loneliest road in america guide to highway 50 in nevada

A Guide To Highway 50 in Nevada: The Loneliest Road in America

The barren desert. Sand, rock and cacti. Mountains of dirt and sand protruding along the horizon. An unending winding road into the distance.

We left the chaos and bright lights of Las Vegas behind and headed off into the Nevada desert. With clear blue skies and the sun streaming down, we wove our way along Nevada’s Highways.

Though arid scenery first greeted us, we soon found ourselves passing a small lake, at first completely out of place in this dry and barren landscape, the greenery of the vegetation surrounding it a stark contrast and a welcome visual beyond the reds and browns around us.

We’d soon realize that various colour, even green, isn’t as unusual of a sight in Nevada as we had initially thought. In fact, when we finally made our way up to Highway 50 and started our journey across the state, we discovered that the terrain of Nevada is quite varied, quite colourful and altogether breathtaking. We also learned throughout our travels, that there are many reasons you should travel Nevada, outside of just Las Vegas!

Stops To Make On Highway 50 in Nevada

Highway 50 Nevada sign

Highway 50 is part of US Route 50 and the section that is in Nevada is coined “The Loneliest Road in America”. It is a stretch of road between the eastern and western borders of the state and is definitely not the most common road taken for traversing Nevada or getting from any of the major cities in the United States to any of the larger cities in the state. But while it’s not the preferred route for getting places quickly, like the Interstate 80 would be, it is definitely one of the best options for a road trip in Nevada and for exploring the out-of-this-world sights to be seen throughout. If you’re looking to take a road trip in Nevada, Highway 50 is definitely one of the best routes to include – whether you travel it from start to finish, or find your way somewhere along it during your journey.

To get you planning, here is the route we recently took and some of the great stops along Nevada Route 50 that you should consider to help make The Loneliest Road in America just a little less… lonely! Though there’s a lot more to this stretch than what we saw, this itinerary makes for a great road trip or romantic getaway in Nevada.

To find accommodation options along the route or if you need more information on things to do along Highway 50 (as well as what there is to do and see while you are visiting Nevada) check out the Travel Nevada site!

Ely

Northern Nevada Railway Ely Steam Engine Train

Depending on which direction you are heading, Ely may be the first or last of the cities in Nevada off of Highway 50.  One of the larger cities you’ll stop at on this route, Ely is like many in the area – an old mining town – saturated in history and charm. It is also where you’ll find your way onto the old Nevada Northern Railway with a steam engine ride along the tracks that are over a century old and were an essential part of the early mining settlements to this area.

We had such a great time on this 90 minute ride that took us past old mining areas and more isolated landscape but what really captivated us and captured our imagination was the dialogue explaining what once was. We learned about the importance of this route in the past and the amount of history accumulated in a short distance. Bringing that history into the present as we rode on the train was one railway crossing in particular, where a man named Dale comes to stand and wave as each of the trains pass . In fact, he is so reliable and dedicated to being at that crossing that it is named after him – Dale’s crossing. The significance of this passageway exists even now.

If you’ve got some time to spend in the area or are looking for a quick detour, you’ll find an interesting museum just North of Ely. Taking Highway 93 off of Route 50, sits the small town of McGill and as you drive the streets, you will most likely pass a Rexall drugstore. Be warned though, if you jump out and head on in, you won’t be finding any first aid items or pain relievers here. Well, at least none that aren’t well passed their expiry date! The McGill Drugstore Museum will transport you back in time as you step through the doors and observe a store that has been left virtually untouched from the day it closed its doors in 1979. You’ll want to contact them first to schedule an appointment to ensure it is open and to get the full story behind Ely and this time capsule that has been left there.

Ely is also the closest accessible city on Highway 50 to the Great Basin National Park, a popular destination for nature and astronomy lovers. Due to the great air quality in the park – some of the best in the USA – night brings dark, clear skies that are perfect for stargazing. In fact, there is even an annual astronomy festival that offers 3 days and nights of guided instruction and telescope viewing.

In Ely, you’ll find historic hotels and museums and many natural attractions nearby in addition to the events and activities in the city. You’ll find things like county fairs, bathtub races, and farmer’s markets as well and experience a place that straddles the city life of the present with the small-town vibes of the past.

Eureka

Eureka Courtroom Judges chair

Calling itself “The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America, you’ll find that it’s a pretty accurate description. As of the last census, there were under 1000 people in Eureka and when you walk through the “downtown” or main area of the town, you definitely feel it – it is quiet, it is peaceful and it is most definitely friendly.

