6 Must See Stops on a Road Trip from Los Angeles to Death Valley

June 7, 2020

Who is up for a road trip to Death Valley from Los Angeles? California has one of the most diverse landscapes, even outside of Death Valley! These six locations made my eyes water because of the natural beauty and my finger sore from snapping so many photos. The best part, aside from Lone Pine, Haley and I were nearly the only two people visiting these locations. There is something to be said for experiencing otherworldly landscapes virtually alone in an otherwise populous world.

Here are 6 must see stops on your road trip to Death Valley from Los Angeles.

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area

Once you get out of the LA traffic, it is smooth sailing. The drive to Vasquez Rocks Natural Area takes you through rolling hills and small towns for about 45 minutes. You pull up to a seemingly less than impressive dirt road which leads to a dirt parking lot that sits below a hill. It is only once you climb the hill will you see the beauty that sits just a short drive from Los Angeles!

There are 932 acres to explore featuring jagged sandstone rock formations and a seasonal stream giving you that high desert essence. You can climb the rocks to get a bird’s eye view or choose to walk through the dirt paths.

Click here for more information for Vasquez Natural Rocks Area.

Saddleback Butte State Park

Drive another 50 minutes from Vasquez Rocks and you will find Saddleback Butte State Park. Now just 2 hours outside of LA and surrounded by nature!

The main activity here is hiking Saddleback Butte, sitting at 3,651 feet. There are a couple of ways to hike to the summit of Saddleback Butte ranked moderate on AllTrails. There is also a 3-mile loop and a paved nature walk through Antelope Valley- I opted for the paved loop.

In the park there are day-use facilities and campground facilities. Entry is $6 and varies for camping.

Here is more information on Saddleback Butte State Park.

Red Rock Canyon State Park 

One hour from Saddlback Butte, the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso range creating the unique rock formations, desert cliffs, and buttes in Red Rock Canyon State Park. For thousands of years, it was part of the Native American Trade Route. The colorful and jagged rock formations acted as landmarks for water for 20-mule team freight wagons. Petroglyphs are still visible in some parts of the El Paso range, too.

Today, the park is used for camping, hiking, stargazing, and sightseeing. But, the images you see here are all accessible by car. The Turk’s Turban, Hagen Canyon Nature Trail, and Camel Rock are the can’t miss spot!

If you’re visiting in the summer, avoid the heat by starting to explore early in the morning and be sure to bring plenty of water.

Trona Pinnacles

This Martian like landscape is unlike any other landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on and only 1 hour and 15 minutes from Red Rock Canyon State Park. Made up of 500 calcium carbonate spires known as tufa spires, some reaching 140 feet tall spreading across 14 square miles. The spires were formed between 10,000-100,000 years ago in what was once Searles Lake. The area is now a dry basin, and in some parts, you will stand where there was once 640 feet of water!

There is a 6 mile, very bumpy, dirt road to access the pinnacles. I highly recommend renting an SUV, and if not, taking it slow so your car doesn’t bottom out. There are facilities once you travel down into the pinnacles. Early morning or evening are the best times to visit as there is no break from that summer sun!

Here is some useful information related to camping in the Trona Pinnacles.

Mt. Whitney

A bit of a longer drive time, 2 hours and 22 minutes, will lead you to Mt. Whitney- the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States and located just outside of Lone Pine. Mt. Whitney is part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is a 24-minute drive up Whitney Portal Road from the center of Lone Pine. Whitney Portal Road, as you’d assume, is super scenic with vibrant valleys, towering peaks, and scenic vistas.

When you reach the end of Whitney Portal Road there is a parking lot and local shop for essentials like Mt. Whitney stickers and cold beverages. Beyond that, there is the obvious trailhead for the 14,505 foot tall mountain, a few shorter nature trails and a beautiful waterfall tucked in the forest behind the upper parking lot!

Climbing the mountain you will gain over 6,000 feet of elevation so I can’t stress this enough, it is utterly important that you check your level of backpacking expertise. For me, right now, I am nowhere near the level I need to be to climb this mountain.

Here is some permit and season information about climbing Mt. Whitney.

Alabama Hills

The main event of this road trip from Los Angeles to Death Valley: Alabama Hills. A 100-million-year-old uplift created these iconic landmarks that now sit in front of the Sierra Nevada’s. The iconic “Movie Road” is the most photographed location in the area, perhaps because over 400 movies have been filmed here! But there is truly so much more to experience.

Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, camping, visiting the natural arches, and viewing the endless wildflowers that bloom every spring are just some of the activities you can do. Some locations, aside from Movie Road, worth visiting are Lone Ranger Ambush Point, Gene Autry Rock (named after a famous cowboy), Gary Cooper Rock, Mobius Arch (frames Mt. Whitney), Heart Arch, and Eye of the Alabama Hills arch.

The late summer sunset in Alabama Hills is around 5:45 because it sets right behind the Sierra Nevada’s. Yes it is early, but damn it is glorious. So plan ahead!

Here is some more information about Alabama Hills.

On a road trip from Los Angeles to Death Valley- these were my non-negotiables! The varying landscapes made for so many pull over moments and my jaw hurt from dropping so much. Collectively driving 6.5 hours from LA to Alabama Hills and another hour an 45 minutes to Death Valley, making a total drive time of about 8.5 hours. Which, sure, nearly doubles the drive time from Los Angeles, but I promise you the views are worth it!

If you’re planning a Death Valley road trip from Los Angeles, be sure to check out this Complete Guide for Road Tripping from Los Angeles to Death Valley!