You can drive the 380 miles of Highway 50 from Carson City, Nevada, to Great Basin National Park in seven hours, but there's enough to see along the way to justify breaking the route into three days.
Prime season is May and June and late August through September (fall at Great Basin is spectacular). Services are spread from 70 to 110 miles apart; keep the fuel tank filled.
LODGING AND DINING. There's nothing fancy along 50 ― mostly coffee shops and standard motels― but we've listed a few of our favorites. Lodging reservations are a must; for a travel planner, contact the Nevada Commission on Tourism, www.travelnevada.com or (800) 638-2328.
Day 1: Carson City to Fallon
A must-see for Western-history lovers; a good stop for kids.
CONTACT: Virginia City Chamber of Commerce, (775) 847-0311.
BEST BETS: Fort Churchill State Historic Park. Museum and ruins of 1860 fort. 8-4 daily; $3 per vehicle. Take U.S. 95A south 9 miles to park turnoff on Fort Churchill Rd.; (775) 577-2345. Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise. Newsroom where the writer worked. 10-6 daily; $3. 53 S. C St.; (775) 847-7950. Virginia & Truckee Railroad. Locomotive rides from Virginia City to nearby Gold Hill. 10:30-5:45 daily, Memorial Day weekend through October; $6, $3 ages 5-12. (775) 847-0380.
Agricultural community and home to the Navy's Top Gun flight school; full travel services.
CONTACT: Fallon Convention & Tourism Authority, www.fallontourism.com or (775) 423-4556.
BEST BETS: Churchill County Museum. Large collection of Native American artifacts; good travel information source. 10-5 Mon-Sat, noon-5 Sun; free. 1050 S. Maine St.; (775) 423-3677. Grimes Point. Petroglyphs dating back 7,000 years, accessible via easy trail. Hidden Cave tours available second and fourth Saturdays monthly through Churchill County Museum. Ten miles east of Fallon; (775) 885-6000.
Day 2: Fallon to Eureka
BEST BETS: Sand Mountain Recreation Area. Towering 600-foot dune, open to off-highway- vehicle users. Includes Sand Springs Station, a Pony Express stop accessible on 1/2-mile loop. 25 miles east of Fallon; (775) 885-6000. Cold Springs Station. Pony Express station site, accessible via a 1 1/2-mile trail. Near milepost 80. (775) 885-6000.
Once Nevada's second-largest city (pop. 10,000), now a high-country town of 300 with plenty of historic buildings. The Toiyabe Café (150 Main St.; 775/964-2220) serves good basic breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
CONTACT: Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, (775) 964-2200.
AREA RECREATION: For general information, check with the U.S. Forest Service's Austin ranger station (8-4:30 Mon-Fri; Hwy. 50 at State 305; 775/964-2671). T-Rix Mountain Bikes (Apr-Oct; 270 Main; 775/964-1212) has biking information and sells ice cream and cappuccino.
BEST BET: Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. Easy trail to ancient rock art, spectacular views. About 22 miles east of Austin; (775) 635-4000.
Best-preserved Highway 50 town in Nevada, with numerous 19th-century buildings. One of 50's best lodging and dining options is the Old West-style Jackson House (from $79; 11 S. Main St.; 775/ 237-5577); restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
CONTACT: Eureka County Chamber of Commerce, (775) 237-5484.
BEST BETS: Eureka Opera House. Open for self-guided tours. 31 S. Main; (775) 237-6006. Eureka Sentinel Museum. Old newspaper building is now a museum with 19th-century pressroom. 9-5 daily. 10 S. Bateman St.; (775) 237-5010.
Day 3: Eureka to Great Basin
Unlike other Highway 50 towns, copper ― rather than gold and silver ― fueled Ely's growth; look for extensive outdoor murals along Aultman St. At six stories, Historic Hotel Nevada (from $38; 501 Aultman St.; 888/406-3055) was once Nevada's tallest building. La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant (take U.S. 93 north to McGill, 2 miles north of Ely; 775/289-4112) is popular with locals.
CONTACT: White Pine Chamber of Commerce, (775) 289-8877.
BEST BET: Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Rail yard open daily; steam and diesel train rides Sat-Sun in May, Wed-Mon Jun-Sep. From $18. 1100 Ave. A; (866) 407-8326, or (775) 289-2085.
Great Basin National Park
Snow can limit high-country access in May. Limited nearby services. www.nps.gov/grba or (775) 234-7331. Border Inn (from $31; U.S. 50 at U.S. 6; 775/234-7300) has a restaurant open all day. Comfortable T&D's Restaurant (on State 487 in Baker; 775/234-7264) serves Mexican and Italian specialties.
BEST BETS: Lehman Caves. Guided 30-, 60-, and 90-minute tours to limestone caverns. Check seasonal tour times and advance ticket sales ― summer slots can sell out ― before leaving home. From $2. www.nps.gov/grba or (775) 234-7331. Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. Take the right branch of trail from parking at road's end near Wheeler Peak Campground, first passing Stella Lake. After passing Teresa Lake, you can complete the moderate loop (2 3/4 miles) or take Bristlecone Trail 1 1/2 miles to an ancient tree grove. Continue a mile past the grove for a view of Wheeler Peak's glacier; full hike is a moderate 7 1/4 miles.