The journey from San Francisco to Las Vegas is an important event because the journey is quite long and crosses several regions, from the plains to the mountains and the desert.

Most people would prefer to fly this route. But they miss incredible adventures, left and right turns and some of the most breathtaking landscapes you’ve ever seen.

The journey from San Francisco to Las Vegas can be made via Bakersfield in just 8 hours and 30 minutes. Instead you should take a 2-3 day walk along the scenic route through Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks.

To help you plan your trip, I have put together a travel guide that contains everything you need to know before you travel.

The Tiogapass road to Olmsted Point in Yosemite National Park.
The Tiogapass runs directly through Yosemite National Park on the road from San Francisco to Las Vegas.

Santi Rodriguez/Shutterstock.com

How far is it from Las Vegas to San Francisco and how long does it take to get there?

Whether you take the scenic route or go as fast as possible to Las Vegas, the drive is about 560 miles long.

The highways along the Sierra Nevada require just over 8 hours of clean driving – plus stops for fuel and food.

If you are planning a more scenic route, you will have to allow a few extra hours at the summit, but you will not want to do this route in one day.

Technically, you could make it if you left early, but what’s the point of driving past all the incredible sites between San Francisco and Las Vegas without spending time exploring them?

Keep in mind that your trip may take an hour or two longer than normal if you travel on a Friday or Saturday, as many people visit Las Vegas on weekends and travel from San Francisco to the mountains and national parks.

But if you leave town early, at 7 a.m., and make a few pit stops along the way, you could theoretically spend the night in Las Vegas.

I strongly advise you to share your trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas for 2 days or more. Below you will find some of the amazing places and attractions you will encounter along the way. The route I propose has something to offer in terms of views and accommodation, so you’ll be grateful to drive rather than fly after visiting these places!

Best route from San Francisco to Las Vegas

The best route from San Francisco to Las Vegas runs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the wheel of the Tiogapass, crosses Yosemite and passes Death Valley in just 2 hours, as would be the case to sit on the boring straight intercity passages of Bakersfield.

There are a number of important detours you can make from the route, depending on how much time you have and where you want to go.

Directions from Denver to Las Vegas

From San Francisco, cross the Bay Bridge to Auckland and then take the I-580 on the Interstate Highway through Auckland Zoo and Lake Shabo. Eventually you will arrive on Route 120, which crosses the San Joaquin River and takes you to Yosemite.

The same Route 120 crosses the Sierra Nevada through Yosemite National Park, and this section is known as Tioga Road – check before you drive, as this road is closed from time to time and is only closed in late spring in winter.

The US 395 passes south of the mammoth swamps and then reaches Royal Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Turn left on Lone Pine to follow State Route 190, which takes you through the middle of Death Valley before joining Highway 95 and descending to Las Vegas.

The fastest trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas

If you really need to get to Las Vegas as soon as possible and don’t want to be afraid to see anything along the way, ignore everything and jump south a few miles from Livermore on the I-5.

You will have to get off the train to cross Bakersfield and pass through Tehachapi Pass before you can take the I-15 at Barstow towards Las Vegas.

This trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas can only take 8 hours if you leave early, or 9 to 10 hours if you plan a stopover. It won’t be the most beautiful route you’ve ever taken, but you can arrive comfortably and in time to spend the night outside.

Best ports of call between San Francisco and Las Vegas

To make the most of the incredible scenery and to interrupt your journey from San Francisco to Las Vegas, you’ll have wonderful nightly stops along the way.

Sunrise over the Yosemite Valley with the Merced River in the foreground.
The famous Yosemite Valley is one of the best places to stop on your way to Las Vegas.

beboy/Shutterstock.com

Spend the day at Yosemite

Waterfalls, mountains and redwoods make Yosemite National Park one of the most beautiful places in America. It’s an incredible place to get in touch with nature by exploring numerous hiking trails and nocturnal starlights.

Yosemite has no shortage of excellent properties for rent, and wherever you go, you will be surrounded by natural wonders and places more picturesque than you can count. If you want to pamper yourself, Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite is the perfect choice for luxury at Yosemite.

The house is located directly in the forest, with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. It is just one kilometre from the national park and 15 minutes from the motorway. You can stay in one of the 88 luxurious cabins, spread over more than 20 hectares, and discover everything from relaxing in the pool to experiencing the campfire.

All the sights and attractions of Yosemite are on your doorstep and depending on the season you can do everything from fly fishing to snowshoeing.

Unique stay in Death Valley

If you want to make more progress on your first day or if you just want to see different types of landscapes, you can spend the night in Death Valley National Park.

Most of the most luxurious resorts in the valley are further south, and when you arrive in Las Vegas, you’ll be relatively close, but it still gives you the opportunity to spend some time exploring this unique resort.

