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5 epic road trips that prove you’ve never seen Nevada

Photo: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

There’s only one state that’s home to both cowboys and aliens. Ghost towns and red rock canyons. Alpine lakes and Mad Max-style roads. Saloons, mining towns, and the entertainment capital of the world. The classic Vegas road trip is a good start, but in the shadows of that neon glow lies an entire world you’ve probably never seen — or hiked, or photographed, or wandered, or simply knew existed.

That’s about to change. There’s no one way to see the Silver State — maybe you want to see the land at its wildest. Or its most serene. Or its most colorful. No matter your goal, Nevada is built for road trips, and these five itineraries are just to get you started. Ready to hit the open road?

This post is proudly produced in partnership with TravelNevada.

Lake Tahoe Loop

At a short and sweet 142 miles, the Lake Tahoe Loop is still a route of diverse superlatives: You’ll paddleboard one of the clearest and coldest lakes in the country. You’ll sip whiskey in Nevada’s oldest saloon. You’ll put foot to ground in the state’s first official settlement. And the views? Definitely superlative. And superb. And sublime.
 

THE STOPS


Incline Village

Incline Village sits on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, about half …

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Incline Village

What: Incline Village sits on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, a little over half an hour from Reno. Tahoe happens to be the largest alpine lake in North America, meaning a dip here is still a “polar plunge” even in the middle of summer. Being on it is other-worldly, but taking it in from the city — patio seat, cold one in hand — ain’t bad, either.

As for the town, the name isn’t false advertising: Diamond Peak Ski Resort is right here, and the opportunities for hiking, skiing, biking, and snowshoeing (and sleigh rides!) are aplenty.

Check out: Hop on the famous Flume Trail at Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, or escape to Hidden Beach or Cave Rock, right on the water.


Stateline

Consider Stateline a little taste of Vegas but with views that are more natural than…

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Stateline

What: Consider Stateline a little taste of Vegas but with views that are more natural than neon. The town sits on the south shore of Lake Tahoe and — yep — the state line between California and Nevada, and it’s where you go to splurge on resort life. Harrah’s Tahoe, Harveys, Montbleu, and Hard Rock Lake Tahoe are all here, along with the Edgewood Tahoe golf course and the Heavenly Mountain Resort Gondola (which operates year-round).

Check out: Hop aboard a boat cruise on the M.S. Dixie II, an ol’ paddle wheeler that’ll get you on the water at a chiller pace.


Genoa

This is Nevada’s oldest settlement, but the history that’ll make…

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Genoa

What: This is Nevada’s oldest settlement, but the history that’ll keep you after hours is the state’s oldest “Thirst Parlor.” That’s Genoa Bar, and it’s been around since 1853. Yes, that’s Willie Nelson’s hat and Raquel Welch’s bra you’re looking at. Pre- or post-drink, check out Mormon Station State Historic Park — it sits on the site of an old trading post on the California Trail, the oldest part of this oldest town.

Check out: Grab lunch at The Pink House (hello, onsite cheese shop!) and kill some time (and some stress) at 1862 David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort. If it’s good enough for Mark Twain, it’s good enough for you.


Carson City

Harken back to your middle school days, because now you’re in Nevada’s state…

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Carson City

What: Harken back to your middle school days, because now you’re in Nevada’s state capital (nope, it’s not Las Vegas). This is gold and silver country, so you’re sure to find some awesome museums detailing the state’s rocky past. Both the Nevada State Museum – Carson City and the Nevada State Railroad Museum – Carson City will bring you up to snuff on how this rugged frontier was slowly tamed (if it ever really was).

Check out: The Stewart Indian School is a former federal boarding school for Native American Children, and it’s nothing short of eye-opening. And for food? Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint, because good luck resisting that intrigue.


Virginia City

This place was so rich in gold and silver that it’s responsible…

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Virginia City

What: This place was so rich in gold and silver that it helped spur the development of world-famous cities like San Francisco. It’s built above the Comstock Lode silver mines, and wandering through its downtown — its shops, Victorian buildings, and saloons — will leave no doubt about it. For a no-frills walking tour, hit up C Street and just go wherever your feet (and eyes) take you. This is the main drag and has been for a long, long, long, long time.

Check out: The Washoe Club. It doesn’t get much more haunted than right here, in all of Nevada…and perhaps all of the country. Grab a drink here, and wait to be spooked.

Photos provided by: Trevor Bexon, Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada, Reno Tahoe Territory, and Chris Moran/TravelNevada

Cowboy Corridor

The wide-open road, the rolling sagebrush landscape — it’ll be hard not to ride the gas pedal, but try to take ‘er at cowboy speed. You’ve got 396 miles to traverse the great American West, only you get to do it with the A/C on.
 

