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San Francisco Road Trip: San Francisco to Death Valley

San Francisco to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is celebrated for its otherworldly landscapes. From the towering Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to the jaw-dropping eroded badlands of Zabriskie Point. While the journey to Death Valley is about eight hours from San Francisco, this scenic drive is brimming with plenty of phenomenal stops!

On this unforgettable San Francisco road trip, detour to the majestic Yosemite National Park, wake up to vibrant hoodoos in Red Rock Canyon, climb enormous boulders in Bishop, and jump into the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe. To help get you started, we’ve assembled the ultimate seven-day road trip from San Francisco to Death Valley!

Travel Time from San Francisco to Death Valley National Park

This roundtrip itinerary spans approximately 1,070 miles, beginning and ending at the Escape Camper Vans’ San Francisco hub. Completing the full loop takes about 19 hours. We recommend planning at least seven days to make the most of this San Francisco road trip from San Francisco to Death Valley. A week-long trip means you’ll have enough time to immerse yourself in the beauty of Death Valley and explore all the outstanding stops along the way!


Directions Tips:

TOTAL MILES: 1,070 miles

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME: 7 days, driving 19 hours

Best Time of Year for a California Road Trip to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley can be enjoyed most of the year except for the scorching hot summer months. Spring or fall is the best time to visit and enjoy ideal hiking conditions.

Spring

Spring is by far the most popular time to visit Death Valley. The temperatures are warm but comfortable, and wildflowers are in full bloom. Remember, this is also the time of year when campgrounds tend to fill up quickly, so aim to book your sites well in advance. Springtime is also ideal for visiting the other stops on this itinerary, especially Yosemite and South Lake Tahoe.

Summer

Death Valley is famous for being the hottest place on earth, with temperatures reaching up to 116 degrees in July. The intense heat can be dangerous, especially if you’re planning any hikes. We recommend avoiding a Death Valley trip from June through August. If your heart is set on a California road trip this summer, you might consider driving along the coast instead.

Fall

The fall is a great time for a Death Valley road trip. The temperatures have cooled since the summer, but the crowds are much smaller than during the spring. This is also a beautiful time of year in Yosemite. If you travel earlier in the season, you should still be able to enjoy the water in South Lake Tahoe.

Winter

During the winter, temperatures in Death Valley are quite cool, and the park is at its least crowded. This is a particularly peaceful time of year and a great time to visit if you seek solitude. While the air is crisp during the day, the temperatures drop at night, so ensure you have extra bedding to stay warm. This season is also an ideal time for any ski enthusiasts hoping to hit Lake Tahoe’s slopes!

Preparation for a Death Valley National Park Roadtrip

This West Coast road trip covers a lot of ground and traverses many different types of terrain. To ensure a smooth journey, it’s essential to plan ahead and gather everything you’ll need before setting off on your adventure.

Camping

If traveling during the high season, you’ll want to book your campsites well in advance, particularly inside the parks. If you can’t find available campsites, don’t worry—there are many dispersed or free campsites throughout the area.

Supplies

Gear: Before getting behind the wheel, ensure you have all the gear you’ll need for your trip. Stock up on Escape Camper Vans’ extra add-ons, including a kitchen and bedding kit for chilly nights in the desert. Add in a door canopy to get a break from the sun when you’re at your campsite, along with a solar shower since most campgrounds only offer basic amenities.

Food: Fill your camper van’s fridge with ingredients for easy-to-make meals and plenty of snacks for long stretches of time on the road. You’ll also need to load up on lots of water, especially to stay hydrated in Death Valley. Most of the campgrounds you’ll visit don’t offer potable water, so always double-check that you have enough in your van before settling in for the night.

Navigation

Phone: Your Smartphone will work well as a GPS throughout your trip. Remember to download offline maps. Several of the parks and areas you’ll drive through have minimal cell reception, so you’ll want to ensure your navigation isn’t affected in more remote areas. You should also pack portable chargers since you can’t charge your phone when your camper van is off.

Paper Maps: At the park entrance, it’s a good idea to grab a free paper map of Death Valley. Not only do these make great souvenirs, but they’re also incredibly helpful when locating more secluded trailheads.

Which Camper Van is Best for a Death Valley Road Trip?

Escape Camper Vans offers five camper van models, all available at our San Francisco hub. The Del Mar, Mesa, and Mavericks are our three largest models, and when you add a rooftop sleeper, they can sleep up to five people.

