Yosemite to Death Valley Road Trip – Yosemite National Park is one of americas greatest National Parks. Yosemite is famous for its gigantic ancient sequoia trees and the majestic granite cliffs of El Captain and Half Dom.
Whereas Death valley is a desolate land, which looks like something from Mars! Located in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert, Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world!
A road trip between the two will take you from California Sierra Nevada mountains, through forests, wilderness, canyons and offer views of some of the most majestic scenery in America! There are few driving, here we will detail one of the most scenic!
How long is the drive from Yosemite to Death Valley?
The drive between Yosemite and Death valley takes approximately 4-5 hours and covers between 231 miles and 300 miles depending upon the route.
It can be done in 4 hours amongst the shortest route…but its much better to take your time and experience the breath taking scenery.
Which is the best driving route between Yosemite & Death Valley?
Highway 395, more scenic and faster!
Highway 395 is the fastest route and spans 231 miles over approximately 4 hours! You may thing this would mean it may be less scenic then highway 95 but you’d be wrong! In fact, highway 395 has much more dramatic scenery as it follows Owens Valley.
On this driving route you will see the Sierra mountains rise dramatically to your west and breath taking vistas over the valley to the east. You will also have sights of Mt. Whitney, Alabama Hills and Mono Lake.
If you drive along highway 95 you will find it a longer journey 300 miles (5 hours) and less scenic as the mountains aren’t as high and valleys aren’t as wide. The climate is also dryer with sparse vegetation.
Along 95 the mountains aren’t as high, the climate is dryer (and the vegetation sparser) and the valleys aren’t as wide. As a result I think you’ll get more impressive shots along 395.
Map of Yosemite to Death Valley Road Trip:
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When is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park to avoid crowds?
The best time to visit Yosemite to avoid crowds are May and September. At this time of year the park is accessible, but not too crowded. It’s vital to know that many roads and trails in Yosemite are closed for the majority of the year due to snow.
May at Yosemite:
In May, average highs range in the mid-60s. Lows, however, stay in the mid-30s, so remember to bring a coat with you. These temperates make the visit comfortable and its also the best time to see the parks waterfalls as the snow has melted!
In May, some roads and trails may still be closed, so you are best visiting towards the end of the month.
September at Yosemite:
September, highs are in the mid-70s, while lows are in the mid-40s. This temperature range offers a more comfortable hiking experience. There is also fewer people on the trails and the sun won’t be as intense. However, the waterfalls won’t be as free flowing.
Winter at Yosemite:
Yosemite National Park was named one of our: 20 Incredible Winter Camping Destinations: USA
Yosemite to Death Valley Road Trip Itinerary:
1. Yosemite National Park (3 day Itinerary)
How much does it cost to enter Yosemite?
Yosemite costs approximately $35 per car valid for seven days
Day 1: Hiking Cooks Meadow to Glacier Point.
Cooks Meadow Loop hike spans 2.25 miles and take you around the Yosemite Valley. This is the ideal introduction to Yosemite and is fairly easy, flat and offers breath taking views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Afterwards we took the drive to the base of El Captain.
You should check out Yosemite Village, where you can pick up a useful hiking map and visit the Ansel Adams gallery. There’s also a shop and some restaurants where you can grab lunch…or alternatively bring a packed lunch like we did!
Drive up Glacier Point Road:
From the valley you can take the 1 hour drive Glacier Point which offers panoramic views of Yosemite. On the way you will find some nice hikes so it’s well worth stopping of.
Sentinel Done and Taft Point Hikes
Sentinel Dome and Taft Point hikes are both short but I would budget at least an hour for each to really enjoy the spectacular views along the way. The Taft Point Hikes (2.2miles) offers a forested hike with epic views of the valley and deer which can get really close!
There is a Sentinel Done and Taft Point combo hike which takes around 4 hours. However, we chose to return to the trailhead after each to grab water and use the toilet.
Glacier Point is one of the most popular viewpoints of Yosemite National Park. From the top you will be able to enjoy incredible views of high country, Half Dome, Nevada Falls to the forests in the valley below! This is a must see for any trip to Yosemite!
There are now restrictions on driving on Glacier Point Rd from Mid-May to September between 10 am and 4.30 pm.