Known as the best resting place for Hollywood royalty, from Marlon Brando to Matt Damon, Death Valley inn is the perfect place to relax in the heart of Death Valley.

From the swimming pool and natural springs to the palm garden and hiking trails, this resort truly resembles an oasis in the middle of a vast desert. The rooms are old-fashioned but stylish and trendy, while the lobby bar and bar resemble film sets. Thanks to the large sports fields and gymnasiums, there are plenty of opportunities for sports.

The Death Valley Inn offers incredible comfort in a green oasis in the middle of the desert.
The Inn at Death Valley is a relaxing oasis in the middle of the desert.

Travel collection © Xanterra Travel collection

During a walk in the area you have a beautiful view of the Panamanian Mountains and the dunes and salt rock formations. The area is covered with greenery, which is an impressive achievement and the ideal antidote to the dry desert throughout the region.

Sightseeing on the road from San Francisco to Las Vegas

The main reason to travel from San Francisco to Las Vegas is the abundance of excellent stops – there are so many that when you return from Las Vegas, you’ll also be tempted to visit as many of them as possible (or perhaps even those you’ve already seen).

Horse racing on the Playa Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, California.
Rocks are slowly dragged across the dry plains of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.

Vezzani Picture/Shutterstock.com

Here is a relatively complete list of places to see on a trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas

  1. Rainbow Pool (Groveland) – Full natural pool and small waterfall – Ideal for picnics and diving, but mostly crowded.
  2. Tuolumne Grove is a rarely visited place, excellent for walking and home to giant redwoods.
  3. Mariposa Grove – a small detour, but definitely worth considering – another beautiful natural wonder full of giant redwoods.
  4. Yosemite Valley – the heart and soul of Yosemite National Park, home to the Merced River, the Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, dense pine forests and the infamous El Capitan Rock.
  5. Tuolumne Meadows – A beautiful meadow along the river with a beautiful view literally in all directions. Also suitable for walking.
  6. Mammoth Lakes and the Devils of Pospil National Monument – excellent winter skiing area and perfect summer hike to the Devils of Pospil to see the unique columnar rocks.
  7. King’s Canyon National Park – Although the main entrance is in the west, you can still enter one of the world’s most impressive national parks with its redwood forests and high mountain peaks.
  8. Sequoia National Park – Again, most attractions, including the world’s largest tree, are accessible from the west side, but you can still drive and hike through the giant sequoia on the way.
  9. Death Valley National Park – The hottest place in the world with a landscape from another world needs a little introduction.
  10. Ash Meadow National Reserve – East of Death Valley NP, this reserve is home to unique flora and fauna on the brink of extinction.
  11. Red Rock Canyon National Nature Reserve – Located in the Mojave Desert near Las Vegas, this national park is home to the Keystone Thrust and numerous red sandstone cliffs.

No matter how big these places are, they only scratch the surface of what the road has to offer. Pack up your extra supplies and be prepared to make a few detours along the well-trodden paths – you’ll be surprised how much you still have to discover!

Tuolumne Meadows is a quiet walk along the river with Yosemite attractions in all directions.
Tuolumne Meadows is the perfect place to relax, right on the Tiogapass, halfway between San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Pung/Shutterstock.com

Best time to drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas

In many ways, there’s nothing wrong with a trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas, as the weather in Vegas doesn’t affect most casinos and indoor events.

However, there are two important considerations with regard to time. The Tiogapass through Yosemite is closed from November/beginning December (depending on snowfall) until the road is cleared (usually in May).

The same goes for most other passes in the Sierra Nevada, including the nearby Sonora pass. If you are travelling in winter, you will need to change your itinerary and continue north via the Carson Pass (CA-88) or Echo Summit (US-50). Both cross Lake Tahoe to the south, so you can make a great stop, but your trip will take a few hours.

You also have to take into account the temperature you will have in Death Valley. This national park is famous because it has reached the highest temperature in the history of mankind. Whether we believe the 134°F (56.6°C) measured in 1913 or the 130°F (54.4°C) measured in August 2020, in both cases Death Valley is the warmest place on earth.

The Death Valley of Zabriskie Point with its unique rock and sand formations at sunrise.
The unique sand and rock formations of Zabriski Point are one of the many amazing landscapes of Death Valley.

Knock Tr/Shutterstock.com

If you plan to travel in the middle of summer, bring plenty of water, make sure your plane is working properly and avoid being outside in the middle of the day, as it will be unbearably hot.

Also note that the Yosemite Valley is very popular and can be overloaded during the summer months. If you want to avoid the hustle and bustle, late spring and early autumn can be the best times to travel.

Although you have to drive in winter due to road closures (see the route section above for more details), the daily peaks of Death Valley in December are a balm between 40 and 65°F, and the views of Wildrose Canyon are absolutely stunning at this time of year. At least the night can be pretty cold, so bring blankets and warm clothes!

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