THE STOPS


Reno

What was once relegated to gambling run-off from Vegas is now a hopping stop for…

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Reno

What: What was once relegated to gambling run-off from Vegas is now a hopping stop for art, outdoor adventure, and food. Nevada’s “Biggest Little City” has an eclectic list of claims to fame: Basque cuisine. The world’s tallest outdoor climbing wall. Famous alleyways that were once the only entrances into the city’s casinos. Nevada’s only museum of art. For this stop, know what you’re here to do — otherwise you’ll have to make some quick decisions.

Check out: The Reno Playa Art Park showcases some of the best Burning Man installations that you thought were wiped away with the desert dust. It’s right along the Riverwalk District, which is just as artsy.


Lovelock

On your way here from Reno, stop at Mary & Moe’s Wigwam for a…

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Lovelock

What: On your way here from Reno, stop at Mary & Moe’s Wigwam for a (butterscotch!) milkshake. If you’ve got your partner in tow, hightail it to Lovelock’s Pershing County Courthouse and the Lovers Lock Plaza (behind it). 1,000 locks are strewn about the circle of green pillars here, celebrating love with this ancient Chinese — and now world — custom.

Check out: Lovelock Cave. It’s a little over 30 minutes south of town, but it feels about a million years away from reality. 10,000 artifacts have been recovered here, from back in the days when Native Americans used it as shelter. For more outdoorsy things to scope out, hit up Rye Patch State Recreation Area. It’s a 22-mile-long reservoir with tons of hiking trails and rugged views.


Winnemucca

This may be another of Nevada’s oldest settlements, but the food…

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Winnemucca

What: This may be another of Nevada’s oldest settlements, but the food scene here is anything but old-school. The Martin Hotel should be your first stop, as it’s a historic Basque dinner house, and when’s the last time you even heard the phrase “historic Basque dinner house?” Ormachea’s is another kickin’ stop, as is Paradise Valley Saloon & Bar G. It’s about an hour south in a “living” ghost town, alive mainly thanks to Paradise Valley’s famous steaks.

Check out: Stick around Paradise Valley for a while if you stop in the area. It’s straight out of a Western movie set. (Like this picture suggests.)


Elko

Now you’re really in cowboy country. Scope out…

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Elko

What: Now you’re really in cowboy country. Scope out the hand-hewn saddles at J.M. Capriola Co., stop by Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum, and hang a moment at the Western Folklife Center. Elko was a railroad, mining, and cattle town that has never really lost its sense of being at the edge of civilization — and at the edge of adventure.

Check out: The Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway — a route that goes through the Ruby Mountains — is under an hour’s drive from Elko. Believe it or not, glaciers got all the way down here, leaving the “Alps of Nevada” in their wake.


West Wendover

Between Elko and West Wendover, Nevada’s canvas gets…

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West Wendover

What: Between Elko and West Wendover, Nevada’s canvas gets even more colorful. Along the way, stop and hike to and around Angel Lake, break for beers at Ruby Mountain Brewing Co., and then hit up the hot springs at Blue Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats. The latter is 30,000 acres of an ancient, dried-up Pleistocene Lake that looks beyond Earthly. It’s such unique terrain that land records have been set here — many times over.

Check out: Wendover Will on Wendover Boulevard. The famous cowboy is a 63-foot-tall neon sign that’s been greeting visitors and photobombing tourists since 1952. He’s especially handsome at night.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada, Kaitlin Godbey/TravelNevada, TravelNevada, and m01229

The Death Drive

Nope — not windy roads, 100mph speed limits, and sheer cliffs with no shoulders. Instead, you’re driving through Death Valley, ghost towns, coffin shops (well, maybe driving to this one), and plenty of other experiences that fully qualify as “living life to the fullest.” You know, Death Drive style.
 

THE STOPS


Las Vegas

It’s only fitting that the beginning of the Death Drive be in a city…

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Las Vegas

What: It’s only fitting that the beginning of the Death Drive be in a city that is ever-alive. The city needs no introduction or explanation, apart from dropping in the tidbit that it’s a mere two hours from Death Valley National Park.

Check out: Get off the strip and into the more authentic, local’s side of the city. There’s great coffee, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and lounges that stay alive well into the night. As for where to stay, where to drink, and what other outdoor adventures to have, we’ve got you covered.


