Courtesy of Travel Nevada
Exploring the slot canyons of Cathedral Gorge State Park

Explore the state’s stunning lesser-traveled corners with three incredible journeys to suit every taste.

Sunset Magazine in Partnership with Travel Nevada  – October 13, 2021

Back-to-back Zooms and Huddles have a way of inspiring wanderlust. But half the time you hit the road only to find out everyone else had the same great idea. Luckily for us in the West, easy-to-get-to Nevada’s wide open spaces, accessible wilderness, and welcoming backroads communities offer the reboot you’ve been waiting for. 

Whether you want to cap off your day in the wilderness with a craft cocktail in a Sagebrush Saloon, or sleeping beneath the stars, you can plan an inspiring getaway that suits your style of travel. State and national parks have been a much needed refuge for Americans throughout the pandemic, and that has led to some serious congestion in the most visited spots around the country (think: selfie stations, timed tickets, crowd-monitoring apps). But Nevada is home to a plethora of magnificent, uncrowded parks where you can recharge responsibly. Bonus: None of these trips are more than a half day’s drive from Las Vegas, Reno, or airports in Idaho and Utah. Keep scrolling to choose your level of adventure!

LAMOILLE CANYON: CASUAL

Ruby Mountains Highway
The Ruby Mountains are often referred to as “the American Alps”

Courtesy of Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

The trip: Cowboy culture meets Alpine beauty

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The route: Rubies Route to Lamoille Canyon

If you’re a: leisure traveler seeking a stunning change of scenery

Unplugging doesn’t have to mean leaving all creature comforts behind. Book a room at the Red Lion Hotel in Elko, an old railroad town four hours east of Reno. For dinner head to The Star Hotel. This “old Basque boardinghouse” sheltered and fed immigrant shepherds for over 100 years. Today you can sip a Picon Punch (Northern Nevada’s signature apero) and mingle with customers in Stetsons before tackling a legendary steak. Meals here are enjoyed family style, and feature American-Basque cuisine unique to the American west. Feeling lucky? Elko was the original gaming capital of Nevada back in the 30’s and 40’s. For an authentic cowboy town gamblin’ experience, Stockmen’s Casino is where the action is. In the morning, spend an hour exploring the Western Folklife Center, the headquarters of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and nerve center of contemporary cowboy culture. Afterward, you can get a more historical perspective at the Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum, then go shopping for a custom souvenir at J.M. Capriola’s. Just outside of town, you can conjure what it was like to plod west alongside a covered wagon at the California Trail Historic Interpretive Center.

Conrad Creek Yurt Interior
For a comfy kind of wilderness adventure, book Conrad Creek Yurt

Courtesy of Ruby Mountain Heli-Experience

For an overnight experience unlike any other, reserve the low yurt at Conrad Creek Yurt in Lamoille Canyon. Located on 200 acres of private property, the Yurt sits streamside in a gorgeous aspen grove. A short hike takes you to a ridge with breathtaking sunset views (elevation: 7,000 feet). If it gets nippy at night, unwind by the firepit. Whether you want to bike, hike, ski, or fly-fish, there’s no comfier homebase than the Conrad Creek Yurt. (For a truly once-in-a-lifetime backwoods overnight, you can take a helicopter to the top of Conrad Ridge and sleep in the four person, eco-friendly Ruby High Yurt at 10,000 feet!)

To get there, follow the Rubies Route road trip along 227 South toward the town of Lamoille. Find yourself humming the soundtrack from The Sound of Music? Yes, you’re still in Nevada, but in one of its lesser-known regions—surrounded by majestic snowy peaks and alpine meadows. Whether you’re looking for a scenic hours-long jaunt or a multi-day thru hike, some of the best seasonal hiking in the state is right here in the glacier-carved Ruby Mountains, often referred to as “America’s Alps.” First-time visitors quickly come to understand how crucial it is to protect and preserve this exceptional landscape. (For starters, that means stay on the trails, never blaze your own, and practice Leave No Trace methods.) 

The paved 12-mile Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, open spring through fall, is a must. The drive normally takes 45 minutes (one way) but you’ll find yourself pulling over again and again to capture once-in-a-lifetime ‘grams and make your co-workers back at the remote office question their priorities.

BARNES CANYON + BEAVER DAM STATE PARK: MODERATE

Barnes Canyon Bike Trails
Barnes Canyon’s bike trails range from beginner to advanced

Courtesy of Travel Nevada

The trip: Mountain biking or remote fishing (or both!)

