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Old 03-13-2015, 12:10 PM   #1
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Yosemite to Death Valley Routes

New member here, so greetings to one and all. My wife and I will be visiting Yosemite in Mid-May and then heading south to Death Valley before heading to Big Bend via the Petrified Forest. Any suggestions for a good route from Mariposa, CA to the Fiery Furnace CG would be greatly appreciated. We will be driving a Vista 27N while towing a CanAm Spyder on a utility traler.

Thanks,
Chris
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Old 03-13-2015, 03:48 PM   #2
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I would take Tioga Pass (Highway 120 from inside the park) over the summit to 395, south on 395 to Lone Pine then east on 136/190 to DV. Otherwise you will have to drive south in CA using 99, which is, although a freeway, in very bad condition. 120/395/136/190 is much more scenic (if you like mountains and desert), than 99/178 or 99/58. (Although you can go north and cross the Sierra on Highway 88 (a beautiful drive!), or US50, because they are so far out of your way, I assume you don't want to take that route.) Although in a normal winter, Tioga Pass is closed until mid-May or so, that shouldn't be an issue this year.

If you aren't familar with this area, 120 will be exclusively in Yosemite, and take you through mountain forests, glaciated granite mountains and then down to the desert at Mono Lake on the east side. Take some time to visit Mono Lake and see the tufa. Going south on 395, you will be at the eastern base of the mountains. 395 is generally two lanes but is commonly used by truckers as a shortcut from Reno to Barstow, so easily traveled by RV with trailer. You will pass by Owen's Lake (home of trophy trout) and drive through the Owen's Valley (ditto). Just north of Lone Pine you will pass Manzanar National Historic Site where tens of thousands of Japanese were interned during WWII. Lone Pine itself is also home of the Alabama Hills (just west of town), where many cowboy movies were made.

Very few mobile parks on this route, but lots of place to boondock. If you want to stay in mobile parks, you will need to research them in advance but you shouldn't have a problem finding space.

I would allow two days to get from Yosemite, via Tioga Pass and 395, to get to DV, if you want to enjoy any of the scenery. It can be done in one day, but ...

Good luck and enjoy!

Here is NPS warning for towing a trailer over Tioga Pass:

Tips for Pulling a Trailer over Tioga Pass
Highway 120 between Tioga Pass and its junction with US 395 is a steep, winding mountain road. The steepest portion of the road is an eight-mile section that ascends about 2,500 feet (from Lee Vining toward Tioga Pass). Portions of the road have a grade as steep as eight percent.
Other considerations:
1. Adhere to the towing capacity of your vehicle (you might be able to tow a trailer that is heavier than what your vehicle is set up to tow on other roads, but it might not work if you're going up or down this grade); adjust your braking system if you can.
2. Know your driving skills and what you are capable of doing.
3. Many vehicles towing trailers make it up to Tioga Pass (slowly and patiently). However, you may not be able to keep up with other traffic--if you try to, your vehicle may overheat. So, don't try to drive the same speed as other cars that aren't towing vehicles; use the pullouts when you can to allow them to pass you.
4. If you do break down (engine overheating, brakes fail, etc.) be aware that you might be waiting several hours for help (especially if you come through later in the day when fewer people can help you). Have a plan if you break down.
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Old 03-13-2015, 10:20 PM   #3
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I strongly suggest you read the entry from "Mountain Directory West for Truckers and RVers" before travelling CA 190 ... there are warnings about grades, sharp curves, and pulling trailers.

This is available from the publisher as well as Amazon.
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Old 03-13-2015, 10:39 PM   #4
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I've driven Hwy 190 dozens of times in both out truck and TT, and our 32' motorhome. While it can be somewhat intimidating, it's really pretty easy as long as you take your time. The tour busses into Death Valley National Park run that road from sun up to sundown, all year round. Use your exhaust brake if you have one, or your transmission gears if you don't. Just go slow and use your brakes wisely. Don't worry, you won't be alone! There are always lots of RVs on 190.


