Nevada as you’ve never seen it

Lake Tahoe. Photo: Shutterstock/Topseller

Nevada covers a hefty 110,000 square miles — you could fit three Indianas in there, or 11 Marylands. And while it’s simpler on the imagination to picture this vast landscape as all ghost towns and desert, you’d be missing a whole hell of a lot: the alpine lakes, the snow-capped mountain ranges, the singing sand dunes, the art enclaves, the surreal rock formations, the lush river valleys.

And don’t forget — you’ll rail against the gas gauge before you’ll fight the crowds. These 110,000 square miles have more wild horses and bighorn sheep than they have humans, and the people you do run into almost always have a story to tell.

Okay, you’ve been to Las Vegas, but you don’t know Nevada. And these travel ideas only scratch the surface of a state you’ve never truly seen.

This post is proudly produced in partnership with Travel Nevada.


Not black, not rock, not exactly desert. These 300,000 acres of northwestern Nevada were once underwater — now they’re made up of dry alkali flats, narrow canyons, and straight-up mountains (yep, the name is a bit of a misnomer). There’s hundreds of miles of historic trails here, though most visitors come for something a bit more modern: Burning Man.

The experience: Grab all the water you can carry and backpack into the High Rock Canyon Wilderness. There will be wild horse trails you can follow, old homesteads to wander around, and bighorn sheep to view (from a safe distance, of course).

The nearby eats: The only restaurant in nearby Gerlach is Bruno’s Country Club, but it’s the only one you’ll need.

The unexpected vantage point: If you can, summit Donnelly Peak (8,533 feet). It’s not the highest in the area, but it’s the most centrally located, giving you not-soon-forgotten 360-degree views.

Great Basin is all about extremes, including extreme diversity. This national park is home to 13,000-foot peaks, ancient trees, limestone caves, glaciers, and some of the best stargazing anywhere in the world (with a fraction of the crowds at other Western national parks).

The experience: Great Basin National Park is an International Dark Sky Park. Come after sunset on a moonless night and check out the Andromeda Galaxy — with your naked eye.

The nearby eats: At Kerouac’s in Baker, their pizzas are made with a homemade dough that will spoil your taste buds for years.

The unexpected vantage point: Take the Bristlecone Trail to see the namesake pine trees…which might not sound that exciting, until you learn that these trees are the oldest living things on Earth (we’re talking upwards of 5,000 years!). Great Basin is also where you can snag a peek of Nevada’s only glacier, on Wheeler Peak.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

That’s the Shoshone word for “devil.” Jury’s still out on whether or not these hills are haunted by a man-eating giant, but between the 100,000+ acres of Jarbidge Wilderness and the old-school Jarbidge mining town, anything’s possible.

The experience: Snowslide Gulch, Slide Creek, and Three Day Creek all have trailheads that take you deep into Nevada’s first protected wilderness. Whichever route you choose, you won’t have to battle crowds.

The nearby eats: Jarbidge is one of the most isolated towns in the country (check out that Google map!), and The Outdoor Inn is where you’ll find most of Jarbidge’s 100-odd residents.

The unexpected vantage point: Get into the wilderness in autumn and find an aspen grove. Once you’re done admiring the golden foliage, focus your eyes lower down the trunks and hunt for arboglyphs, old tree carvings left by Basque sheepherders.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Mirror-like water, mountains on all sides…you know a photo of Lake Tahoe when you see it. It’s the largest alpine lake in North America — so large that when you see it in its full expansive glory, you can just about detect the curvature of the Earth.

The experience: Ride up the Heavenly Gondola to fathom the immensity you’re dealing with. Then get down on the ground (mountain bike!) or on the water, preferably by kayak or stand-up paddleboard.

The nearby eats: You’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Why hold back? Head to the Lone Eagle Grille in Incline Village and send us a thank you postcard later.

The unexpected vantage point: Sand Harbor. Jump off the rocks, set up your tripod, whatever — just bask in the sight of these weirdly blue-green waters that magically prop up those mountains.

Photos provided by: Rick Gunn, Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada, Shutterstock / Topseller, and Shutterstock/John Santoro

Northern Nevada is marked by ridge after ridge of scenic mountains, but the Rubies are in a class of their own. Visitors flock here for the scenery, hiking, horseback riding, and backpacking. And that’s just in the summer. Once the snow starts falling, it’s all about the epic backcountry skiing, best accessed via helicopter.

The experience: Roll the windows down on the 12-mile Lamoille Canyon Road, a scenic byway, and you’ll see what this glacier-carved range is all about. In winter, book a backcountry excursion with a local operator and get acquainted with a true powder playground.

The nearby eats: The Star Hotel. Its Basque Dining Room was once a watering hole for local sheepherders, but these days its garlic soup does the talking.

