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From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
36 posts
64 reviews
From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter


We are planning an RV road trip in mid-December.

Do the roads US-395 S and CA-190 E generally stay open during wintertime? If not, what would the best alternative road?

By the way, we would like to take the kids to ski (beginners) for 1 or 2 days in Yosemite or on the ski resort on the way between Yosemite and Death Valley (Mammoth Lake maybe?).

Thanks a lot!!!

9 replies to this topic
Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
Level Contributor
72,915 posts
133 reviews
1. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter


First, an RV is a very poor choice for winter in the mountains. You cannot use tire chains. There are no hookups in the campgrounds in Yosemite. It's feasible, but it may not be enjoyable.

Hwy 395 will be open but Hwy 120 will not. You'd travel south to Bakersfield and then east. www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g61000-c158581

Mammoth is not on the way in winter. Tioga Pass will very likely be closed.

There probably won't be enough snow to open Badger Pass / YosemiteSkiSnowboard in mid-December.

I recommend that you open the full TripAdvisor website, not the app. Look at the relevant topics in the Top Questions on the right side of this page. Read about planning a winter visit. Read about lodging.

Then open the California state page and read about RV travel.

Goldfield, Nevada
Level Contributor
11,205 posts
34 reviews
2. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

You won't be able to leave Yosemite by the east gate (Tioga Pass entrance) because that entrance, and Tioga Road itself, will very likely be closed for the winter by December.

This article discusses your options for crossing (or going around) the Sierra Nevada: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g61000-c1…

With an RV, I think your safest bet in December will be to exit Yosemite by the south entrance on Highway 41, and take Highway 41 south to Fresno, then 99 south to Bakersfield, then 58 east to 14 north to 395 north and overnight in Lone Pine. That would be a very long drive, but in theory it could be driven all in one day - although daylight hours are short in December and you'll finish the drive after dark.

The next day, you would take 136 east to 190 east into Death Valley.

The southern section of 395 is mostly open all year. The Lone Pine area is only 3,000 feet in elevation and averages only 3 inches of snowfall per year. The further north you go on 395, the elevation gradually gets higher and the more likely it is you might encounter snow or ice. I believe that Highway 190 is usually snow-free all year but I'm not sure.

Yes, Mammoth Lakes would be an excellent choice for skiing, although that would be a significant detour off your route, and it would require staying in the Mammoth Lakes area for 2 nights, so that you can have a day of skiing in between those nights.

In any mountain area, including Yosemite, driving in the winter always carries with it the risk of encountering winter driving conditions, such as snow or ice on the road if a storm comes through. Also the possibility of chains being required on the tires. Personally, I wouldn't take the risk, unless I had a rugged vehicle like an SUV, and the proper tire chains in case they are needed.

Edited: 11 May 2018, 10:26
San Francisco...
Level Contributor
36 posts
64 reviews
3. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

Thank you! Very useful information!

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
36 posts
64 reviews
4. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

Thanks! I will consider other options for RV trip in the Winter.

Long Beach...
Level Contributor
8,027 posts
5. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

Yosemite and the Mountains in winter- I would look for nice cozy cabins.

RVs in winter- stick to the desert and coast.

Level Contributor
11,517 posts
1 review
6. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

As others have said, and RV is not a good choice for the mountains in December

Even Yosemite will not be a nice place to RV in December. The valley floor is high enough that there is a risk of snow closing one of the western access roads and you will find it cold at night

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
Level Contributor
17,209 posts
52 reviews
7. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

Yes, Hwys 395 and 190E stay open in winter – 395 because it is a major federal highway that runs from the Canadian border through three states down into Southern California, and 190 because most of it is not at extremely high elevations. (However, 190 CAN be closed or have chain controls due to snow IN Death Valley National Park, so you need to be prepared for all possibilities).

As others have said, 395 is a high-elevation road and mid-December is the heart of winter in the Eastern Sierra. The high point on the road, if you want to drive north as far as Mammoth, is 8300 feet or 2.5 km above sea level, and there can be a treacherous condition called black ice, which happens when snow that has melted refreezes as temperatures drop and turns into a slick icy surface. It often cannot be readily seen on the pavement, which is why it’s called black ice. I’m guessing that you have limited snow travel experience. and even we local Californians can be surprised by it. This is a beautiful route, especially in winter with snow on the mountains; hopefully you will have a chance to see it but none of us locals would suggest a newcomer to California go there in an RV.