Death Valley is a stunningly beautiful place. We visit 5 or 6 times a year, and have been doing so for over 20 years. Every time we go I find something I'd never seen before. Take your time, enjoy the trip, and make plans to come back!
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Old 03-14-2015, 11:45 AM   #5
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Unless you are used to traveling on steep, winding mountain roads I suggest you do not use 190. Even with a diesel and engine brake it's hard to stay slow enough. But it is a very scenic trip.
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Old 03-15-2015, 02:20 PM   #6
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Thanks

I appreciate all of your suggestions and recommendations. I'm not too intimidated by narrow, winding roads. Our driveway alone is 3/4 mile, single lane, and gravel/stone. There are three 90 degree turns where the Vista's wheelbase is just short enough so I can make the turn without going over the bank and into a ravine.

We'll be driving to DV from Yosemite in one day, but hope we might take a break to see Mono Lake. Since we won't be able to see everything, we'll have a good excuse to come back.

We already have reservations at Mariposa and Furnace Creek.

Again, thanks for your replies.

Chris
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Old 03-22-2015, 09:40 AM   #7
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Are the low clearances on CA 120 (Yosemite NP says a couple tunnels are only a few inches over 10 feet at the white line) a problem for a 13' 6" rig, or by positioning your significant other at the opposite end of the tunnel while one straddles the yellow line acceptable and do-able? Also, when will Tioga pass likely open this year? IIRC reading someplace some years may be as late as June depending on the winter.

Toward mid spring we will be coming from TX in a 45 footer and toad with Death Valley, Yosemite, and the coastal redwoods on our list. (We have printed the CA DOT roadway RV length restrictions for the 40'+ category, and it appears CA 120 is okay length wise.)
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Old 03-22-2015, 02:05 PM   #8
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First, according to the NP website: (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisi...rictions.htm):

Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120)
Maximum vehicle length: 45 feet for single vehicle.
Height restrictions: tunnels, into Yosemite Valley: 10 feet 3 inches; from Yosemite Valley, 13 feet 8 inches (the height of the tunnel at the white fogline is higher and full sized tour buses are able to drive through the tunnel while remaining in their lane).
Seasons: Open all year (chains may be required in winter).

End quote.

Big Oak Flat Road runs from Crane Flat into the Yosemite Valley. To my knowledge, there aren't any restricted tunnels on 120. There are restricted tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road that are NOT good for RVs over 10 feet, going into the valley (in contrast to leaving the valley). Using someone to spot you and centerline through the tunnels would not work unless you were doing it at 2:00 a.m. (only a slight exageration) because there is normally a lot of traffic on Big Oak Flat Road (one of two primarly entrances into Yosemite). However, there is no similar restriction leaving the valley floor on Big Oak Flat Road, going to Crane Flat, then taking 120 east over Tioga Pass. So to get to Yosemite, you must arrive by 140 only. If you try to arrive via Tioga Pass or 120, you will be stymied at the tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road. Leaving the valley floor, you may take either 140, or Big Oak Flat Road and 120. (I have not discussed entering/exiting via Wawona Road because I have never used it. Perhaps someone else can chime in on that road, if it is even open.)

As to when Tioga will open, yes, sometimes it has been late as the end of June. We only wish that were the situation now but because of the lack of precipitation this year the mountains are bare so I am guessing Tiogo will be open sometime in May, maybe even early May.

As you want to see the redwoods, Yosemite and Death Valley, it strikes me as most efficient to see the redwoods first, then enter Yosemite via 140 (the only choice you have to enter the park), exit via 120 and head over Tioga to Death Valley. Alternatively, you could go to Death Valley, then head down to Bakersfield and then north to 140 to enter the park, then exit 120 towards the redwoods.
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Old 03-22-2015, 03:45 PM   #9
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You will pass by Owen's Lake (home of trophy trout) and drive through the Owen's Valley (ditto).

Sorry to disappoint, but Owen's Lake is dry....thanks to Mr. Sepulveda, Los Angeles Aquaduct and the Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power.

