybe try some skiing, snowboarding, or other winter sports. Tahoe is perfect for that. But so is Mammoth—and it’s much closer.

With such a short time, and in winter when the weather is very changeable, I would save Tahoe for another trip and go to Mammoth and Death Valley. Mammoth Lakes does not have any “mammoth lakes,” nothing similar to Lake Tahoe, but it is an all-year outdoor recreation area with ski resorts, lodging, dining, shopping, etc. Thanksgiving week is a busy visitor period, so look up some motels or hotels and reserve ahead.

The best way, IMO, is up Hwy 14 to Palmdale and then north. Whether you go to Mammoth or Death Valley first is up to you, but if I were doing this,, I’d start with Mammoth. It is the farthest point, and you can get there and pace yourself for the rest of the time. If you get snow or some other condition that slows your travel, you want it to happen at the beginning of your trip, not to be caught in it on Sunday afternoon when you need to get home.

Don’t forget tire chains. You must have them, and you should know how to install them (practice at home, and remember that in real-life conditions, it will be cold and wet and muddy and you'll probably be wearing gloves), and be familiar with the restrictions for driving in chain areas. In mountain areas when chain requirements are in effect, there are professional installers (called “chain monkeys”) who mount chains for a fee. But you should know how in case you ever need to do it yourself, if a storm comes suddenly or you are someplace where no installers are available. Chain monkeys are licensed by the state and must wear their ID and permit number (IIRC, they wear yellow or orange clothing), so don’t just hire any loafer about town to do it.

Tahoe is beautiful any time of the year. It’s a popular destination all the time, and you won’t be disappointed if you wait until April or May.

5. Re: Staying and visiting options nearby DV

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