While America's Highway 50 spans a transcontinental course from California to Maryland, it is the stretch across the state of Nevada that Life Magazine nicknamed The Loneliest Road In America in 1986. And while there may be countless visitors who associate Nevada with the entertainment of the casino towns or certain popular outdoor tourist attractions, many intrepid adventurers have chalked up the narrow-minded urbanite's losses as their gains. The vast area actually contains a wealth of mountain peaks, waterfalls, hot springs, ghost towns, historic sites, and some of the country's most beautiful scenery!
The northern Nevada locale of Highway 50 is essentially a sprawling spacious cockscomb spanning 410 miles of north-south running mountain ranges divided by wide flat valleys making up the Great Basin Desert. A 2007 average annual daily traffic survey counted a whopping 530 vehicles traveling Highway 50 at its quietest points. To put this into perspective, that is about the average number of cars crossing the Golden Gate Bridge over a seven-minute period! While the Loneliest Road travels from the emerald clear waters and pine-forested slopes of Lake Tahoe to some of the nation's darkest night skies and one of the state's highest mountain peaks in Great Basin National Park, there is no ideal direction to traverse the route. For this piece, we'll start at the state's eastern edge and head westward.
The Loneliest Road begins just a few miles from the border between Nevada and Utah at Great Basin National Park, which up until recently was among the least visited national parks in the United States. It's high elevation coupled with the lack of development in its vicinity has helped it earn a International Dark Sky Park designation. From the park's high elevation Wheeler Campground, hiking the Bristlecone Trail to some of the world's oldest living creatures, summiting Wheeler Peak, or touring the underground Lehman Caves complex can all take place within a short drive inside the park.
Heading west, travelers have their choice between the historical Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park and the lake environment of Cave Lake State Park, both of which offer their own hiking trails and campgrounds.
After passing Ely, which has a population 4,000 and is one of the few towns along the route, the Illipah Reservoir offers a spot to camp, fish, or boat, or just stop along the way to Hamilton Ghost Town. Here you can view the remains of a silver boomtown of 12,000 people that dwindled to bust after a fire ravaged the community and the silver dried up.
Continuing west from the town of Eureka, population 600, the highway passes near the geographical center of Nevada and the nearby geological point of interest, Diana's Punchbowl. Both can be reached down a gravel road.
The trail and campground at Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area give travelers a chance to see petroglyphs up close. Just down the road is Spencer Hot Springs, a collection of primitive hot pools that are great for soaking and meeting other travelers. Next, head to the town of Austin, population 200, and view the remains of Stokes Castle, the short-lived summer home of a disgraced banker. Then make the trek to Grimes Point, which has a hiking trail leading past dozens of examples of 7,000-year-old rock engravings and petroglyphs.
Reaching the more populated western portion of Nevada's Highway 50, Carson City, population 55,000, hides the scenic and shady Kings Canyon Waterfall on its western edge. Highway 50 then starts climbing up into the Sierra; Spooner Lake sits along the Tahoe Rim Trail, while Nevada Beach makes for a great day visit or camping spot on the surreal shores of Lake Tahoe. Or, if you're looking for something a little more climate controlled and with the perks of fireplaces, hot tubs and craft beer all in walking distance, head to Basecamp Tahoe South.
With such an abundance and diversity of recreational options, travelers will quickly find that The Loneliest Road in America has plenty of opportunities. The most difficult part may be finding the time to fit everything in!