If the Glacier Point parking lot is full, you will have to park at Badger Pass and then take the shuttle bus to Glacier Point, this shuttle also stops at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead. See the NPS website for the latest updates.
Day 2: Mist trail & Vernal Falls
Mist Trail is a 7 mile hike which is really popular during the summer months. The steep trail, which has rock stairs for some parts which take you past the spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls. These both offer fantastic flows even during the summer!
Hike down Muir Trail on the way back rather then retrace your steps this routes offers some unique views of the Nevada falls.
Afterwards head to Curry Village for lunch, where they have everything from Pizza to Ice cream and some tasty coffee.
Day 3: Mono Lake
Mono Lake is a saline soda lake, which was formed at least 760,000 years ago! Unique rock formations look like something from the terrains of Mars and offer some of the strangest scenery known to man!
Sunrise or Sunset are the best time to visit Mono Lake.
After visiting Mono Lake, you can also take the short June Lake loop and then drive to Mammoth Lakes.
Mono Lake was included in our list: 15 BEST California State Parks! Camping Tips!
Where to stay in Yosemite National Park?
The best accommodation is inside the park and better still Yosemite valley. A few favourites we stayed at included, the Tenaya Lodge which is a luxurious hotel in the park and the Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite which is in an ideal location.
Be sure to book far in advance as the best rooms sell out a year ahead.
2. Bishop & Lake Sabrina
Bishop is an outdoorsy adventure town with an artistic side! It can be reached just of US 395 and is well worth visiting! Many call it a “Small town with a big backyard” as it allows easy access to some of Sierras most dramatic high country.
Located at the north end of Owens valley this is an ideal paradise for hikers, skiers, mountain bikers and anglers.
Lake Sabrina is an alpine stunner which is just a half-hour drive southwest of Bishop.
Birder watchers take note: Lake Sabrina is an ideal place to look for the prestigious snow quail.
John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness Areas:
Bishop is a great place to springboard yourself into the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness Areas, when the snow melts. You can also visit Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest to the east and the Volcanic Tablelands to the north.
Where to Eat in Bishop?
When you have finished giving your eyes a feast its now time to give you belly a feast! Head to Erick Schat’s Bakery for just-baked bread and treats. You should also try the unique jerky at Mahogany Smoked Meats.
Bishop is home to an artistic movement with over 20 brightly colored murals dotted downtown.
3. Lone Pine & Mount Whitney
Lone Pine is a small town in some very big country! With a population of just 2,000 residents, Lone Pine stretches along U.S. Highway 395 and is at the heart of the vast Owens Valley.
To the east you can see the great Inyo Mountains which tower over the valley, while the Sierra Nevada rises in the west just behind the jumbled boulder formations of the Alabama Hills!
As you drive down Highway 395 you will feel the road narrow and slow as it turns into Lone Pines Main Street. Here you will find western style buildings with neon signs enticing you to pull over.
Fun Fact: Fishing is huge in Lone Pine, as its offers jumping of to Owens Valley and the Golden Trout Wilderness.
Lone Pine also has a history of being a backdrop for the greatest movies of all time, to find out more check out: The Museum of Western Film History
Where to eat at Lone Pine?
For Breakfast check out labama Hills Café & Bakery on W. Post St, a homely local spot which offers lots of filling foods, including breakfast burritos! Whitney Portal Store is a nice place for lunch.
As you drive into high country from Lone Pine the road climbs nearly 5,000 feet and zigzags its way up the face of the Eastern Sierra before reaching Whitney Portal, the gateway for hikers who are bound for the summit of 14,505-foot Mount Whitney the highest point in the USA! (outside Alaska).
Even if you don’t plan on hiking to the summit Whitney, you can hike stretches of the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail and through a wooded canyon along Lone Pine Creek.
4. Panamint Springs
Driving Route: Continue along US 395 and look for signs for highway 136 which merges onto highway 190 and takes you into death valley past Panamint Springs.
Panamint Springs is famed for its no thrills, easy access resort which offers basic accommodation and campground.
The Pananmint Springs resort is close to major death valley sights. 30 miles from Mesquite Sand Dunes and 70 miles from Badwater. Places to stay which offer more amenities and luxury include The Ranch at Death Valley (we stayed here) .
Winter Camping in Death Valley is a true bucket list experience, for more info check out: