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Planning help for Death Valley and Joshua Tree in April 2024

Planning help for Death Valley and Joshua Tree in April 2024

Old Mar 3rd, 2023, 04:06 PM
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Planning help for Death Valley and Joshua Tree in April 2024

My 50+ years ago college roommate and I take a 6 or 7 day trip to National Parks every year. In 2024 we are planning a trip on my April vacation (last week of April) to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. She flies from Tucson and I fly from New Hampshire. We are thinking of flying in and out of Las Vegas and renting a car. My first thought is to drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley (given that my flight is long and probably wouldn't get there until late afternoon/early evening), spend a couple of days there, drive to Joshua Tree and spend one day there and then back to Las Vegas to fly home.We like to take short easy hikes, nothing challenging, and prefer not to always stay in chain hotels. I would be happy for any kinds of suggestions for this trip. Does that itinerary seem doable? What should we make sure to see? Ideas for lodging and special events? Six days is our maximum - we have husbands at home - five days would be even better, but hard given that I fly such a distance. Thanks in advance for your help.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 04:43 AM
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Adding to my original post - has anyone been to the Ranch at Death Valley cabins recently? The reviews of the three hotels in the area are not great and I am wondering which to choose.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 06:55 AM
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If you don't want to spend the first night IN Las Vegas, I suggest driving out to the Hoover Dam Lodge (hotel casino) in Boulder City. It is along US 93 about 2 miles from Hoover Dam. In the morning go see and drive over Hoover Dam. Free parking is available on the Arizona side. On the way back up from the dam, stop at the parking lot of the trail to the walkway of the big bridge that towers above Hoover Dam.
From Hoover Dam, head south through Laughlin to Lake Havasu City and see London Bridge. (Yes it is really there).
Unless you have someplace you really want to see in Joshua Tree NP, I would drive through the Mojave National Preserve. There are all the Joshua trees that you ever wanted to see in the Preserve. While in the Preserve, you should check out the Mitchell Caverns. There are even some interesting sand dunes there.
I would not even try to spend a night in Death Valley even in April. Take a short hike off the Artists (?) one way road in Death Valley. Do not spend a night in Baker. They have the world's tallest thermometer but that's about it. If you don't want to spend a night in LV, either stay at Buffalo Bills in Prim (exit 1) or at a motel in Beatty after seeing Death Valley in the daylight. There are a couple good hotels in Henderson to stay at before an early flight out of Las Vegas.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 07:14 AM
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Well Boulder City is the wrong direction, so I would not stay there. I have not stayed inside the park at those hotels. I probably would just pick a Las Vegas hotel and leave very early in the morning, drive through. Most of those nearby towns such as Pahrump and Baker are pretty sketchy but there is a place called Villa Anita in Tecopa that looks interesting. End of April can be pretty hot so I think this will be a drive through visit with brief stops. For Joshua Tree you can also come in from the south so if nothing appeals in the towns nearby on the north side, you can stay in the Coachella Valley. Same caution on weather end of April in JT.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 07:44 AM
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Are you set flying both in and out of Las Vegas? It is closer to Death Valley, but a long way from Joshua Tree. Palm Springs or Ontario are better for that park so you could fly into one and out of the other to avoid the drive back to Las Vegas (which is not as straightforward as you might imagine). And the climate is not quite the same at the two parks. We were in Joshua Tree in April and the weather was lovely--it got into the 80's. It is quite a bit higher in elevation. We filled three days with activities there (Keys Ranch tour is a must), although be prepared for a drive to dinner (Twentynine Palms or Yucca Valley) or to cook since there are few restaurants open for dinner. We had an airbnb in JT town which worked out well. Again, hotels are iffy.

As to Death Valley, I stayed at Furnace Creek....in the 1980's! I think we spent two days touring the park then, but Scotty's Castle was open in those days. We also stayed in Lone Pine once before heading into the park. Two years ago, we did a drive though touring for one day, skipping most of the things we had done before because we wanted to drive through Titus Canyon (which requires a 4x4). We had time for Dante's View and Zabriskie Point before heading on to Las Vegas. I'm not sure you can see much more than we did if you are (a) driving from Las Vegas and (b) driving on that same day. You'll be able to see Badwater and a couple of the viewpoints. Maybe one more attraction.

