They say it’s about the journey, not just the destination, but why not enjoy both? Well, in Nevada, you can! With its tangerine, mirror lake-pocked landscapes, endless stretches of highway and quirky desert towns and cities, the Silver State has more than earned its ‘Road Trip Capital of the USA’ moniker. Jump-start your motoring adventure with these epic Nevada road trips…
Is there anything more thrilling than the long-open road? Enter Highway 50. Stretching across Nevada for 380 miles from Carson City to Baker, this beloved route is best split up into three legs to make the most of its vistas, culture and history. Yep, you heard us right. Despite the name, there’s plenty to see along this anything-but-lonely tarmac. Stop-off to sample blissfully balanced wines at Churchill Vineyards near Fallon, discover the restored gold-rush town of Eureka, or explore a plethora of natural beauty east of Ely; active types will love hiking, camping and stargazing in Cave Lake State Park and Great Basin National Park.
The neon signs may give off a glow that can be seen for miles, but Las Vegas isn’t Nevada’s only bright light. In fact, Sin City is just a stone’s throw away from some real, all-American adventures – easily accessible thanks to three action-packed driving loops. Climb, cycle and hike at Red Rock Canyon before rehydrating at Pioneer Saloon, famed for its numerous big-screen appearances. Feeling fired up? 55 miles northeast of Vegas lies the Valley of Fire, its topography so richly crimson that it looks as though it’s been set ablaze. And then there’s the Colorado River Corridor, where you can discover some state icons: Boulder City, Hoover Dam and the unmissable Colorado River.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the turquoise, postcard-worthy waters of Lake Tahoe. Embark on the 145-mile Lake Tahoe Loop, though, and it won’t just be the water that steals your heart. From Reno to the Carson Valley, you can take the ‘polar plunge’ and go for a dip in Tahoe – the largest alpine lake in North America – before heading on to Genoa Bar, the oldest thirst parlour in the state. And if that doesn’t whet your whistle, some tipples at the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery will surely do the trick. Finish up with a big dose of history at the Nevada State and Railroad museums in Carson City.
The Death Drive is a road trip of extremes. A thrilling 315-mile drive through some of Nevada’s harshest, but most beautiful, areas, this route takes you to the hottest, highest and lowest spots in North America. The big hitter is the iconic Death Valley – from the depths of Badwater Basin to the aptly named Furnace Creek and the alien-esque landscapes of the Mesquite Flats. But that’s not all you’ll experience on this drive. Spot bighorn sheep in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, uncover mining history in the town of Beatty and shop for coffin-shaped jewellery at Coffinwood – to name but a few.
Neon lights, city murals and sealife-shaped sculptures: Nevada is an art lover’s dream. And you don’t have to venture far from civilisation to soak it all up. Indeed, one of the state’s most fascinating installations – a whooping 40ft preying mantis statue – is in Downtown Las Vegas. Pair this with a visit to the city’s burgeoning Arts District and you’ll have ticked off some of the best bits of culture here. If all that isn’t oddball enough for you, drive out to the historic Rhyolite Ghost Town to see a selection of spectres made out of plaster, or visit the International Car Forest of the Last Church – a junkyard of spray-painted, Jenga-stacked cars.
Nevada is brimming with western heritage, best experienced under your own steam. Spanning 400 miles, the state’s Cowboy Corridor showcases its ranching roots – from Reno to West Wendover. Saddle up as you motor along Interstate 80, home to some of the best pedal-to-the-metal tarmacs in the USA. That said, be sure to step out from behind the wheel to explore, especially the weird yet fascinating folk art sculptures at Thunder Mountain and immerse yourself in cultural festivals such as Elko’s National Basque Festival held in July.
With Elko as your hub, The Rubies Route promises a deep-dive into Cowboy Country – much like the Cowboy Corridor. Get back to nature as you fish, hike, cycle, ski or simply snap photos of the incredible landscapes between drives. Best of all, though, is you’ll get up close to the wet and rugged Ruby Mountains. Explore the glacier-carved valleys of Lamoille Canyon, get your camera ready for the dramatic Angel Lake, and drive the scenic route to the wilderness haven that is Jarbridge (just make sure it’s not blocked by snow first!).
The 350-mile Great Basin Highway is perhaps one of Nevada’s most diverse road trips. You’ll pack in everything, from the frenetic Las Vegas to an abundance of state parks and wide-open roads, not to mention some out-of-this-world stargazing. En-route to your final destination – Great Basin National Park – highlights include geology and ancient rock carvings at the Valley of Fire, ancient marine fossils at the Oak Springs Summit Trilobite Area, and siltstone slot canyons aplenty at Cathedral Gorge State Park. When you do arrive at Great Basin National Park, be sure to head underground and check out the stalactites and stalagmites of Lehman Caves.
The spirit of Burning Man Festival runs deep in Nevada – so much so that there’s even a road trip named after it! Those who make the pilgrimage every August take the Burner Byway, but these tarmacs are ripe for exploration year-round. A three-leg journey over 120-220 miles, this trip beings in Reno: gateway to the Burning Man Festival and home to a plethora of shops and businesses that have that ‘burner flair’. From here head to Pyramid Lake – smaller than Tahoe but just as beautiful, and with great fishing – before pulling off at the ‘Center of the Known Universe’ (aka the town of Gerlach), and the 1.2 million acres of semi-arid landscapes and lava fields that make up Black Rock Desert.
If your Netflix watchlist is full of mystery documentaries, or you’ve watched The X-Files, Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial more times than you can count, then this road trip is for you. Centred around the alleged home of alien spacecraft, this is the chance to put the conspiracy theories through their paces – all while taking in some pretty magnificent scenery. Cruising down Nevada State Route 375 at warp speed (or maybe something a little slower, just to be safe), stop for photos with alien-themed murals and the ET Highway sign, visit the Alien Research Center, or cast your eyes skywards in Tonopah Stargazing Park. The truth is out there… and so is a life-changing Nevada road trip.
Get the very best of Wanderlust by signing up to our newsletters, full of travel inspiration, fun quizzes, exciting competitions and exclusive offers.