Highways and scenic byways
Jul 22, 2011
Ten Nevada highways have been awarded special status as Nevada Scenic Byways, an official state recognition of the remarkable beauty that unfolds around them. Three of those routes are also National Scenic Byways, and one of those, the Las Vegas Strip Scenic Byway, was named an All-American Road, the top honor for a byway in the nation.
1. Lake Tahoe Scenic Byway
Lake Tahoe is one of the deepest, largest and highest lakes in America. Thanks to miles and miles of trails and paved roads, visitors can drive, hike or bike their way around the entire lake.
The Lake Tahoe Scenic Byway is 28 miles along the lake’s east shore and is one of the three Nevada byways to also be considered a national scenic byway. Starting on State Route 28 in Crystal Bay on the Nevada-California border, the Lake Tahoe Scenic Byway heads east through Incline Village past Sand Harbor State Beach, where the month-long Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is staged each August.
The road hugs the shore, offering views of the sparking turquoise and cobalt blue waters framed by silvery mountain peaks of the Sierra. The road merges with U.S. 50 and continues south past rocky coves and lakeside homes to Stateline, a haven of resorts and skiing.
2. Mount Rose Scenic Byway
Mount Rose is about 10 miles from Reno, which is the largest city in northern Nevada.
Just south of Reno, the Mount Rose Scenic Byway (State Route 431) climbs the highest mountain pass (8,911 feet) in Nevada that is open year-round. As it crests the mountain, visitors will often see skiers in the winter or bicyclists in the summer exploring the forested terrain.
On the Lake Tahoe side of the pass is Tahoe Meadows, a wide-open area popular with hikers accessing the 150-mile Tahoe Rim Trail that circles Lake Tahoe. The Mount Rose Scenic Byway drops into Tahoe Basin to complete the 25-mile route.3. Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway
Pyramid Lake is in northern Nevada, about a half-hour’s drive from Reno. It is one of the last remnants of an ancient sea that covered most of Nevada. The lake’s salt content still is higher than a freshwater lake.
The 37-mile Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway stands out as a “first,” “biggest” and “only.” It was one of the first 15 byways in the United States to receive the distinction as a national scenic byway. It is the only byway in the country entirely within a tribal reservation, that of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe.
One of the largest desert lakes in the nation, Pyramid Lake has a national wildlife refuge that is home to the largest colony of American white pelicans in the country.
4. Las Vegas Scenic Byway and All-American Road
Las Vegas is Nevada’s largest city, with gaming and entertainment that attracts about 37 million visitors annually. Located in the southern tip of the state, Las Vegas is recognized worldwide as a top gaming destination.
The The Las Vegas Strip Scenic Byway is a national scenic byway, and in 2000, the U.S. Department of Transportation named it an All-American Road, a rarefied category of national scenic byways reserved for the most extraordinary.
The four-mile Las Vegas Strip Scenic Byway is illuminated by more than 15,000 miles of colorful neon tubing that sparkles, shimmers, glitters and gleams, earning it the distinction of being the nation’s only nighttime byway. From this route, see Las Vegas’ over-the-top structures, from the replica of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas to the giant pyramid at the Luxor.
5. Mount Charleston Scenic Byway
Mount Charleston is about an hour from Las Vegas, and has an elevation of 11,918 feet.
Three highways — state routes 156, 157 and 158 — comprise the Mount Charleston Scenic Byway, which climbs through expanses of desert sagebrush, stands of Joshua trees and forests of juniper, pine and fir trees. Mount Charleston also is home to the bristlecone pine, the oldest organisms on earth.
Mount Charleston is often about 20 degrees cooler than Las Vegas, making it a pleasant area to explore while visiting the Entertainment Capital of the World.
6. Valley of Fire Scenic Byway
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park, dedicated in 1935, and is about 50 miles from Las Vegas in southern Nevada.
Valley of Fire Scenic Byway cuts through wind-sculpted red sandstone between Las Vegas and Lake Mead. Unusual rock formations change color from a deep red to a golden orange in the southern Nevada sun. This geological wonder offers camping, hiking, picnic sites and ancient Indian drawings, called petroglyphs, on the rocks. The eight-mile route intersects White Domes Road, which leads to white rounded rocks, a striking contrast to the ruddy terrain of the Valley of Fire.
7. Red Rock Canyon Scenic Byway
Red Rock Canyon is in southern Nevada just outside of the state’s largest city, Las Vegas.
Just 15 miles from the bright lights of Las Vegas lies Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a breathtaking park filled with striking red sandstone formations, beautiful hiking trails and exciting rock-climbing opportunities. Red Rock Canyon Scenic Byway is a 13-mile drive past multicolored rock formations and wildlife viewing areas where visitors may see bighorn sheep, bobcats, gray foxes and wild burros.
8. Angel Lake Scenic Byway
Angel Lake is a high-elevation lake at 8,378 feet. It is in northeastern Nevada near the small town of Wells, about five hours east of Reno.