Alternatively, there are things you can do just from the Las Vegas area--Red Rocks, Valley of Fire, Grand Canyon West, Hoover Dam, and it's not that far to St. George which has some interesting hikes. We really liked Joshua Tree, but if you're set on Vegas as a gateway, you could make a trip out of that.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 09:01 AM
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Originally Posted by barbaralois
Six days is our maximum - we have husbands at home
I thought you were going to say small children.

If you are going to Palm Springs, in addition to Joshua Tree you should take the aerial tramway to the top of Mt San Jacinto. Once on the top, you don't really have to hike anywhere, but even a short hike is very rewarding. It's a 10/10 destination. Also, please note it could be 40 degrees cooler on top. There is also the Living Desert Center which is both a zoo and a botanical garden as well as you cango to the Moorten Botanical Garden. As I've said before on Fodor's, the significance of Joshua Tree is that it is the meeting of two different deserts. The park map shows the dividing line and it is fascinating to see the difference between the two. Many great features of the park that can be done in a long day, but also leave time for the aerial tramway, book tickets in advance.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 09:10 AM
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Crossing State lines may hurt a little on the drop off fees but factoring gas costs may help. Certainly worth "running the numbers". I think the only nonstops from Tucson are into LAS though.

End of April/beginning of May can be hot, or not. It really starts to accelerate at the end of the month. Also can get some amazing wind storms. (I owned a condo in Palm Desert for a while). It is probably more convenient to drop your standards and stay on the north side (where the chain lodgings mostly service the military families). Maybe 29 Palms Inn?

Last edited by mlgb; Mar 4th, 2023 at 09:17 AM.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 04:28 PM
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good ideas

Thanks for all of your ideas. A couple of things - I had not thought of flying into Las Vegas and out of Palm Springs and that is a good idea worth investigating. And our trips are always centered around going to national parks, with the idea of eventually going to all of them, so our focus is definitely Death Valley and Joshua Tree for the 2024 trip, and probably not a lot of other sightseeing besides those parks for that trip.

I hear you on the sketchy places around Death Valley - and that looks like more of a problem finding a good place to stay. We wouldn't want to do just a drive through but would want to have more time to see more in that park. I hear you too on the temperatures. I don't have a lot of choice since I am still working, so need to work around the school vacation schedule which means the end of April. I do also have the last week of February, but coming from New Hampshire (and getting 12 inches of snow today!), I am reluctant to plan anything that involves flying in February from here because of potential weather cancellations. So it does mean April is the best option.

Again, thank you for the responses and feel free to comment more,

Barbara
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 05:25 PM
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Death Valley NP is just huge and you could occupy your entire time here. Stay at Furnace Creek Inn if you are looking for upscale.

There are many things to see on the valley floor, plus Dante’s View, plus the charcoal kilns and I didn’t head north.

I’ve often puzzled why some things (like Joshua Tree NP) that are to me not so great become must sees, I guess in this case it was the U2 album.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 05:34 PM
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DV could easily fill a week at that time of year. I personally wouldn't skimp and would stay in furnace creek for at least 3 or 4 days

Last edited by janisj; Mar 4th, 2023 at 05:35 PM. Reason: Typo
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 05:44 PM
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not upscale

Definitely not looking for upscale. We like non-chains just because they are more interesting and sometimes we really luck out with that. But don't want to spend a ton of money since we mostly just care about a place to sleep and don't spend that much time in the rooms.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 05:46 PM
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and also

And yes, it seems to me like we would want to spend more time in Death Valley and less in Joshua Tree. Partly just because of their respective sizes. Thank you for the ideas on what to see there.
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Old Mar 4th, 2023, 05:50 PM
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After renting a car in Las Vegas, we met my LA-based daughter and son-in-law for a few days in Death Valley. My son-in-law knows the park well; it’s his favorite place to overnight camp that is (relatively) close to home. Since we wanted a real bed and real plumbing, but not needing luxury, we chose to stay in the park near the Furnace Creek visitors’ center. It was the more simple of the places: not the resort, but the Ranch (although I believe the name was different when we were there). Motel-style, with exterior doors; large, basic rooms, with mini-fridge, private bathroom; another door to outdoor open area with fire pits where we relaxed after our busy days. Clean and adequate, what I expect for a stay in a national park. We packed picnic lunches and got dinner from the on-site casual restaurant. One evening we brought pizza ‘home’ and chose to enjoy it around a fire pit.

