Follow Nevada’s Great Basin Highway to discover desert and forest landscapes with eons-old rock formations, pristine alpine lakes and historic settlements.
Travelers who know Nevada for the bright lights of Las Vegas will be amazed by the sights encountered along U.S. Route 93, which traverses Nevada’s eastern edge from Las Vegas to Ely. Although the straight-through route would take 5.5 hours to drive, road trippers will want to explore the outdoors at a more leisurely pace. Spend several days discovering one national park, eight state parks and several welcoming communities along the way.
Valley of Fire State Park, Overton
The star attractions here are the natural red sandstone formations and petroglyphs carved by ancient cultures. Also notable are the abundance of 225-million-year-old fossilized trees along the Petrified Logs Loop. Learn more about the park’s geology by viewing exhibits in the Visitor Center.
Taking in nature’s red hues in Valley of Fire State Park
Kershaw-Ryan State Park, Caliente
Enjoy a change of scenery in this park, an oasis in northern Rainbow Canyon. Explore the lush valley and natural springs. Admire grape vines, wildflowers and koi ponds in pretty gardens. Keep an eye out for deer and wild horses while hiking or mountain biking.
Lush vegetation among the multi-hued rocks at Kershaw-Ryan State Park
Beaver Dam State Park, Caliente
Explore streams and waterfalls on hikes through pinion and juniper forests throughout this remote park. See wildlife such as porcupines, foxes and great blue herons living among rugged rock areas caused by volcanoes erupting long ago. Bring your fishing pole to the Oak Knoll Trail to catch rainbow trout.
A trail cutting between forest and rock in Beaver Dam State Park
Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca
Discover spires and clay patterns caused by erosion and volcanic activity millions of years ago in the canyon and Meadow Valley. Hike 1.6 or 6.5-kilomter trails to walk among the formations and access scenic overlooks. Jackrabbits, packrats and gophers might share the trail with you.
Expansive views of the canyon at Cathedral Gorge State Park
Echo Canyon State Park, Pioche
About 1,000 years ago, the Native Fremont people came here to hunt and fish, and American pioneer settlers later farmed the rich land. Today, you can enjoy boating or fishing for trout, bass and crappie in this 26-hectare reservoir. Or, hike the 4-kilometer Ash Canyon trail on the valley’s rim. From the shoreline to steep canyon walls looming over Dry Valley, the backcountry is both rugged and beautiful.
The striking canyon walls of Echo Canyon State Park
Spring Valley State Park, Pioche
Ancient volcanic activity created this valley, resulting in canyon peaks tinged in gray, pink and white. Go fishing in the Eagle Valley Reservoir, tour the Ranch House homestead from the 1800s and hike to George Washington Rock, believed to be used as a lookout perch by people living here 7,500 years ago.
Highway cutting through rugged Spring Valley State Park
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, Ely
Learn how the park’s namesake cone-shaped structures were used as ovens in the 1870s to process silver found by miners and later became great places for outlaws to hide. Surrounded by the Egan Mountains, this site is also home to forests filled with deer, grouse and elk. Cast a line for trout in Willow Creek, which is fed by mountain spring water.
The beehive-shaped Ward Charcoal Ovens used for melting ore during the silver boom
Cave Lake State Park, Ely
Reel in trout, hunt for crawdads and swim in the 13-hectare reservoir, then hike or mountain bike on trails ranging from easy to challenging. For a strenuous outing that rewards with views of the lake and surrounding forest and hills, follow the 7.2-kilometer Lake Overlook Trail. Winter months here bring opportunities for ice fishing, skating, sledding, snowmobiling and skiing.
Kayaking surrounded by rolling hills and desert at Cave Lake State Park
Great Basin National Park, the Gem on the Scenic Highway
End your journey near Baker at the remote and peaceful Great Basin National Park, home to majestic Wheeler Peak in the Snake Mountain Range. Watch for wildlife such as bobcats, coyotes, elk and rabbits under the cover of bristlecone pines, the longest-living tree in the world. Go underground into the impressive Lehman Caves to see formations and other creatures. It’s definitely worth staying overnight for stargazing in this International Dark Sky Park. Outside of camping, you can drive to the town of Ely to spend the night.
A bristlecone pine tree in Great Basin National Park
Getting There and Travel Tips
Fly into McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, then rent a car to drive north along the Great Basin Highway. Camping is available at most of the parks, but you’ll want to make reservations in advance. Put a pause on exploring the terrain for amenities in several towns. Stop for a break, great meal or overnight stay in the towns of Overton, Alamo, Caliente, Pioche, Baker and Ely.