The pride the town takes in their past is obvious as we visited several old buildings that have been beautifully preserved and restored. It’s definitely worth it to take a tour of the opera house, old courthouse and the old Eureka Sentinel Building. The opera house, still in use today for community events and shows, has a remarkable history that can be seen from the 1924 stage curtain that replaced the original from 1880 which burned down. The ads on the backdrop still remain, the funds from which paid for the new curtain itself. Signatures of performers that have graced the stage are scrawled backstage along the walls and staircase. These tell their own story as dates from the early 1900s can be seen alongside more recent ones, a blend of new and old.

The courthouse is fascinating as well. Heading up the original wood staircases, we reached the courtroom, kept in pristine condition and making us feel like we’d stepped on set to some crime drama – huge velvet curtains draped on either side of the judge’s bench, the flag hanging prominently beside it, one could almost imagine the witness box filled, the judge’s gavel banging, the jury sitting to the side, attentive to the courtroom antics.

Another interesting stop in Eureka is the Old Sentinel Museum where you’ll find all manner of historical items and artefacts in what was the Sentinel Newspaper Building from 1879 to 1960. From the original printing presses and newspaper equipment on the main floor to the varied exhibits of life in Eureka when the town was just beginning.

Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area

View from Hickison Petroglyph Recreation area Nevada

Nevada is no stranger to petroglyphs as the state has not only numerous amounts of them, but also the oldest known finds in North America. Though Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area near Austin may not be the most extensive of sites for seeing petroglyphs, it is a great example of prehistoric rock art and is a site that allows a self-guided tour and some fantastic views.

We took our time along the trail, looking at the rocks with petroglyphs, working our way to great lookouts with views of mountains and more desert landscape and enjoyed the beauty of the area and the incredible history that was left, carved in stone, by those who once lived in the area.

If you do stop here, be sure to take a look for brochures at the information display at the entrance to the recreation area. These will help explain what you see as you walk along the trails.

Austin

Gourmet French Toast at Union Street Lodging Austin Nevada Breakfast

Though we’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite out of the stops we made along Highway 50, Austin would definitely be a serious contender.

With some of the best backyard views, Austin boasts mountain ranges, hot springs, historic sites and tons of small town charm. Here you’ll find bike trails and camping grounds, nearby caves and petroglyphs and even a castle, though uninhabited, that stands as an iconic image as you pass through the town.

We were there just one night in Austin and have already marked, underlined and highlighted it as a place we need to return to soon. The Union Street Lodging was the B&B we stayed at and, from the moment we arrived, it felt like a haven of relaxation and serenity. Learning about Austin and its history from the owners of the B&B and just enjoying the peaceful nature of the area, we settled in. That evening we enjoyed sitting outside and listening to the night sounds, void of the city noises to which we have become so accustomed. The following morning we woke up for breakfast and were served the most gourmet french toast breakfast we’ve ever seen – a double layer of french toast with cream cheese and strawberries in between, covered in more strawberries – it was delicious and a great way to start the day.

There’s definitely so much more to do in Austin than we had the chance to experience and we’d definitely recommend spending a few nights there while travelling the Loneliest Road in America. Hot springs are always a wonderful treat no matter where you are and with so much wildlife and natural beauty to see as you drive, you’d be able to make a whole day of it just exploring the scenery the area has to offer. Of course, there are also biking and hiking trails if you’re looking to get out of the car and stretch your legs a bit.

Strolling through the town, meeting people and learning about the history of Austin is also a great way to spend some time while there and for us, we’d love to head back and visit Stokes Castle – especially at sunset!

Sand Mountain

Sand Mountain in Nevada Hwy 50

What began as an exciting view – a sand dune in the distance, growing in size as we approached – turned into a truly moving and unexpected experience. Sand Mountain is one of the spectacular views off Highway 50 in Nevada and it only gets more impressive as you get closer to it.  Signs describe the area, the sand dune itself and the fact that it is a singing sand dune – the singing being the noises made as the sand shifts and slides – something that is unique and not found with every sand dune.

The area is obviously one of recreation – considered a popular off-roading site – we saw many OHV (off-highway vehicles) making their way around and up the dune. Though this seems to be the primary use of Sand Mountain, we encourage you to take the time to contact the local native community to learn some deeper history and meaning behind Sand Mountain.

