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  1. Default Hearst Castle to Death Valley in December - How long will it take?

    We are planning to drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas via the Big Sur and Death Valley in 5 days.

    Our plan is to hire a car in SF and drive south as far as San Simeon or Cambria on Day 1. My husband has done this part of the trip before so even though it will be a long drive, I feel pretty confident that we can make it in one day.

    On Day 2 we intend to visit Hearst castle in the morning (we will book in advance for the earliest time slot) and then we will drive east towards Bakerfield and Ridgecrest en route to Death Valley. Our plan is to get as close as we can to DV on Day 2 and spend the night.

    My first question is how far can we expect to travel east once we leave the coast road? It seems to me that all of the main roads head north/south so we will be travelling on smaller roads. As we are from Australia we are not very familiar with the US roads and therefore I am not sure how fast we can travel on the roads connecting the coast with Bakerfield and Ridgecrest. We will not stop for any sightseeing after leaving Hearst Castle. We are used to long road trips and my husband and I can share the driving so a long drive is not a problem for us.

    We will be travelling in December so weather is also going to be an issue. I chose this route as I hope to avoid going over any very high mountain passes, but is this the case?

    I like to book accomodation in advance but I am not sure how far we will get by the end of Day 2.

    Once we get to Day 3 we can relax our pace a bit and take a bit more time travelling through DV and then on to Las Vegas. My main concern at the moment is to get some help with finding the best route from Hearst Castle to Death Valley in December. Many thanks in advance for all of your wonderful advice!

    Liz

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

    Default

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    You should allow up to 7 hours for the journey depending on where you stay, you can find lodging options at Panamint Springs or Stovepipe Wells in Death valley as well as Furnace creek that is further on into the park, so one of the first 2 options would make most sense so that you can enjoy driving through the park next day. Going via Bakersfield takes you around the Southern end of the Sierra Nevada, the mountain passes will all be closed this time of year. So take CA46/99/178 where you can continue to Ridgecrest and up the Trona Wildrose Rd or take 395 to Olancha that is slightly quicker. If you don't leave the Coast until later in the day, you could look at stopping in the Lake Isabella area.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    From Hearst Castle to Lake Isabella is 190 miles. I would allow 5 hours. If you want to try to make Ridgecrest add about another hour and a half. From Ridgecrest into Death Valley, it's about 2 hours. If you go direct from Hearst Castle to Death Valley, it's about 8 hours till you find lodging.

    From a weather standpoint, Lake Isabella may or may not be a good option. CA-178 is maintained year round, but you will occasionally find chain restrictions over Walker Pass. CA-58 is a much easier road to drive in adverse weather conditions. It's also at least a half hour faster because it's a high speed freeway and CA-14 from there to Ridgecrest is a pretty straight road.

    If you don't want to drive in the dark, plan on sunset in December around 5pm.

  4. Default

    Thank you so much for the great advice!

    I think that we will aim to drive from Hearst Castle along the CA46/99/58/14 to Ridgecrest where we will stop for the night. Does that sound realistic?

    If we take the CA395 north from Ridgecrest in the morning, how long do you estimate it will take us to get to Panamint Springs and the entrance to DV National Park? I imagine that the Trona Wildrose Road from Ridgecrest would be more scenic, but if it takes much longer than the CA395, we may prefer to get to Panamint Springs as quickly as possible in the morning and then spend the rest of the day exploring DV National Park. What do you think?

    Liz

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

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    The Trona Wildrose Road will only take an extra 20 mins or so, it's a slower road but 30 miles less in distance. It will also take you past Ballarat ghost town with views of the Panamint range. When you get to a fork in the road you need to keep left onto Panamint valley road as Wildrose Rd has an unpaved section. Allow a couple of hours.

  6. Default

    Thanks for that. I think we will take the Trona Wildrose Road from Ridgecrest. I always prefer the more direct route and so long as the road is OK at that time of year, it should be more interesting than CA395.

    I was also wondering if we should hire a 4-wheel drive in San Francisco for our road trip? After Death Valley, we intend to drive on to Las Vegas then Grand Canyon and through to Phoenix, AZ where we will drop off our car at the airport.

    Given that it is winter and there may be snow, would you recommend that we hire a 4-wheel drive car or will a normal sedan be OK? There are 4 of us (my husband and I plus 2 teenagers). I was thinking of hiring a car through Alomo.

    Does anyone have any thoughts?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    I don't see the need for 4wd. Even if there is snow, a standard front wheel drive sedan will do fine along that route. However, if you do want some extra room for your stuff and to spread out, a medium sized SUV wouldn't hurt but it's going to be considerably more expensive and it will use more fuel.

  8. Default

    I would prefer to keep the costs down so we might avoid the SUV if we can. Good point about petrol, too. Thanks so much to everyone for your thoughts and advice. This is a terrific website and I am sure to be back with lots more questions soon!

  9. #9

    Default

    Be smart about driving in the snow and you will do fine in a front wheel drive sedan. If you're stupid, you will end up in a ditch regardless of having 4wd or not. I hear about it all the time from people up North. They're driving along fine in their front wheel drive while half the cars on the side of the road are 4wd because the drivers think they don't need to take care when driving in the snow because they have power to 2 extra wheels...

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