Pahrump

If you’ve ever seen a photo of someone flying above water with a jetpack…

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Pahrump

What: If you’ve ever seen a photo of someone flying above water with a jetpack, you’re probably looking at Jetpack America in Pahrump (technically, Lake Spring Mountain). This relatively small town has a long list of surprising things to do…and a serious hold on the local wine scene (yep, even in the “desert”). Both Pahrump Valley and Sanders Family Winery are award-winning, with views into the Spring Mountains and the Nopah Range, right from your seat on the patio.

Check out: Coffinwood. It’s a Nevada treasure.


Death Valley National Park

While the name may conjure up images of a barren desert, heat in the…

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Death Valley National Park

What: While the name may conjure up images of a barren desert, heat in the air literally distorting what’s in front of your eyes, Death Valley is more about extremes on both ends of the spectrum: A 130°F day could be 0°F by nightfall. Mountains — sometimes snow-covered — fall from their peaks to the lowest point in North America at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. Colorful canyons lose their gradient to the sand. Here, it’s safe to assume nothing.

Check out: Hiking the Badwater Salt Flat (one mile) is an easy trek for a huge reward — you’re wandering the lowest point in just about anywhere. Bring lots of water!


Beatty

This little spot beat all the odds. While others around it…

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Beatty

What: This little spot beat all the odds. While others around it became ghost towns, Beatty survived. Now this old mining town is the gateway to Death Valley and — if nothing else — home to some pretty kickin’ chili at Happy Burro Chili and Beer. It’s so good, we’re going to stop there.

Check out: The ghost town of Rhyolite — perhaps Nevada’s most famous — is about 10 minutes away. Stop by the Tom Kelly Bottle House and the Goldwell Open Air Museum, apart from just wandering the dilapidated buildings that haven’t seen souls for 100 years.


Desert National Wildlife Refuge

This is the largest national wildlife refuge in the continental…

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Desert National Wildlife Refuge

What: This is the largest national wildlife refuge in the continental United States, and it’s easily the most rugged. The road to the visitor center is paved, but beyond that, you’ll want to rent something sturdier than what you’re likely driving. At 1.6 million acres, you’ve got six major mountain ranges to set your eyes on, and odds are a bighorn sheep will distract you — and your camera — at some point.

Check out: There are five trails that head out from the Corn Creek visitor center. If you don’t have four-wheel drive, stick to two-leg trekking right from here.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada, Elletsuei, Kion Cheng, mtneer_man, and Gentry George

Burner Byway

You’ve got 205 miles to explore your Burning Man spirit. You’ll make your way through the Black Rock Desert and along the famous Guru Road, catching post-playa art along the way…and maybe acquiring a trunk full of Burner flair.
 

THE STOPS


Reno

If one Nevada city is *the* Burner hub, it’s …

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Reno

What: If one Nevada city is *the* Burner hub, it’s Reno. Art comes here to live on, and Burners come here to revitalize and recharge. MidTown is Reno’s hippest neighborhood — mark it on your map and go. And if you need some Burner garb for the occasion, The Melting Pot World Emporium, Junkee Clothing Exchange, Culture, and Dick Diamond’s Golden Jackal will do the job just fine.

Check out: The Generator is a collaborative art space where Burning Man’s best displays are born. Even if you’re not an artist, stroll the gallery for some serious mind candy.


Pyramid Lake

Driving from Reno to Pyramid Lake along State Route 445 will feel…

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Pyramid Lake

What: Driving from Reno to Pyramid Lake along State Route 445 will feel like an experience in itself — and then you get out of the car to what’ll seem like a mirage. Pyramid Lake pops out of the desert, breaking up the tans and browns with shades of sapphire. You won’t miss it off the highway; it’s right there, and the views will distract you even from the road.

Check out: Pyramid Lake is known for its “tufa deposits,” which are basically limestone towers, similar to hoodoos. Keep an eye out!


Gerlach

“Where the pavement ends and the West begins.” Welcome to…

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Gerlach

What: “Where the pavement ends and the West begins.” Welcome to Gerlach, the last fuel stop on the road to the Black Rock Desert, the last inkling of civilization before you go rogue. Stop at Bruno’s Country Club for the ravioli, and take it all in before you leave it all behind.

Check out: Planet X Pottery, about half an hour from Gerlach. Right, right — technically not Gerlach, but it’s cool enough that you should make the drive anyway.


Guru Road

Stopping by Guru Road when you’re in or near Gerlach is a…

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Guru Road

What: Stopping by Guru Road when you’re in or near Gerlach is a must. A mile-long artistic installment a couple minutes north of town, its eclectic grandeur defies description — it requires being experienced (like a lot of Nevada, really).