I do suggest Lone Pine as a stopover if you go from Yosemite east via Fresno and Bakersfield; it is one of the nicest towns in the area and it is not a long detour off your direct route. It might add 50-60 km to the most direct route, which goes through Olancha. If you go to Lone Pine, you will be in the shadow of the highest peak in the U.S. outside of Alaska, Mt. Whitney. All about Lone Pine here:


The point on Hwy 190 in Death Valley where you could run into snow is Townes Pass, which is east of Panamint Valley Road. Townes Pass is about 1.5 km above sea level, and a few times a year it gets enough snow to require chains.

It would help us all to know your overall itinerary. Why are you considering an RV, where are you flying in and flying out, and what places do you plan to visit? RV travel in California works for a national parks trip, or for going between smaller inland cities. It is a poor choice for San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas where there are congested and narrow streets, heavy traffic, limited parking, and few places to safely leave it for extended time periods. Unless you tow a smaller car, you are stuck taking that monster anywhere you want to drive, or looking for public transit which is good in San Francisco and less so in other cities (but in San Francisco, anywhere you park a vacation vehicle, you risk having it burglarized).

Many people come to the U.S. and have an idealized dream of an RV road trip, but honestly, it can be a nightmare under the wrong conditions. I suspect most of us would try to persuade you to reconsider, rent a passenger SUV, stay in hotels, and pay to have your meals cooked for you!

If we know your overall itinerary, maybe we can also suggest a place for a ski lesson for the kids (for instance, if you're going to Las Vegas, there is a ski area nearby called Mt. Charleston that may have something to suit you).

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
36 posts
64 reviews
8. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

Thank you so much. My initial plan was the following. For now, I just have booked the flights (arriving in San Francisco and departuring from Las Vegas). Used miles to book, this is why I got those crazy flights.

4 years ago we did south California by car (LA, Big Bear, San Diego, Anaheim). We are now planning SF, Vegas and some National Parks. I know that Spring would be the ideal time but unfortunally my kids are at School. Anyway my kids are exicited to see the snow.

Day WD Place Distance/time

19/dez Wed SP NY SFO Arrives in NY at 7:05am . Leaves NY at 7:30 pm. Arrives in SFO at 11pm

20/dez Thu San Francisco

21/dez Fri San Francisco

22/dez Sat San Francisco

23/dez Sun San Francisco

24/dez Mon San Francisco Alex arrives in SF

25/dez Tue San Francisco

26/dez Wed San Francisco

27/dez Thu San Francisco Pick up RV

28/dez Fri Yosemite 469 km/5h48

29/dez Sat Yosemite

30/dez Sun Yosemite/Death valley 414 km/ 4h37

31/dez Mon Death valley/Las vegas 241km /2h41

01/jan Tue Vegas

02/jan Wed Vegas

03/jan Wed Vegas/zion national park 275km/3h03

04/jan Thu zion national park

05/jan Fri zion/bryce canyon national park 116km/1h20

06/jan Sat bryce canyon national park

07/jan Sun arches national park 393 km/4h09

08/jan Mon arches/monument valley 242 km/2h40

09/jan Tue monument/grand canyon 284 km/ 3h04

10/jan Wed grand canyon/las vegas 443 km/4h15 return the RV

11/jan Wed vegas

12/jan Thu vegas

13/jan Fri vegas

14/jan Sat LV/Charlotte

15/jan Sun Charlotte/NY

16/jan Mon SP

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
Level Contributor
72,915 posts
133 reviews
9. Re: From Yosemite to Death Valley in the winter

I don't know what mapping tool you're using, but it's wrong.

Upper Pines Campground (4,000' elevation, cold / average of -2°C each night, open all year) in Yosemite Valley

- to -

Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley


Nonstop car driving: 7 hr 43 min, 430 miles / 692 km. In an RV, on Dec 30 when it could certainly be snowing and you are not allowed to use tire chains on the RV, this drive could be anywhere from 10 - 48 hours (wait for it to stop snowing.)

It is NOT "414 km/ 4h37"

That's just one problem with your itinerary.

As you want to visit several states, please please please use the multi-state Road Trips forum: https:/…ShowForum-g1-i12567-Road_Trips.html

If you want to 'enjoy' RV travel, consider picking it up in Las Vegas.

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