Most people are familiar with Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe as two world-class travel destinations in Nevada. Others may have a bit more insider information and experience traveling outside of Las Vegas proper and prefer to spend some time in the scenic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area or head to the wilds of the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man. For some, the distant mountainous terrain of Great Basin National Park at the edge of the Great Basin Desert are enticing for their caves and expansive starry skies. But many don't know that there are plenty of incredible Nevada adventures beyond these well-known destinations. Nevada sits at the confluence of cultural enigma and natural spectacle, and the state is home to hiking, mountain biking, swimming, art and travel opportunities that may make the packaged neon weekend in the city take a backseat in terms of experience!
Today, only eight U.S. states have a lower population density than Nevada. The vast majority of land in the state is public, with two-thirds of the state (or 48 million acres) falling under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction. Though many imagine the state's landscape to be a desert, geological forces have given Nevada more mountain ranges than any other state, and at one time an ocean covered much of it. Combine this with nearly 70 designated wilderness areas and a sordid history of mining booms and busts that created wealth for developing metropolitan areas like San Francisco, leaving Nevada with more ghost towns than actual cities, and what remains is a landscape that is interesting, vast, and perfect for those looking to explore away from the beaten path.
Fly into the city if you must, or pull over and gas up the car and recharge those GPS batteries, and then consider heading away from the neon lights of the city to some of these adventures waiting throughout the state!
If you're drawn to unique outdoor environments, Nevada has a variety of those! You can hike the Amargosa Big Dune, a complex sand mountain formed by an underground river where, given the right conditions, the dune itself roars. Indigenous people believed this sound was the dune communicating with other singing dunes in the region. Virgin Valley Warm Spring is a wide and sparsely-occupied warm pond that is also piped directly into the campground shower house. Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark gives you the chance to drive to an area once used to train astronauts for their moon landings. Lovelock Cave was once beneath the surface of the sea, but it now requires a short hike up a desert mountain to reach it. Trego Hot Spring is a steamy cut in the edge of the Black Rock Desert. And the Water Canyon Recreation Area spreads like an oasis in the arid northern Nevada desert.
Interesting histories have left ghost towns all over the map. While stories of mines going through the boom and bust cycle may explain the existence of some, such as Rhyolite Ghost Town, others, such as the town of Saint Thomas, were abandoned when the federal government flooded the land with the construction of Lake Mead, and only years of drought have let the flood waters recede and the town to become accessible again.
Rural state parks often provide added interpretive programs and more visible explanations of the history, and they offer great camping options for travelers. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and the Valley Of Fire State Park are two of these, located at opposite ends of the state. While Gold Butte National Monument is one of the nation's youngest designated national monuments and is slowly transitioning to marked trails, campgrounds and areas of interest, it is still open to visitors in the meantime. The Spicer Ranch Trails are a network of mountain bike and hiking trails created by a working rancher, and they open to the public throughout his sprawling ranch near the headwaters of the Amargosa River.
A unique option in the state is to visit Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary, certified by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries as a forever home to large cats and desert animals that are unable to live in the wild. The sanctuary opens to the public for limited hours to offer educational tours.
And the vast desert landscape has also provided the backdrop for manmade and large scale outsider art installations over the years. Notable among these would be Michael Heizer's Double Negative, one of the artist's earthworks in the Southern Nevada desert, and the International Car Forest of the Last Church, a Carhenge that represents one artist's attempt to set the world record for the most upturned cars buried in the ground. Today it provides a surreal environment for a walk through the desert.
While many travelers find themselves limited to the one-stop destinations of the casino resortsor looking at the landscape through a car or plane window imagining a simple barren desert beyond, those travelers seeking to find a wealth of destinations, often with few or any other travelers around, will recognize the abundance and variety of interesting cultural and natural destinations lying far from the well-traveled highways throughout the state.