For our visit, we spoke with Donna and Melissa from the local community (as well as the Great Basin Tour Company) who were able to provide some deep insight and some moving stories behind the significance of Sand Mountain to the native peoples of the area. With the loud engines of the OHVs roaring around us, interrupting our conversation at regular intervals, we learned that Sand Mountain no longer sings… it’s sand compressed by the weight of the tires and vehicles we were watching go by at that very moment.

Though you may not hear the mountain sing you’ll definitely feel it, especially if you get the chance to speak to those to whom the sand dune means the most. It’s by far a surprising and wonderful stop along the Loneliest Road in America.

Fallon

Frey Ranch Fallon Nevada mini wine barrel

If Ely feels big compared to the rest of the towns along Highway 50 in Nevada, than Fallon is enormous! With double the population, Fallon is a bustling town with a growing arts and culture, culinary and tourism scene. A stop here means you’ll have the option of immersing yourself in much of the elements of Nevada you’ve already seen along the way – nature and history – as well as art galleries and antique shops, theatres and recreational activities (like golf, roller skating and swimming) and some pretty phenomenal dining options with a couple farmer’s markets thrown in for good measure.

We ate lunch in Fallon at The Slanted Porch and were incredibly impressed by our meal. Farm-to-table ingredients meant everything used was fresh and the care and talent put into the dishes themselves was obvious. Buying local and creating inspired menu items based on the seasonal produce available helped make the culinary journey through the dishes that much more special. We ordered a slanted porch burger (because the way they treat and use their meat is spectacular) and a lamb, meatball sandwich (a special of the day) and were left wishing we were there longer to try more of the menu

You may be surprised, as we were, to find out that Fallon, Nevada is home to a successful vineyard and distillery, Frey Ranch, a family owned operation producing some great wines, gin, vodka and whiskey. It’s an interesting place to stop and tour, check out the tasting room and grab a bottle, or more, of your favourite spirit or wine!

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Cruise

If you’re driving along Highway 50 in Nevada, and have a chance to make your way as far west as Lake Tahoe, we highly recommend you take the time to stop and visit. Though there are lots of things to do, both in the summer and winter seasons, a boat cruise across the lake is a wonderful way to take in the scenery. We climbed aboard the MS Dixie II, part of Zephyr Cove Resort‘s fleet, and took a 90 minute cruise across the lake (to the California side and Emerald Bay). We enjoyed listening to the information provided, grabbing a meal on board as we went, and soaking up the beauty around us.

With cruises, beach activities and water equipment rentals, snowmobile rentals and skiing in the winter and other activities, like horseback riding, there’s lots to do in the area if you want to stay at an accommodation by the lake or drive yourself into the area.

A Little Extra Addition To Start, Or End, With!

Depending on where you’re coming from, making Reno or Las Vegas the start and end points of your trip is a great way to really see the diversity of the state – from big cities to small towns – and makes sense as either city are close enough to Highway 50 to make them accessible gateways.

Whether or not you add Las Vegas to your itinerary, you may want to consider tagging on a visit to Great Basin National Park. We had mentioned that it is close to Ely and while not on Highway 50, it is a great place to stop before starting out on The Loneliest Highway OR a great place to end after you’ve seen Ely and have finished your drive along the stretch of Highway 50.

If Vegas is on your itinerary, you can also make Great Basin National Park a stop on your way to, or from, Ely. We stopped there and took a tour through Lehman caves – a fascinating underground world of caves and cave systems we’d not yet explored. It is well worth it to visit, take a tour of the caves and explore the beautiful scenery of the National Park.

Become A Highway 50 Survivor!

In 1986, Highway 50 in Nevada was described as a stretch of road with nothing to see or do. Life Magazine suggested survival skills were needed in order to take on The Loneliest Road in America. Well, we don’t know what it was like 30 years ago, but our time on the road was filled with things to do and places to see – though it can be a pretty quiet and, yes, lonely route. With this decades-old reputation in mind, a ‘survival guide’ was created for travellers looking to take on Highway 50…

No matter where you start or finish along The Loneliest Road in America, you’ll want to make sure you pick up a Highway 50 Survival Guide and get the passport that’s inside stamped as you stop along the route! You can find more information from the Pony Express Territory website like what the Survival Guide entails and where you can go in each town to get your guide stamped!

Once you’ve collected stamps from 5 of the 8 locations, you can mail in the passport page and you’ll get an “I Survived” certificate!

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