Angel Lake Scenic Byway, a 12-mile route through northeastern Nevada, winds from the town of Wells through the sagebrush, pinon, mountain mahogany, aspen and pine of the eastern portion of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The rocks at Angel Lake are believed to be 2.5 billion years old, making them the oldest known rocks exposed at the surface of Nevada.
At the top of the road is Angel Lake Recreation Area, a 26-site campground popular for day-use picnicking with trailheads for hiking. The Grey’s Lake Trail leads six miles to the lake; there’s also a one-mile trek to Smith Lake. Angel Lake has a dam built in the 1900s and still is used to irrigate surrounding farms. The lake overlooks landmark Chimney Rock, the oldest rock in Nevada.
9. Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway
Lamoille is near the northern Nevada town of Elko, about four hours from Reno.
Leading from the picturesque community of Lamoille through an awe-inspiring glacial canyon, Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway extends toward 11,249-foot Ruby Dome in Nevada’s most lush mountain range, the Ruby Mountains. The area is nationally famous for the trailblazers, wagon trains and cattle drives that epitomized the Wild West.
The canyon hosts the northern trailhead of the 40-mile Ruby Crest Trail, Thomas Canyon Campground with 40 sites for camping and picnicking alongside Lamoille Creek and natural terraces of aspen and cottonwood. Snowfall closes the road to winter driving, but the canyon still bustles with snowmobiles and cross-country skiers who park their vehicles at the entrance. The 13.5-mile byway is marked with interpretive signs for a self-guided car tour through the canyon.
10. The Great Basin Scenic Byway
The Great Basin is a large geologically defined area covering most of eastern Nevada. About 20 percent of the western United States’ rivers and creeks drain inland into the Great Basin rather than out to the sea.
The Great Basin Scenic Byway, U.S. 93, was Nevada’s first byway. It extends from Crystal Springs to Ely, passing through 10 ghost towns, five state parks and several historic places where time seems to stand still.
In Caliente, visitors will find an old mission-style railroad depot. Further along the road is Panaca, the second oldest town in Nevada. Pioche is the home of the Million Dollar Courthouse and a treasure trove of history dating back to 1870, when it was filled with 10,000 people and 72 saloons. Ghost towns of Bristol, Stateline and Fay, dusty with tumbleweeds, are silent testimonials to bygone days of boom and bust. Five state parks — Kershaw-Ryan, Cathedral Gorge, Echo, Spring Valley and Beaver Dam — are worth a stop for the scenic wonders and outdoor recreation, including hiking, fishing, camping and sightseeing.
The jewel of the experience is at the northern end, where U.S. 93 passes Great Basin National Park, Nevada’s only national park, created in 1986. The park is home to Lehman Caves, a vast system of underground caves with giant stalactites and stalagmites.
Other notable highways
Right in the middle of Nevada, a desolate highway skirts the remote Nevada Test Site, a military area that housed above-ground nuclear testing in the 1950s. The mushroom clouds billowing into the sky and oddly shaped aircraft with no markings that would roar across the deserted State Route 375 contributed to the mystery of the area. In addition, the U.S. government’s steadfast denial of the existence of Area 51 in the Nevada Test Site furthered the public’s curiosity. Some people suspected there were aliens hidden there or other secret goings-on that involved extraterrestrials. Others believed that the U.S. Air Force was simply developing new military aircraft, such as the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes and the F117-A Stealth Fighter.
Leaders in several communities realized the tourism potential and asked the Nevada Department of Transportation to designate the 98-mile highway the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” which it did in 1996. The center of the E.T. mystique is Rachel, population 100, and its social center, the Little A’Le’Inn, a cafe, bar, small motel and UFO information and souvenir center. Watch for speed-limit signs posting the limit at “Warp 7” and parking lots reserved for space craft.
Loneliest Road in America
Sometimes, a nickname sticks. In July 1986, one of the most prominent magazines in the United States, Life magazine, described U.S. 50 through Nevada as the loneliest road in America. Life said there were no attractions or points of interest along the 287-mile stretch of road and recommended that drivers have “survival skills” to travel it.
Tourism officials took the insult and turned it into a widely successful marketing campaign, developing a Highway 50 Survival Kit and posting “Loneliest Road in America” signs along the route. Since then, Highway 50, one of the West’s most historic and scenic routes, has been featured in newspapers and magazines across the country.
Some points of interest along the highway are the Ghost Train in Ely; Hickison Summit and Grimes Point, where ancient Indian rock drawing still are visible today; Stokes Castle built in 1897 by an eccentric millionaire; and Sand Mountain, a 600-foot-tall, two-mile-long sand dune created by wind-blown sand from the beaches of a prehistoric sea that once covered Nevada.
Visitors can explore much of the famed “Wild West” simply by driving Nevada’s scenic byways and fascinating highways. For more information or to request maps, visit www.TravelNevada.com.