Our two most compact models are the Jeep and Santa Cruz campers, which sleep up to two people and contain kitchenettes. While all our vehicles suit a Death Valley road trip, your ideal van will depend on your group size and personal preferences.

San Francisco to Death Valley Road Trip Itinerary Stops

Day 1: San Francisco to Yosemite National Park

After picking up your camper van rental in San Francisco and stocking up on all your road trip essentials, it’s time to hit the road! Before exploring Death Valley, you’ll stop at one of California’s other breathtaking national parks- Yosemite. Just three hours from our San Francisco location, a night in Yosemite is the perfect way to kick off your Death Valley road trip!

Spend your day exploring the park. Hiking to cascading waterfalls, marveling at enormous granite rock formations, and searching for elusive black bears and other wildlife throughout the park.

An Escape Camper Van on a California road trip in Yosemite National Park

Things to do in Yosemite National Park

Hike to Bridalveil Fall TrailLocated in Yosemite Valley and accessed by a half-mile trail, Bridal Veil is one of Yosemite’s most impressive waterfalls. Plummeting down nearly eighty feet, it’s well worth the quick trek to marvel at these powerful Yosemite falls!

See El CapitanStanding at 3,000 feet tall, this towering granite rock formation is one of the park’s most iconic landmarks. Whether you choose to climb up the gigantic boulder or take in its grandeur from a nearby viewpoint, the overpowering sight will leave you speechless!

Mariposa Grove—This spectacular grove, Located towards the southern end of Yosemite, is surrounded by a dense field of over 500 giant sequoia trees. Several easy-to-follow trails allow visitors to get close to these majestic giants.

Places to Eat in Yosemite National Park

June Bug Cafe—6979B CA-140, Midpines, CA 95345: This casual cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is one of the best places in the park to find a healthy meal. T

Curry Village Pizza Deck– 9010 Curry Village Dr, Yosemite Village, CA 95389: Hand-tossed, inventive pizzas are served on a gorgeous terrace at this popular locale.

Campgrounds in Yosemite National Park

There are ten camper-van-friendly sites throughout Yosemite, most of which require advanced reservations. Camping in Yosemite is extremely popular, and sites fill up quickly, so try to make your reservations as early as possible.

Upper Pines Campground—Yosemite National Park, CA, 95389: This spacious campground operates all year, and advanced reservations are mandatory. Conveniently located in Yosemite Valley, it is on the free shuttle route and features flush toilets, potable water, and food storage lockers.

Wawona Campground– Yosemite National Park, CA, 95389: This year-round site located towards the southern end of Yosemite requires reservations from April through October. It becomes first come, first served the rest of the year.

Day 2: Red Rock Canyon State Park

After a leisurely morning at Yosemite, pack your camper van and drive down to Red Rock Canyon State Park for four hours. Known for its vibrant desert cliffs, sandstone buttes, and otherworldly rock formations, this often-overlooked park is an ideal way to break up the drive between Yosemite and Death Valley.

Pro Tip: If the Tioga Pass is open, you can skip Red Rock Canyon and cut through Yosemite, allowing for a more direct path to Death Valley. Tioga Pass is typically open from May through October, depending on snowfall.

A person lighting a camp fire on a San Francisco road trip in an Escape Camper Van.

Things to do in Red Rock Canyon State Park

Alabama Hills – Located halfway between Yosemite and Red Rock Canyon State Park. This stunning natural area is renowned for its unique rock formations against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Visitors can explore the rugged landscape, hike among the iconic rock arches, and enjoy activities like rock climbing and photography.

Red Cliffs TrailThis quick hike is the perfect way to get up close to Red Rock Canyon’s unique landscape. Numerous trails extend from this hike, weaving past stunning sandstone cliffs and volcanic rock formations.

Hagen Canyon—Located near the Ricardo Campground, this 0.9-mile trail is another great hike to experience the jaw-dropping scenery Red Rock Canyon. It is especially popular in the springtime for spotting wildlife and wildflowers.

Places to Eat near Red Rock Canyon State Park

Since there aren’t any eateries inside the park, this is a great opportunity to use your camper van’s kitchen! However, if you’re not in the mood to cook, there are several dining options in California City, about fifteen minutes away.

