Las Vegas to Death Valley is about 4-4.5 hours. Getting to Yosemite that same day will be a challenge (and I'm not sure what to recommend you see during that brief time in Death Valley). I'm assuming you're leaving very early from Vegas, so will arrive DV perhaps 10-10:30 a.m. Go to the Death Valley forum and ask what the best itinerary is for a very brief visit.
It's about 5-6 hours from DV (depending on what you consider to be your departure point from DV) to Lee Vining, the last significant town before you head over the amazing and scenic Tioga Pass into Yosemite. I would not want to recommend you do the Tioga Pass after dark, for several reasons, but mostly, you'd miss some great scenery (on the other hand, if anyone is prone to vertigo, maybe night time is the best time).
But that's about 10 or more hours of driving in that one day and you're not even over the Tioga Pass yet. Do you want to do that drive at the end of a long, tiring day? Or do you want to see the Tuolumne area and Tioga? Because it will certainly be about 1.5 more hours (without stopping to see any scenery) from Lee Vining to Curry Village/middle of Yosemite Valley.
So with an 11.5 hour day of driving (not counting any stops for food, gas or scenery), it's very hard to recommend any particular thing to see, except to just drive by what you can.
Can you spare an extra night to stay in Lee Vining? Even that is a very long day. To me, Death Valley is a land of desert afficionados, those who love rocks, who love interplay of shadow and light at dawn and at dusk. At mid day, there are still some impressive views (and little walks to take) but if you really intend arriving in Yosemite that same night, I don't know what to tell you - it's going to be dark as you enter the magnificent Yosemite Valley.
This is assuming weather cooperates. Where are you staying in Yosemite? Do you have an extra night for Bishop or Lee Vining?
Probably 4 hours (or 5) from Yosemite to Santa Cruz (I never have good luck with traffic on the final approach to Santa Cruz or Monterey but in October you may be able to sail on over in 4 hours).
That gives you 1.5 days in Yosemite - so ask on the Yosemite forum how to structure that. Myself, I wouldn't want to see the inside of a car again for as long as possible, so I'd spend my time meandering around Yosemite Valley for one whole day - but that wouldn't get you all the official post card views that a more car-based itinerary would get you.
It will certainly be a day to remember (and plenty of places to snap pictures from inside the car). I do wish you could plan so as to arrive Yosemite in daylight and get its full impact when you're fresh - and you see it as you approach, in all its breathtaking beauty. The first glimpse of the Valley from the road is such a great experience, and then to explore more closely naturally comes next. You'll be missing those great views in the dark, especially if you spend any time at at all in DV or other points along the way. You certainly don't have time to see Mono Lake or the Bristlecone Pines but you might get a picture of Mt. Whitney if you know where to look as you're driving through Lone Pine.
Thanks so much for your very informative info. Not knowing anything about your part of the world, any info you can give is greatly appreciated. We are happy to have an extra night as we weren''r sure of the travelling time from LV to Yosemite?
Can you recommend where would be the best place to stay to break the trip, so that we can stop and "smell the roses" and see Yosemite in the daylight?
Thanks so much for your very informative info. Not knowing anything about your part of the world, any info you can give is greatly appreciated. We are happy to have an extra night as we weren't sure of the travelling time from LV to Yosemite?
Can you recommend where would be the best place to stay to break the trip, so that we can stop and "smell the roses" and see Yosemite in the daylight
Hi again, Can you also recommend accommodation at Yosemite and is it better to stay in the park or outside?
Please read the info linked to the Top Questions in the upper right for lodging info. Which appeals to you? We're happy to give more information, but we need to know more about your travel style. Private cabin? Heated tent cabin? Motel type room right in the Valley?
Thanks for your response. We are a middle aged fairly fit couple and we don't really mind accommodation type, but probably not tent. Must have own bathroom/toilet and be clean. We like our own company, so don't mind if a bit remote, however, also don't mind crowds. We will have a car, so will need parking. It's only for two nights so really aren't too fussy. Just want to be in the best place to most of the attractions. Preferably not too expensive. We are not sure if staying in the park is better than outside and if outside, where? We are coming from Vegas through Sierra Nevada and the Tioga Pass. Hope this is of some help.
We're just back from our trip.
We left LV and drove to Death Valley, it took about 5hrs. Allow time for stops. Death Valley was amazing. Stayed the night at Stovepipe Wells. Great choice.
Stockport's plan is a good one. Thank you, Stockport, for the honest timeline of getting from LV to DV (it's alway taken us 5 hours too, no matter what Google maps says). Stovepipe Wells is a great place.
WIthin Yosemite, all lodging is somewhat rustic, except the places that are technically outside the park (but within the overall boundary area of the park) like Yosemite West or Foresta. Personally, we like the Curry Village tent cabins (the ones with private baths), if those are still available you might really enjoy the feeling of hearing the night sounds, it being so close to Happy Isles and the Mist Trail and all of that wonderful scenery.
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