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Backroads, byways and aliens, Oh my! Check out these hidden, only in Nevada highlights on a 5- to 14-day road trip through the Silver State
Nevada has it all—night life, sprawling desert, and mind-blowing state parks. But on the down low, it also has glorious dark skies a stone’s throw from everywhere, hot springs and rock hounding unlike anywhere else in the world, and more ghost towns than populated cities (for real!). See a side of Nevada you never imagined with a road trip from Reno to Las Vegas that meanders some of the state’s most beautiful, memorable, (and weird!) points of interest. This trip covers 1,400-1,800 km so stretch it out or just hit the highlights.
Stay over: Reno | Find 24-hour action across THE ROW Reno—three interconnected properties (Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus) with 25 restaurants, 23 bars and lounges, 11 nightspots, thousands of rooms, gaming galore, and hundreds of carnival and video games at the kiddo-approved Carnival Midway at Circus Circus Reno.
Casinos and grand buffets may have put Reno on the map, but visitors are also drawn to the city’s public art obsession, bohemian vibes, funky music scene and mouth-watering Reno-centric food scene. Downtown’s swirling melee of action, gaming and entertainment is a must-do, but also check out Mid-town Reno, where funky boutiques, score-filled vintage shops, Burning Man costume emporiums, swanky bistros, art galleries and cocktail havens keep the revivalist spirit alive. You’ll also find rockin’ music venues, tap houses, tattoo parlors and ever-changing murals in this spunky, mid-century district.
Distance: Reno to Lake Tahoe – 48 to 97 km | Lake Tahoe Loop 116 km
Stay over: Hyatt Lake Tahoe, Incline Village, where lakeside luxury and beachfront après adventure are sure to please.
With around 100 zip-coded locales to its 600+ ghost towns, Nevada actually has more historic mining camps and bygone boomtowns than populated cities and towns. Lake Tahoe, the “Jewel of the Sierra Nevada”, is a summertime paradise, a winter wonderland and a year-round destination for unforgettable mountain memories, but it’s not just the vast, crystal-clear lake that draws visitors to this magical place. The epic road trip around the lake meanders through idyllic towns of the Carson Valley where you can soak in history in Nevada’s first settlement (Mormon Station State Historic Park) and the state’s oldest “thirst parlour.” In the capital town of Carson City, keep swimming in history at three museums and a walking tour before taking in the best “triathlon” of all time—a confluence of hot springs soaks, craft beer and mouth-watering cuisine. Carry on to the wildly western Virginia City and actually believe you’ve landed in the 19th century. Ever dreamed of dancing to a cowboy band in a joint called Bucket of Blood after watching an outhouse race and visiting a haunted hotel? You’ve come to the right place.
Distance: Reno to Black Rock Desert 175 – 400 km
Stay over: Reno
For a week every August, the otherwise vast and empty Black Rock Desert playa becomes Nevada’s sixth largest city—the 70,000-person, pop-up metropolis of art, technology, music, and community called Black Rock City, home of the world-famous Burning Man celebration. Road trip the Burner Highway and discover the art-lined route “Burners” take through Northern Nevada, rich with public art, museums, shops, galleries and more. Just 80 km from Reno, tribal-owned Pyramid Lake is a stunning scenic jewel offering photo-worthy moments of silent bliss. About 112 km later, Gerlach welcomes visitors as the last slice of civilization before Black Rock Country. Cruise to Planet X Pottery, a solar powered art studio filled with landscape-inspired creations before landing back in town at Bruno’s Country Club and the Miner’s Club for bevvies and local chatter. In another 32 km later, Burner Byway’ers will find the Black Rock playa and understand its jaw-dropping, other-worldly beauty. This is the threshold for 1.2 million acres or pure, unwritten adventure territory where natural hot springs, wildlife and starlit skies invite you to explore.
Distance: Reno to Ely | 515 km
Stay over: Ely, where the Hotel Nevada delights with funky flair, killer neon, and century-old western-chic ambiance, and the Bristlecone Motel delivers mountain views.
Highway 50 earned its name—the Loneliest Road in America—from a 1986 Life magazine article that claimed it hadn’t a single point of interest and warned visitors to avoid the risk of travelling it unless they were confident of their “survival skills”. But road tripping aficionados know that this wide-open swatch of beauty is the ultimate gateway to ghost towns, historic mining communities, gorgeous state parks, more recreational opportunities than you can kick a tumble weed at and several natural hot springs. (In fact, Nevada proudly boasts more hot springs than any other state). Outdoor action junkies, prepare for hiking, biking, camping, stargazing, hot springing, off-roading, wildlife watching, and Sagebrush Saloon-hopping—Nevada’s historic bars that beckon dirt road ramblers and history hounds alike. Visit some teeny towns, like Fallon (farm-to-fork fare, anyone?), Austin (hunt for petroglyphs or shop for local turquoise jewellery), Eureka (get stoked to soak and listen for braying burros at Spencer Hot Springs) and Ely (a haven for history buffs and rockhounds).
Distance: Ely to Las Vegas | 575 km
Stay over: Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel on the ET Highway, a family-owned, alien-lovers paradise close to Area 51.
Nevada has stargazing mastered, having captured more of the last true dark skies than anywhere else in America. Pure, natural, crip and clear night skies can be found just steps from any small town, like Ely, Tonopah and Gerlach, since Nevada’s 3 million residents are concentrated into two metro areas and a handful of intriguing little towns. The 575-km route along the Great Basin Highway includes Nevada’s star-studded cast of natural wonders rife for wilderness star-gazing, including red rock spires and sandstone canyons, glorious mountain peaks and ancient bristlecone pine forests.
From Ely, embark on a 215 km journey to Pioche, dubbed “Nevada’s liveliest ghost town” and famed for its murderous mining history. For the next stretch, choose your own adventure in Spring Valley, Echo Canyon, Beaver Dam, Cathedral Gorge, Elgin Schoolhouse or Kershaw-Ryan state parks, before meandering on to Caliente—Nevada’s “City of Roses” and a recently reborn mountain biking extravaganza.
Where Great Basin Highway meets Extraterrestrial Highway (Hwy 375, 158 km total) in Crystal, Springs, take a little detour into Alien Country, where Area 51 & the Alien Research Center, ET Highway landmarks like the Black Mailbox and Little A’Le’Inn neither confirm or deny the rumors of alien spacecraft or top secret tech—but you never know.
On the final stretch of the Great Basin, make time for a full day in Valley of Fire state park (west on 1-15) for short hikes to Atlatl Rock, Elephant Rock, the Fire Wave and White Domes. Another option is a scenic route (169/167) past Lake Mead or Gold Butte National Monument to watch for wild horses.
Stay over: The Las Vegas Strip has 7.5 km of mega resorts to choose from, including the Bellagio, famous for its dazzling fountains, the modern-artsy Cosmopolitan, the opulent Aria, or place-themed mini-worlds, like Paris Las Vegas, New York-New York and Excalibur.
Las Vegas needs no introduction—gamblers, entertainment seekers, art-lovers, foodies, premium shoppers and people watchers can get their fill in one of America’s most famous tourist destinations. Beyond the world-famous strip, visit Fremont East, Nevada State Museum-Las Vegas and the Mob Museum, or take a break from the lights and action at Red Rock National Conservation Area.
Learn more about road trips, adventures and exploring Nevada at Travel Nevada | AMA Travel
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