Death Valley Road Trip
I already publish a blog dedicated to Death Valley and the current one provides information on planning a road trip to this area.
I highly recommended to combine your Death Valley visit with a day or two of traveling at the south part of the Eastern Sierra area along hwy 395 or to visit the nearby Mojave National Preserve.
Overall the visit at the Death Valley can take 2 days (one or two nights) assume you are not going to remote & off-road places and with additional day or two visiting other places this can become a long weekend road trip.
My road trip starting point will be at Mojave (assume you are coming from west CA), I recommend spending the time on the way, there are many other nice things to see.
If you are coming from Las Vegas, you will probably start your visit from Beatty NV.
Your specific trip is highly dependent on where exactly you plan to sleep inside or outside the park and how many days you are planning.
Most recommended places do not need long hikes, so this is also good for kids.
Below are few trip options and the text after this section provide high level description on the Points of Interest.
Day by Day Trip Itinerary:
The day before the trip:
Usually we drive from the bay area to Bakersfield (4 hr drive) at the afternoon of the day before our trip so we can be at Mojave the following morning (there are also some hotel options at Mojave).
Day 1 Option 1 (hwy 395):
Mojave -> Red Rock Canyon State Park -> Fossil Falls Recreation Site -> Olancha Sculpture Garden -> Alabama Hills -> Lone Pine
Sleep at Lone Pine
Day 1 Option 2 (hwy 178):
Mojave -> Red Rock Canyon State Park -> Randsburg old town -> Fish Rocks stop -> Trona Pinnacles -> Lone Pine or Death Valley.
Sleep at Lone Pine or at the Death Valley
Day 2 (an optional day out of Lone Pine):
Lone Pine -> Bishop & Sabrina Lake* -> Big Pine Canyon -> Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery -> Manzanar -> Alabama Hills -> Lone Pine
*Assume you want to go all the way to Bishop, at winter check for weather and road condition on the hwy 168 going into the mountains.
**Another option that is not open at winter (road are closed) is to visit Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center
Sleep at Lone Pine
Day 3 (Lone Pine, hwy 190 to Death Valley):
Lone Pine -> drive to Death Valley -> Keeler town -> Cerro Gordo Ghost Town -> Father Crowley Overlook -> Darwin Falls -> Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes*
*recommend visiting before sunset and at sunrise
Sleep at Stovepipe Wells or drive to your night location
Day 4 (Death Valley):
Stovepipe Wells -> Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Parking -> Ubehebe Crater -> Harmony Borax Works -> Zabriskie Point -> Golden Canyon Trailhead -> Artist's Palette -> Devil's Golf Course -> Natural Bridge Trail -> Badwater* -> drive to your sleeping points or finish early and drive home
*recommended visiting here at the afternoon
Day 5 (Mojave National Preserve):
Visit Mojave National Preserve (Cima Joshua Tree, Kelso, Kelso Dunes, Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center), sleep at Barstow
The below Interest points along the way, see what can fit your schedule and trip plans.
Bakersfield east on hwy 58:
Tehachapi Loop: a unique place where the train tunnel loop itself so the train can climb the mountain, you can see the same long train in both sides of the long tunnel. There isn’t stopping point on the main hwy so you need to get to a side road viewing point.
Kohnen's Country Bakery (125 W Tehachapi Blvd D, Tehachapi, CA 93561): a very nice bakery and a stop on the way.
I have a dedicated blog post covering The Road from Mojave to Lone Pine.
Attractions Description In short:
Mojave: The town itself has no attraction except huge wind turbine fields and an airfield with many deserted airplanes.
Friends of Jawbone BLM office information: A very informative off-road visitor center.
Red Rock Canyon State Park: Short stop on the way north (or overnight camping), see blog link.
Indian Wells Brewing Company: A nice restaurant & brewhouse stop on the way
Uniroyal Gal (Hubcap Lady statue): Nice stop near the large Hubcap Lady statue on the right side of the road, there is a park so you can have a short lunch break.
Fossil Falls: A nice nature stops on the way, a short hike will take you on the black basalt rocks to the dray waterfall (camping site).
Olancha Open Sculpture Garden: I did not visit this place but from pictures it looks as a very nice stop on the way, field of art sculptures that you can walk around.
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center: local information center
Lone Pine Film History Museum: I did not visit
Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery: nice bakery to eat breakfast
Alabama Hills: East of Lone Pine, one of the nicest unique place at the eastern sierra. Large and small potato shape boulders and many arch formations right at the foot of the sierra mountain range.
North of Lone Pine on 395:
Manzanar: One of the 10 Japanese consecration camp that were built to hold US Japanese citizen during the WW2. Very interesting visit with impressive visitor center. See, experience and learn about dark sides of WW2 for US Japanese citizens.
See dedicated blog.
Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery: A very nice old building with water pond.
South Fork Big Pine Trailhead: Trailhead to few hikes going up to nice lakes at the high Sierra mountains.
Bishop: Many high mountain lakes and hiking option near Bishop CA. Check driving & weather condition during winter.
Nice 50 miles drive, you have Keeler, Cerro Gordo Ghost Town, and other places to stop on the way, see a dedicated blog post for more information.
Another option to drive from Mojave north (hwy 178):
This option can get you directly to the Death Valley, but we decided to explore this area and drive “back” west (on 190) and sleep at Lone Pine spend a day near Lone Pine and drive back to Death Valley only on the following day.
Randsburg Ghost Town:
A very nice living Ghost Town, just walk at the main road, see the old building and stuff, there are few bars and restaurants.
You can also look at the small jail house just on the start of the road.
Nice stop on the way and very short hike to the rocks that are on the left side of the road (When going north west on hwy 178, after 5.1 miles from Trona Rd junction with 178). Not a lot more to do here except a short break and nice photos.
Interesting space/moon like landscape of many large standing white rock formation in the middle of the desert. See dedicated blog post.
Ballarat (Ghost Town):
Two miles off the main hwy 178 there is the site of Ballarat ghost town. Few remining houses to see, old graveyard and a general store run by the town’s only full-time resident, Roc.
We did not stop here due to time constraints so can’t really say if this is good stop.