Great Basin Highway
Get ready for breathtaking scenery and adventure along this picturesque route.
This trip up Nevada’s eastern edge begins with sandstone canyons and ends at ancient bristlecone pines beneath some of the nation’s darkest skies. Along the way, explore the surreal landscapes of several state parks, visit charming communities, and hit some of the state’s best hiking and biking trails.
LAS VEGAS TO VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK
Interstate-15: 45 min.
State Route 167: 1 hour 15 min.
Heading out from Las Vegas, your first stop is at one of Nevada’s natural wonders—Valley of Fire State Park. You can take the interstate and arrive in the time it takes to finish a yoga class, but we recommend the scenic drive on State Route 167 through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
This serene desert drive features hills of rust-red sandstone and unparalleled views of Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the country. Despite regional drought, it endures as an awesome sight, and you’ll find its blue waters sprawling along the horizon. Keep an eye out for wildlife as you wind your way north because this is prime territory to spot wild horses, burros, and bighorn sheep.
VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK TO CALIENTE
Highway 93: 2 hours 20 min.
Next, it’s time to hit the road for Caliente, the town known for its rose-lined streets, Spanish mission-style train depot, and its surrounding network of gorgeous canyons.
Mountain bikers should make for Barnes Canyon to enjoy dozens of miles of singletrack while nearby Kershaw-Ryan State Park promises adventurous hikes. Just outside town is Rainbow Canyon, which is both a beautiful drive and home to some of the best rock-climbing in the state.
Caliente offers plenty of great restaurants and lodgings, and we recommend you treat yourself to an evening in
this peaceful town before continuing your adventure.
CALIENTE TO PIOCHE
Highway 93: 30 min.
The highway takes us north through the agricultural heart of Lincoln County toward Pioche. Along the way, don’t miss the opportunity to stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park, which sits halfway between the two towns. With its otherworldly spires, deep chasms, and meandering hikes through slot canyons and scenic overlooks, this park is almost a required pit stop.
Arriving in Pioche, it’s hard to imagine that this quiet, friendly community was once known as one of the roughest, toughest mining towns in the Old West. Although home to around 1,500, Pioche still retains the charm of a frontier community and boasts plenty of relics from the old days including Thompson’s Opera House, the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” and the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery.
PIOCHE TO ELY
Highway 93 + Highway 50: 1 hour 45 min.
The copper mining boomtown of Ely is the last town to explore on this trip. Famous for its pioneer-themed murals and train history, this community is a bustling town with plenty to do. Ely’s downtown is pedestrian friendly and home to the historic Hotel Nevada—once the tallest building in the state—and blocks of bars and restaurants.
One of Ely’s biggest draws are its historic trains, and it’s worth booking a ride with Nevada Northern Railway. To make the event even more memorable, try their themed lines like the Star Train or Polar Express. Tickets sell out quickly, so be sure to schedule well in advance. Even if you aren’t able to ride this historic line, stop in at the nearby East Ely Railroad Depot Museum.
ELY TO GREAT BASIN NATIONAL PARK
Highway 50: 1 hour
Hit the road early for the stretch to Great Basin National Park, home to 5,000-year-old Bristlecone Pine trees (the oldest living things on Earth), and some of the darkest night skies in the Lower 48.
Start in the visitor center to learn how Nevada’s unique geography makes verdant mountain oases like this state park possible. Next, head underground on a guided tour through the famous Lehman Caves or ascend 4,000 feet up the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to a panorama of Wheeler Peak—the second tallest mountain in the state. After a day of exploration, a hot meal and soft bed are easily found nearby in the quiet, artsy village of Baker.
If you’re looking for a bit more adventure, consider the 5.4-mile loop hike to the 200-feet-high Lexington Arch. Getting to the trailhead requires traversing some rough roads, so make sure your vehicle can handle it.