The unexpected vantage point: For the hardcore (and appropriately experienced), it has to be the top of Terminal Cancer, a couloir in the Rubies that looks more like a bobsled chute.

Photos provided by: Chris Moran/TravelNevada, David Bunker/TravelNevada, and TravelNevada

Just south of the capital (that’s Carson City, not Las Vegas) is the Carson Valley, the wilder side of the legislative seat. The Carson River is your compass here, while the Sierra Nevada will never not be towering over you.

The experience: Hit the Sierra Canyon Trail on your mountain bike, and you’ll descend nearly 4,000 from high up in the Sierra down toward the valley floor. There’s no better way to take in the local topography.

The nearby eats: The JT Basque Bar & Dining Room might be the only place where you can get an “old-timey,” “saloon,” and “ethnic” experience all from the same seat.

The unexpected vantage point: The Tahoe Rim Trail is bonafide camera candy. (You can access it off US-50 west of Carson City; grab one of the local trail association’s maps to get started.)

Photos provided by: Rick Gunn, Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada, and Shutterstock/Jeffrey T. Kreulen

Welcome to the original boom town. For silver, at least. The Comstock Lode was discovered here in 1859 and Virginia City materialized around it. Over the next 40 years, the local silver mines financed the rapid development of the West Coast, and today the town is one of the most storied in America. Its motto? “Step Back in Time.”

The experience: Wander C Street, the boardwalk, and step into at least a couple of the old saloons. At least.

The nearby eats: In Virginia City, you’ve got loads of choices. Start out at Cafe del Rio, the Cider Factory, or the Canvas Cafe — the first two are in historic buildings, and the third showcases work from local artisans.

The unexpected vantage point: Down in the mine. It’s what the entire town is built from, after all. With the Comstock Adventure Pass, you can go on a mine tour and get access to all kinds of other local experiences.

Photos provided by: Virginia City Tourism Commission and Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

When Lake Lahontan dried up 9,000 years ago, this waterfront property turned into an off-roading paradise. Sand Mountain is literally a mountain of sand — and it’s open to your feet, your dirt bike, and your (off-highway) vehicle.

The experience: This six-story sand dune sings. When the wind is blowing just right, be silent. The next few minutes could put on quite the show.

The nearby eats: JD Slinger’s in Fallon has mastered their famous Burnt Bacon Burger. For more vegetarian-friendly options, check out The Slanted Porch.

The unexpected vantage point: The top of the mountain provides one hell of a vista, but snapping a photo of the dune from the Loneliest Road in America (US-50, which passes to the south) will make your Instagram proud, too.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

The phrase is almost redundant — nearly everywhere in Nevada is doing its own thing. Where else would you find a “forest” of cars? A clown motel? A mountain made of…stuff? Aliens, ghost towns, and just plain ol’ Las Vegas?

The experience: Haunted Wax. Thunder Mountain. Mannequin crews — we’re not even going to try picking just one. Instead, check out this list and narrow it down yourself.

The nearby eats: Food gets weirder in Nevada. Grasshoppers, sea cucumber, frogs legs, and all-you-can-eat everything (its own kind of weird) exist around every corner. Pick your poison.

The unexpected vantage point: You can’t go wrong trying to replicate any of the images above. Or just set your GPS to the Goldwell Open Air Museum and behold.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

There are over 80 murals in Reno’s Midtown, and that’s just as of the time of writing. The biggest little city has seen an artistic renaissance, and nowhere is that clearer than in its alleyways. Grab the associated app, and get to scouting.

The experience: Outside of Midtown, you’ll want to check out the Riverwalk District. Set aside a couple hours to wander — this neighborhood is home to a bunch of awesome cafes and shops.

The nearby eats: Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs. That’s a restaurant, not a dish, and they’re the best breakfast in town, decades running. Expect a California-Mexican-Hawaiian-comfort fusion.

The unexpected vantage point: Find as many murals as you can and snap them all. Which one’s your fave?

Photos provided by: Timmy Dwyer and Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Highway 50 bisects the country, running from Sacramento to Ocean City, Maryland, but it’s only in Nevada that you’ll spend hours driving its length without spotting a speck of civilization. LIFE magazine came up with the name, but everyone else knows that even if the open road is lonely, it’s still king.

The experience: Start at Fallon and head east. For the next 400 miles or so, you’ll pass through just a handful of small towns, riding along the old Pony Express route. In other words? Gas up.

The nearby eats: Nothin’ like a late-night taco from Margarita’s in Ely (one of the aforementioned small towns).

The unexpected vantage point: The mountains around Austin will add another dimension to your otherwise beautifully stark panoramas.

Photos provided by: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada and TravelNevada
This post is proudly produced in partnership with Travel Nevada.