Ron
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Old 03-22-2015, 05:01 PM   #10
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First off, thanks Coulter,

Guess I'm totally confused by what the park restrictions says and where exactly these tunnels are. We thought about camping vicinity Groveland "just" outside the west entrance of the park (so they say it is) off CA 120 (which is called Big Oak Flat Road as it leaves Groveland). As Death Valley is on the way west from Las Vegas, and the ancient coastal redwoods are off 101 along the coast up around Redcrest, had thought about coming up 395 and seeing Lone Pine, Bishop and Mono Lake areas and over Tioga pass to the west and getting to see Yosemite too "on the way by", rather than just up to Reno over I-80 and to the coast. But was under the impression that as CA 120 goes through Yosemite (that big green spot on the map ) that they are talking about tunnels on 120 as it is call Big Oak Flat Road. I hear you are saying driving though Yosemite on CA 120 there are no tunnels (I guess CA 120 turns off of Big Oak Flat Road someplace not near where the tunnels are) and we could get through from Mono Lake to our parking spot near Groveland (for a week or two of exploring the vicinity with the toad) likely by end of May. And then continue west toward 101 and up the coast.

Or perhaps save Death Valley / Las Vegas for the return trip as we come back from BC (perhaps on 395 most of the way south), and alternatively avoid the Sierra Nevada's on the way out taking 99 up from I-40/CA 58 after leaving Kingman AZ, but had heard 395 was better. However, then I'm not sure why I'd cut over to 140 (and Rte 49 up toward Groveland has length restriction so I'd be stuck following what appears to be a really winding road to get onto 120) rather than just continuing up to around Modesto and over on 120 to the campground just outside the gate.

Anyway, if I let the muddy water settle for a while, maybe it'll get clear to me (and I find a map with more detail than the state map). Still just roughing out ideas.

Thanks,
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Old 03-22-2015, 05:21 PM   #11
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To my knowledge, there are no restrictive tunnels on 120. The only restrictive tunnels are on Big Oak Flat Road between Crane Point and the valley floor, so if you do not bring your motorhome into the park and instead camp at Groveland and bring your toad into the park on Big Oak Flat Road, you should be fine.

From Groveland to the valley floor is about 50 miles.

If you want to see exactly where the tunnels are, go to maps.google.com, search for Big Oak Flat Road. Click on the satelite image and follow Big Oak Flat Road up from the valley floor. Although it is hard to see the two small tunnels, the 2,000 tunnel is visible on the map.

Enjoy your trip!
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Old 03-23-2015, 10:28 PM   #12
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Yes, using Google maps I traced Big Oak Flat road from Groveland 20 miles east to the campground, and then 5 miles more to the Big Flat Yosemite entrance gate and further down to where 120 turns off Big Oak Flat onto Tioga Road and out to 395. It would appear to be easily navigated in a large RV. Seems like there is only a wilderness station on the east side and no entrance gate across the road so it does appear that one can drive through Yosemite from the east and exit out the Big Flat entrance without "entering" the park. So it seems like a good plan to drive the RV through the park from the east and then use the toad to park at the trailheads. Too bad the park service didn't add "no height restrictions on CA120" along with their statement on 45 feet being ok on that road. Just booked a couple of weeks at the campground both sides of memorial day.

Thanks, and sorry for all of my confusion.
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Old 03-24-2015, 09:30 AM   #13
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Actually, there is a park entrance at the eastern foot of Tioga Pass on 120 (just a short distance from 395) and west of Crane Point on 120, so you will be entering the park boundary, but you will not be entering or traversing the valley floor on 120. However, traveling from 395 over Tioga Pass to Crane Flat, then continuing west towards Groveland, I cannot recall any restrictive tunnels. As noted previously, the tunnels are between Crane Flat and the valley floor (southeast of Crane Flat).
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Old 05-24-2015, 01:54 PM   #14
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Drove from Mariposa to Furnace Creek by way of Tioga Pass, which was open. No problems whatsoever with the tunnels. Thick fog after Crane Flat and before Tuolomne Meadows. Used tow mode all the way and had an easy descent to Lee Vining. Thumbs up to the meals at Whoa Nellie Belly, the Mobil station on the right.

Driving on 190 to Furnace Creek was long and tiresome again using tow mode to ascend and descend. Couldn't spend much time looking at the views so my wife took lots of pictures. The Furnace Creek RV Resort near the Park's visitor center could surely use some signage, we damn near drove right past it. The only showers are near the pool and that can be a far piece from where you're parked. Other than that, we're here and enjoying our stay. Quite a change from temp's in the low 40s to temps now in the low 90s.

Take care,
Chris
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