Coyote Cafe– 7035 California City Blvd Ste B, California City, CA 93505: Classic American dishes and comfort food are served at this laid-back eatery. Their breakfasts are especially popular and known for being quite filling, perfect for fueling up before a day of adventuring!

Gloria’s Mexican Restaurant– 7027 California City Blvd, California City, CA 93505: For dinner, stop by this colorful restaurant, which serves some of the most authentic Mexican food in the area.

Camping in Red Rock Canyon State Park

Ricardo Campground– Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA, 93519: This is the park’s only developed campground and a prime spot for admiring the Red Rock Canyon’s dramatic landscape. All sites are first come, first served at this year-round site.

Days 3-4: Death Valley National Park

After a final glimpse of the crimson hues of Red Rock Canyon, head about two hours to Death Valley National Park. California’s largest national park is a land of extremes unlike anywhere else. Death Valley is the hottest place on the planet, and it’s also home to the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.

An Escape Camper Van in Death Valley National Park on a California Road trip.

Fun Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie PointThis jaw-dropping viewpoint is one of Death Valley’s most famous, and it’s not hard to see why. The sweeping views of the badlands are especially impressive just before sunset when the golden hour glow accentuates the park’s rich yellow hues.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes—Countless sand dunes span this vast field, many reaching up to 100 feet tall. Go sandboarding or just admire the view from the tallest dune.

Dante’s View This classic viewpoint is one of the best spots in the park for admiring a 360-view of Death Valley’s spectacular landscapes.

Artist’s Palette—Marvel at the vibrant colors that wash over these sedimentary hills along Artist Drive. Take in the striking patches of blues and pinks from an overlook, or go for a hike for a close-up look at the incredible colors created from volcanic deposits.

Places to Eat near Death Valley National Park

Toll Road Restaurant– Death Valley National Park, 51880 CA-190, Death Valley, CA 92328: This eatery is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers classic American cuisine.

Last Kind Words Saloon—Death Valley National Park, The Ranch at, CA-190, Furnace Creek, CA 92328: Step back in time at this Old West-themed saloon, which is decorated with old wanted posters for outlaws, antique firearms, and movie posters from classic Westerns.

Camping in Death Valley National Park

Furnace Creek Campground– Death Valley, CA 92328: This popular site is open all year and features flush toilets, potable drinking water, and a dump station. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance from October to April, though sites become first come, first served the rest of the year.

Sunset Campground—Death Valley, CA 92328: Open from October to April, this first-come, first-served campground is quite spacious and often has available sites. Basic amenities include flush toilets, drinking water, and a dump station.

Day 5: Bishop, CA

Spend your morning taking in any last Death Valley viewpoints, and then head towards the scenic city of Bishop, California. Under two hours from Death Valley, Bishop is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re an avid climber or more into relaxing in a tranquil hot spring, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.

Bishop, California is a great place to stop on a San Francisco road trip.

Things to do in Bishop, CA

Keough’s Hot SpringsAfter a few days of hiking, give your body a break with a relaxing visit to the biggest natural hot springs pool in the Eastern Sierra.

Climb Buttermilk BouldersThrill-seekers often venture to Bishop to experience rock climbing the imposing highball boulders in the area. However, these massive boulders are not for the faint of heart and are only recommended for experienced climbers.

Bishop Creek Canyon—For a less intense outdoor adventure, this picturesque area is perfect for a day of hiking, swimming, or relaxing. Numerous trails are available, along with several crystal blue lakes, jaw-dropping granite peaks, and vibrant wildflowers in the summer.

Places to Eat in Bishop, CA

Erick Schat’s Bakery—763 N Main St, Bishop, CA 93514: This European bakery is a must-visit institution in Bishop. While a variety of sweet and savory items are available, their big claim to fame is their signature bread.

Back Alley Bowl & Grill– 649 N Main St, Bishop, CA 93514: This bowling alley is known for their surprisingly delicious cuisine, making it one of the most popular dinner spots in town.

Campgrounds near Bishop, CA

Rock Creek Lake Campground– 115 Rock Creek Rd, Bishop, CA 93514: This lakeside campground offers scenic views, flush toilets, and potable water, although it does not feature hookups. The site operates from May through September, and while reservations can be made ahead of time, they are not required.

Bishop Park Campground– 166 Cataract Rd, Bishop, CA 93514: This very popular site is open from May until September, and reservations can be made up to six months in advance. The lovely site provides access to many trails and food storage lockers, grills, and picnic tables.

