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Nevada State Parks: Part 4 – White Pine and Elko Counties

South Fork State Recreation Area. ©Megg Mueller

Part 4: The counties of White Pine and Elko cook up a few well-hydrated secrets.

BY MEGG MUELLER

The neighboring counties of White Pine and Elko each have spectacular scenery, extraordinary vacation spots, and a whole lot of space. They both have two state parks, also, and while water plays a huge part in the boundless recreation three of the parks have to offer, one has something a little different cooking for your state park adventures.

SOUTH FORK STATE RECREATION AREA

The South Fork Valley, rich with vegetation and a consistent supply of water from the Upper Humboldt River, lured settlers in 1867. Located about 18 miles south of Elko with the majestic Ruby Mountains in the background, the setting is as picturesque as you’ll find. And thanks to the establishment of the South Fork State Park in 1983, and the creation of the South Fork Dam in 1988, the valley now has a massive, 1650-acre reservoir chock full of fish and beckoning water sports enthusiasts.

©Jeff Erickson

Known for its trophy-sized trout—along with catfish and bass—South Fork just begs to be fished, and visitors readily comply. By boat or along the ample shores, fishermen flock to the reservoir in all seasons.

The abundant wildlife draws hunters in-season, and wildlife enthusiasts year-round. Everything from mule deer, badgers, beavers, and waterfowl call the valley home and are regularly on display throughout the park.

Camping is available at a 25-site campground—complete with restroom and showers—or along the southwest shore, primitive camping is allowed. There are no developed hiking trails, but with all that beautiful water and miles of shoreline including day-use beaches with picnic tables, why would you want to go hike? Save that for nearby Lamoille Canyon after you’ve had your fill of South Fork’s fishing and boating fun.

SOUTH FORK STATE RECREATION AREA
353 Lower South Fork Rd.
Spring Creek, NV  89815
parks.nv.gov, 775-744-7346


WILD HORSE STATE RECREATION AREA

©Megg Mueller

About 89 miles north of South Fork—66 miles north of Elko—sits Wild Horse State Recreation Area, home to another giant reservoir. At 2,830 acres, Wild Horse is not only much larger than South Fork, its waters are stored for agricultural uses at the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.   

That said, the waters invite visitors all year long. As popular in winter—despite frigid temps, or because of them—as it is in the summer, Wild Horse has been a popular state recreation area since 1979. The area around Wild Horse is ripe with elk, pronghorn, mule deer, and lots of waterfowl and upland game birds. There is no hunting in the park, but the 34 campsites are a favorite basecamp for hunters during the season. There are pull-through sites for large RVs, but no hookups.


Like Nevada State Parks? Read the rest of the series!

Nevada State Parks Series: Part 3 – Lincoln County

Nevada State Parks: Part 2 – Berlin-Ichthyosaur

Nevada State Parks: Part 1 – Clark County


Spring and fall offer the best chances for catching rainbow trout, German brown trout, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and catfish. Diehard ice fisherman flock to Wild Horse in the winter when fish are still plentiful but temperatures have been known to get to 20-below zero (and lower). Snowmobiling, skiing, ice skating, and sledding are other prime winter activities here.

The fairly remote nature of Wild Horse is perfect for those looking to get out of town but not so far out you can’t get back. If you really want to come back, that is. Because after one visit you may just want to stay.

WILD HORSE STATE RECREATION AREA
65 miles north of Elko on State Route 225
Elko, NV 89801
parks.nv.gov, 775-385-5939


CAVE LAKE STATE PARK

©Sharlea Taft

It may be a small lake compared to the first two parks in this series, but Cave Lake State Park has big fun. The reservoir is 32 acres, but it packs in boating, fishing, swimming in the warmer months, and hosts ice fishing and ice skating in the winter, along with some wacky events all year long.

The reservoir was built in 1939 to store water for a ranch in Steptoe Valley, and in 1968, the current ranch owners sold more than 1,000 acres to the Nevada Department of Fish and Game (now Department of Wildlife) for the excellent sum of $10. Nevada State Parks took it over in 1973, and established the park that year. The park added campgrounds, a boat dock, and day use areas, and then in 2005 the U.S. Department of Agriculture transferred land to the park, eventually making it a whopping 4,560 acres in total.

Animal lovers will find Cave Lake pretty much heaven, with elk and mule deer common in the area, and—less social but still available for glimpses—predators such as mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes. Eagles, hawks and many other birds add to the perfect setting that is Cave Lake. Set up in one of two campgrounds, or the two picnic day-use areas and either hit the water or take a hike on one of the park’s three moderate trails.

Just for the fun of it, plan your visit around one of the park’s unique events. The annual Bathtub Races in June feature converted bathtubs racing across the lake, along with all manner of fun during the day with rubber ducks, cocktails, and a barbecue and fireworks in the evening. For winter lovers, the White Pine County Fire and Ice Show in January has amazing snow and ice sculptures including whimsical fish, giants and anything else the creators can imagine. Bring a picnic and gather around a fire after wandering through the magical creations.

CAVE LAKE STATE PARK
U.S. Highway 93
Ely, NV 89301
parks.nv.gov, 775-867-3001


WARD CHARCOAL OVENS STATE HISTORIC PARK

©James Marvin Phelps

On U.S. 50, about 30 miles east of Ely and an hour before Great Basin National Park, tucked back in the Egan Mountains to the south of the highway is Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park. As you approach from the access road, six massive beehive shaped charcoal ovens peek over the hills, and you know you’re in for a very different state park experience.

The ovens date back to 1876, when they were used to turn pinyon pine and juniper into charcoal, which was crucial to the smelters used in ore processing for the nearby Ward Mining District. Signs at the park describe the fascinating method—which includes watching smoke colors change—used to make the charcoal. Once the mining boom ended, the ovens were abandoned but used by travelers as shelter, and possibly as hiding places for stagecoach bandits. The state park system was given the land in 1969 and the area was designated a historic monument. Ward Charcoal Ovens became a state park in 1994.

Today, the ovens are open for touring and testing which of the 30-foot-tall beehive structures has the best acoustic value. The park is still surrounded by pinyon and juniper forests—plus lots of sagebrush—and there are many camping options including two large pull-through spots. Seven trails run through the park, each with varying degrees of difficulty and most can be looped together to make a longer hike or mountain bike ride. Willow Creek runs through the park and is stocked with rainbow trout; German brown and brook trout are also found in the creek.

If you’re not staying a few days, make sure to stop at one of the day-use areas after viewing the ovens, and have a picnic. Grills, restrooms, and endless views await.

WARD CHARCOAL OVENS STATE HISTORIC PARK
1969 Cave Valley Rd.
Ely, NV 89315
parks.nv.gov, 775-289-1693

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