Check out: The Black Rock High Rock Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area is the place to get your Guru Road map. Without it, you’ll feel like you’re wandering a rockier version of Alice’s wonderland.


Black Rock Desert

1.2 million acres, 1.2 million chances to be off-grid. This…

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Black Rock Desert

What: 1.2 million acres, 1.2 million chances to be off-grid. This is the largest swath of publicly managed land in the lower 48, and it’s full of hot springs, dried-up lake beds, alkali flats, and spectacular canyons and mountains. But technically it’s protected for its historic emigrant trails — 180 miles of the Lassen/Applegate Trail passes right through here, where 49ers crossed Nevada through the 1850s. Was it one of the toughest sections along the entire trail? You bet.

Check out: You can still see wagon tracks in the High Rock Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. There’s plenty of wildlife and get-out-in-nature opportunities (like hot springs or rock climbing) too.

Photos provided by: Ian Norman, Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada, Kaitlin Godbey/TravelNevada, and Trevor Bexon

Neon to Nature

If you’ve got nights to spend in Las Vegas and time to kill, you’ve got to go from neon to nature. And back again. Twice. This is 500 miles across three Vegas day trips, and here’s a hint: It’s easier to choose if you just choose ’em all.
 

THE STOPS


Valley of Fire State Park

This is Nevada’s oldest state park, but you could easily mistake it for…

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Valley of Fire State Park

What: This is Nevada’s oldest state park, but you could easily mistake it for one of the “national” variety. The name isn’t misleading — driving through the iron-red formations, around the sandstone arches, and in between those orange and white lines waving in the rocks will feel like flames stood still long enough for you to pass through. Don’t miss the petroglyphs!

Check out: Come early in the morning, and you’ll see the sunrise illuminating the rocks in different shades — possibly interrupted by a handful of bighorn sheep getting ready to start their otherwise-camouflaged day.


Mesquite

Aiming for Mesquite from Valley of Fire takes you through the Moapa Valley and…

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Mesquite

What: Aiming for Mesquite from Valley of Fire takes you through the Moapa Valley and the Mojave Desert. People have lived here for thousands of years, and you can see what their dwellings were like at the Lost City Museum — an actual village was flooded in the creation of Lake Mead, but artifacts remain, and the reproductions are spot on.

Check out: Mesquite may have under 20,000 people, but it rakes in the golf courses, resorts, mineral baths, and kickin’ burgers — if your stomach is driving, set your course for 1880 Grille.


Boulder City & the Hoover Dam

If you stop at the Hoover Dam (which you have to do), you have to stop…

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Boulder City & the Hoover Dam

What: If you stop at the Hoover Dam (which you have to do), you have to stop at Boulder City. This community was built for the workers who constructed the modern marvel, and it’s never disappeared — despite its status as being Nevada’s only gaming-free community. The entire town is as bit frozen in time, and this is best exemplified at the Boulder Dam Hotel…which also happens to be a great spot for breakfast.

Check out: The Hoover Dam is a sight to see regardless of who you are or what you know, but stopping at the Boulder City – Hoover Dam Museum beforehand will completely upgrade your experience and your understanding.


Laughlin

On your way to Laughlin from Boulder City, stop at the…

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Laughlin

What: On your way to Laughlin from Boulder City, stop at the Techatticup Mine. One more ghost town for the road and all. Once in town, head to the Laughlin Riverwalk and hop aboard a cruise down the Colorado to the London Bridge (yep, it crossed the Thames originally in the 1800s before being moved here). The views of the Mojave won’t be bad, either.

Check out: Christmas Tree Pass has a bunch of petroglyphs, which is only one of the awesome outdoorsy things to do in Laughlin (see Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area, the Black Mountains, Grapevine Canyon, and Spirit Mountain for proof).


Red Rock Conservation Area & Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Half an hour off the strip rests the Spring Mountains — nearly 200,000…

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Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area & Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

What: Half an hour off the strip rests the Spring Mountains — nearly 200,000 acres of wilderness is set aside here as Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, an area that includes 10 rugged red-rock canyons. And five minutes south is Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, where you can squeeze in some lawn time with history, nature, or wildlife — the views are epic, but the long list of famous owners is something to marvel at, too.

Check out: Red Rock Conservation Area can be explored by foot — trek the hiking trail that skirts Keystone Thrust if you have time — or by car along the Red Rock Canyon Backcountry Byway, a 13-mile loop you won’t want to miss.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada, Jenny Salita, Renee Grayson, Ryan Jerz/TravelNevada, and Chris Moran/TravelNevada


This post is proudly produced in partnership with TravelNevada.
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