Day 6: South Lake Tahoe, CA

Spend your morning taking in spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada mountains as you travel up to the magnetic city of South Lake Tahoe. Celebrated for its premier ski resorts in the winter and unparalleled water activities in the summer, South Lake Tahoe is an ideal stop on a San Francisco to Death Valley road trip any time of year!

If you’re traveling during the warmer months, you’ll likely plan to spend your day along the incredibly clear waters of Lake Tahoe. Rent a kayak or go for a swim, and then opt for one of the many hikes in the area for a bird’s-eye view of the famous lake. For winter road trippers, don’t forget to pack your skis!

Explore the serene landscape of Lake Tahoe on your road trip.

Things to do in Lake Tahoe

Hit the Slopes—If you’re traveling during the winter, hitting the slopes of South Lake Tahoe is a must! You’ll find countless resorts to choose from, along with easy access to ski or snowboard rentals and lessons for newbies.

Clear Kayaking When the weather’s warm, there’s no better way to spend your time than out on the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe. To experience the lake’s impressive clarity, opt for a clear kayak to fully take in the views- even while you paddle!

Cascade Falls Hike—This 1.5-mile hike provides magnificent views of Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe, leading to a stunning 200-foot-tall waterfall.

Places to Eat near Lake Tahoe

Artemis Lakefront Cafe– 900 Ski Run Blvd Ste. 111, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150: This outdoor Mediterranean restaurant features gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe, along with delicious cuisine. Dine on Greek and other Mediterranean fare, or relax with a glass of wine next to their outdoor fire pit.

The Hangar– 2401 Lake Tahoe Blvd suite b, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150: This family-friendly brewery offers a wide selection of locally brewed beer, bocce, corn hole, and plenty of other yard games to entertain you.

Campgrounds near Lake Tahoe

Upper Eagle Point Campground– South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150: This stunning campground runs from mid-June through mid-September. Reservations can be made up to six months before your trip. The popular site features hot showers and potable water but no hookups or dump stations.

Fallen Leaf Campground– 2165 Fallen Leaf Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150: This spacious campground offers picturesque views, showers, fire pits, and food storage lockers. The site operates from May until October, and reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Day 7: Return your Camper Van

Sadly, your Death Valley road trip comes to an end today. After a lakefront breakfast, pack your camper van up again and begin your trek back to our San Francisco hub.

The drive should take about three hours and forty-five minutes, so you’ll want to get an early start on the road to have your camper van back by your pre-scheduled drop-off time.

Why Rent a Camper Van for a Death Valley Road Trip?

Renting a camper van in San Francisco is the perfect way to kick off your west coast adventure. Compared to a traditional RV, our camper vans allow for way more mobility, convenience, and freedom when you’re on the road! Below, we’ve listed just a few of the reasons why a camper van could be a better choice than an RV for your Death Valley road trip:

Mobility: Because Escape Camper Vans are smaller and more compact than traditional RV’s, you’ll have a lot more agility throughout your trip. Drive along winding mountain roads, access remote trailheads, and enjoy the freedom to venture off the beaten path whenever you choose!

No Sewer or Electric Hookups: Most of the campgrounds on this itinerary do not offer any sewer or electric hookups, which would be a big inconvenience with a traditional RV. However, our camper vans are designed to be self contained, so you’re free to camp wherever you choose!

Easy and Convenient: Not only does the compact size of our camper vans make them easier to drive than traditional RV’s, but they’re also far more convenient. With your beds and kitchenettes already set up, you don’t have to worry about much else. Instead of breaking down tents or dealing with the added logistics of most RV’s, you can spend more time exploring all that Death Valley offers.

Adventure-Ready: Our camper vans come with all the gear and supplies you’ll need to ensure your journey goes off without a hitch. Whether that’s a solar shower or door canopy to escape the desert heat, our extra add-ons allow you to customize your van before your adventure begins fully!

Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for your San Francisco Road Trip

Ready for the ultimate West Coast adventure? Hike to Yosemite’s most impressive waterfalls, paddle along the iconic Lake Tahoe, and marvel at the colorful hills of the Artist’s Palette as you travel from the bustling city of San Francisco to the majestic landscapes of Death Valley National Park. Book your Escape Camper Van today and embark on the ultimate 7-day Death Valley road trip!

Book My Death Valley Adventure!

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