Our son-in-law planned all the excursions. You can certainly research places of interest with the NP’s web sites. Because he was driving his own car, not a rental, we had some amazing drives on challenging roads I would never attempt—think backing up for miles if another car is coming toward you; think being certain your full-size spare tire is ready in the trunk (because AAA won’t be coming!) But you know most rental contracts prohibit driving on unpaved roads and you won’t be using the ‘challenging’ ones!

We were lucky to be visiting the year of a super bloom when adequate rains in the months earlier prompted a magnificent display of wildflowers. I don’t know what this year’s strange CA weather will mean for the desert bloom. Bloom or no, the park is a great destination.
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 01:26 AM
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ranch at death valley

K_marie, when were you there? Recently - and time of year? The Ranch is one of the places I was looking at - and nervous because of the reviews. They talk about there now being casitas there as well as the "ranch" but I haven't heard of anyone staying there. Thank you for your post - and yes, we won't be going on those roads with a rental car. Last year in northern California coming out of Lassen Volcanic in a rental car, we say "A deer hit us". Thankfully the car was still driveable particularly since it happened on the 4th of July making everything more complicated.
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 05:19 AM
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barbaralois, we were there mid-April 2016–no casitas there at that time. It was pre-Covid; service was okay and prices were not so high as now. But I agree with the reviewers who stress that the location is its greatest asset.

Your encounter with the deer last year must have been frightening! You both were okay? What a way to spend the Fourth of July!
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 05:52 AM
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I personally wouldn't pay much attention to reviews of hotels/motels in most national parks. Same with properties in places like the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Valley. People (not all people but a lot) tend to compare things to what they'd find in major cities or with chain hotels. You are paying almost 100% for location, location, location. A decent room and hot water (which you would get in Furnace Creek) are bonuses
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 09:09 AM
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agreed

Janisj - good point and I tend to agree with you. I'll stop getting worried about reviews in national parks.

Last edited by barbaralois; Mar 5th, 2023 at 09:21 AM.
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 09:11 AM
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to k_marie

k_marie, neither one of us were hurt, pretty shaken up though and worried about what it meant for the rest of our vacation. It all worked out.
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 12:17 PM
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Barbara: Did you take the Voyageurs and Isle Royale trip you posted about doing 3 years ago?
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 01:00 PM
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Hi Tom, Yes we did take that Isle Royale/Voyaguers/Theodore Roosevelt trip last summer and I LOVED it. My favorite was Isle Royale (and thanks for telling me how to pronounce that!). I wished we could have stayed another night there. We flew in and out of Minneapolis and the price on the rental cars did go down some, so it wasn't bad. Drove to Grand Portage the first night and stayed at the casinowhich was okay, and took the boat out the next morning, spent one night there. I took a short hike and we ended up having dinner on the deck of the dining area with the couple staying in the room next to us and had a great time with them. Then we drove to Voyageurs (one night first a couple of hours from Grand Portage) using the route you suggested which worked out great - ate a couple meals on the water eating our fill of fish - and took the little boat ride out to the Tiltin' Hilton which I had wanted to do. Lots of information from the boat driver who was a native there so got lots of stories on the ride which was fun. Long drive to Theodore Roosevelt - stayed one night in the northern part of the park and one in the southern part - and thoroughly enjoyed that as well. It was a lot of driving but I was glad to cross Theodore Roosevelt off the list since it wasn't convenient from anywhere else we hadn't already been. Looking forward to this year's Thelma and Louise trip with my roommate and also hoping to do a few more parks with my husband this summer - maybe Indiana Dunes and New River Gorge. Thanks for all of your help!
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