The route: Caliente to Beaver Dam along the Great Basin Highway

If You’re an: Active Traveler Seeking Accessible Wilderness Experiences

This road trip proves just how easy it is to escape from it all. Just two and a half hours north of Las Vegas are Cathedral Gorge State Park, a surreal landscape unlike anywhere else on Earth, and Beaver Dam State Park, the most remote, crowdless Nevada state park, and that’s really saying something. To get there take Great Basin Highway (Highway 93) north. You’ll pass two peaceful lakes in the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, popular with birdwatchers. Stop in Caliente, an old depot town recently rebirthed as a mountain biker’s destination vacation. Barnes Canyon Mountain Biking Trails, four miles away, are the jewels, but Caliente’s own city trails, plus nearby Kershaw-Ryan State Park, and Ella Mountain round out a massive menu of options to satisfy both beginners and experts. (Show your appreciation by respecting private property.) Kershaw-Ryan offers a beautiful campground in a colorful canyon setting.

Catheral Gorge State Park Hoodoos
Visitors to Cathedral Gorge State Park often say it feels like another planet

Courtesy of Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

Devote a full day to exploring Cathedral Gorge. Its towering cliffs, picturesque spires, and narrow slot canyons (Nevada’s only!) are the remains of a prehistoric lakebed, since carved into a maze of wondrous caverns and trails by centuries of erosion. The clay formations are soft and continue to erode and evolve each season. It’s never crowded, and winter is a serenely beautiful time to visit, especially after a snowfall. Afterward, head to Beaver Dam State Park to claim your campsite. 

Beaver Dam State Park
Beaver Dam State Park—an uncrowded wilderness within your reach

Courtesy of Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

Beaver Dam is a high desert paradise of ponderosa pine, waterfalls, and volcanic rocks, offering the ultimate escape from civilization with very few visitors. Indeed, don’t be surprised if you are the only one. That being said, Beaver Dam is considered an official Watchable Wildlife Area, meaning you may have plenty of company, including mountain lions, jackrabbits, bobcats, great blue herons and, of course, beavers. Oak Knoll Trail takes you on an easy hike to a prime, small-stream fly-fishing spot stocked with rainbow trout. Campsites are available year round on a first-come, first-served basis. Be sure to show your gratitude that a haven like this even exists by abiding by the seven leave no trace principles.

MASSACRE RIM + PYRAMID LAKE: AMBITIOUSLY OFF-GRID

Milky Way
 Nevada has some of the darkest skies in the world

Courtesy of BLM Nevada

The trip: Primitive camping in an International Dark Sky Sanctuary

The route: Burner Byway to Massacre Rim

If You’re an: Adventurer Looking to Totally Leave Civilization Behind

The scourge of light pollution has been growing for years but the pandemic brought it into our homes. All day and night we stare into screens. (You’re doing it right now!) How amazing would it feel to turn off all the lights and devices and really unplug? A half-day north of Reno lies one of the darkest places on Earth, the Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area. Officially certified a Dark Sky Sanctuary, joining only six more places within this destination on planet Earth, it’s hours away from paved roads, electricity, and other people. On moonless nights the stars shine bright enough to actually cast shadows. It’s a singular opportunity for a modern human to experience the same night sky as the indigenous people who left the petroglyphs that you’ll find throughout the area, or the 19th century emigrants who passed through during the gold rush. But, know before you go: Massacre Rim is real wilderness—101,000 uninhabited acres surrounding a mysteriously named Massacre Lake to be exact. There are no established campsites aside from a couple of first-come, first-served wilderness cabins; however, primitive, leave-no-trace camping is permitted. Be sure to bring plenty of extra fuel, know how to use a paper map (with no cell service!), and let someone know where you’re headed and when you plan to return for a galactic, off-grid adventure you won’t soon forget.

Pyramid Lake
Tribal-owned Pyramid lake, outside Reno, is a fisherman’s paradise

Courtesy of Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

To find Pyramid Lake, take the Burner Byway north out of Reno. A landscape that goes way beyond the Burning Man event each August, get into a Burner frame of mind by kicking off your journey with a visit to the Nevada Museum of Art. Founded by an early climate scientist, this renowned institution emphasizes the intersection of art and the environment and human impact on the landscape. Of course, the city of Reno itself is a world class exhibit worth exploring, chock full of street murals, public art installations that first debut at Burning Man and other area events, galleries, bohemian boutiques, and free-spirited creatives.

Less than an hour outside Reno, you’ll pass one of America’s most scenic desert lakes, the tribally owned Pyramid Lake. Home of the legendary 40-pound Lahontan cutthroat trout (Nevada’s official state fish), Pyramid Lake is a bucket-list for fisherman all over the West. While you’re here, stake your spot for the night at campgrounds not far from the boat launch, and don’t forget the camera for breathtaking views of this high desert lake. And before you venture completely off the grid, stop for supplies (and your last taste of electricity) in Gerlach, home to 3,800-acre Fly Ranch, the headquarters of the Burning Man Project. Here you can embark on a 3-hour guided hike to the colorful Fly Geyser, which regularly erupts plumes of steaming water, and contemplate making communing with nature in the wide open spaces of Nevada a regular part of your life traveling in the West.


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