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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.