The "City of Churches"
Founded during a silver rush in the 1860s, Austin NV stands as a testament to “the way it was.” Situated along the Loneliest Road in America, the Austin of today is a friendly little community filled with beautiful 19th-century buildings, old-school saloons, friendly accommodations, and intriguing historic sites. Find out why Austin Nevada makes a great stop while road tripping Highway 50 and a perfect springboard for exploring central Nevada’s sweeping outdoor splendor.
The Heart of the Loneliest Road
As the near halfway point of The Loneliest Road in America—and the closest town to the geographic center of Nevada—Austin is a true testament to, as they say around here, “the way it was.” Walk among still-standing telltales of Nevada’s 19th-century grandeur in a town that once rivaled Virginia City in terms of wealth and mineral output. Or make it your basecamp for outdoor action, thanks to a serious mountain biking trail system, the trailhead for the rugged Toiyabe Crest Trail thru-hike, and nearby destinations like hot springs and the recreationalist paradises of Kingston Canyon and gorgeous Big Smoky Valley.
Austin Nevada History
Austin NV’s robust mining-era history has earned the town Historic District status and a dozen of of its buildings places on the National Register of Historic Places. But, as with most places in Nevada, history begins long before any of those places. The Western Shoshone Indians were the first to inhabit the area, and you can see their artistic calling cards in two Austin area locations: Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, where you can appreciate 10,000 year old rock carvings, and Toquima Cave, one of the largest—and oldest—pictograph canvases on the entire continent.
While many businesses disappeared as fortune-seekers took them (and sometimes even their buildings) to the next boomtown, Austin’s Historic Churches remain—the amount and conditions of which are both rare for a former mining town—including St. Augustine’s Cultural Center, originally the community’s catholic church, which is now the town’s prized events center.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
As a proper boom-and-bust 19th-century mining town, an 1860s silver rush made Austin thrive with a population of more than 10,000. By 1887, however, ore discovery and production declined, prompting the city’s residents to seek new opportunities elsewhere. Thanks to its perfect location on Highway 50—the Loneliest Road in America—Austin was able to hang on, and today still showcases its fascinating chapter of Nevada’s story—including at the old Lander County Courthouse (now a visitor center) and the Austin Historical Society, where you’ll see fascinating artifacts from the mining boom days, the Pony Express Route, and more.
One of the most prominent reminders of Austin’s mining-era grandeur is Stokes Castle. Perched on the western edge of town, overlooking the sweeping Reese River Valley. This three-story stone structure was built of hand-hewn granite by a wealthy mining magnate and railroad tycoon in the 1890s. Although it was surprisingly only lived in for about a month, it now stands as a monument to its dry-masonry construction and the over-the-top displays of wealth that solidified the legends of the Wild West forever.
Things to Do in and Around Austin, NV
Among the many gems awaiting you in the Austin area is a place full of literal ones. Jason’s Art Gallery (also sometimes called Little Blue Bird Turquoise) is a top-notch shop filled with beautiful loose stones, handmade jewelry, and more, with much of it found or mined not too far away.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
If hoofing it around town is too tame for you, Austin offers intrepid hikers and backpackers access to the rugged Toiyabe Crest Trail, a 73-mile backcountry expedition that traverses the lightly-trafficked Toiyabe Range—mostly above 8,000’ and topping out at 11,781’ Arc Dome—through wild country that is teeming with wildlife, including deer, elk, mountain lions, beaver, all kinds of eagles, hawks, falcons, and plenty of trout in the streams.
Meanwhile, those on two wheels can hit up the Austin-Toiyabe Mountain Bike Trail Network, which features seven interconnected loops totaling 87 miles of technical climbs, downhill bombs, ridge riding, jumps, beginner rolls, and access to the Toiyabe Crest Trail.
Kingston & Big Smoky Valley
A little further afield lies Big Smoky Valley, which stretches from Highway 50 all the way to Tonopah. Here you’ll find off-grid spots like Spencer Hot Springs, whose natural pool and two “cowboy tubs” (repurposed cattle troughs with hot water piped in) beckon soakers and primitive campers with stunning sunsets serenaded by braying wild burros. (Be sure to read up on Nevada’s Hot Spring Etiquette so you don’t act like a yahoo and ruin these precious places for everyone). Aforementioned Toquima Cave is located just about 12 miles further up the dirt road, just past Petes Summit.
About 35 minutes southeast of Austin, off of NV-376, lies the community of Kingston, a perfect destination for backcountry campers; off-roaders; anglers chasing trout in Groves Lake; hikers tackling Bunker Hill or the Toiyabe Crest Trail; or simply those looking to unwind with a cold one in one of our absolute favorite Sagebrush Saloons, the Lucky Spur Saloon, where the Bunker Hill Bloody Marys are as memorable as the local characters who’ll soon become your new buds.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Austin, NV Restaurants
To be honest, there just ain’t much on the menu in this 192-ish person town! In the warmer months, Champy, the owner of Champs Gas, serves up some of the Loneliest Road’s heartiest, most mouth-watering burgers from his Champs Burgers food truck—open seasonally during the summertime only. The Lucky Spur Saloon in Kingston offers chilled sacks and heat-and-eat grub to help soak up any adult beverages you may be toasting your adventures with.
Further west you’ll find two former Pony Express stops turned bar-and-grills: Cold Springs Station, known for its Friday fish fry fare, and Middlegate Station, a real-deal Sagebrush Saloon offering grilled-in-front-of-you goodies, including the notorious multi-pound Middlegate Monster Burger. However, when it comes to supplies for backcountry adventures, we recommend stocking up in Fallon 1.75 hours to the west or Eureka 1.25 hours to the east.
Austin NV Lodging
Looking to make a night of it? In and around Austin NV, lodging options offer a wide range of experiences. For a cozy night in a historic home, head to Union Street Lodging B&B. Park the car in front of a simple yet comfortable room at Pony Canyon Motel or Cozy Mountain Motel, or the RV at Austin RV Park.
For something a little different, Paradise Ranch Castle does the job with a few different ornate rooms in a full-on “castle” situated away from it all in the heart of stunningly starlit Reese River Valley. Even further down the valley settle into off-grid bliss at the Reese River Cabins, situated between the Shoshone and Toiyabe Mountains on a working cattle ranch. Or cozy up in Kingston Canyon in a fully stocked cabin close to the outdoor action, either at Kingston 376 or Union Street Lodging B&B’s satellite cabin, the Kingston Cabin Retreat.
To do some camping near Austin NV, head to Bob Scott Campground for big views and spacious sites, Toquima Cave Campground for primitive sites and trails to the cave, wide-open Big Creek Campground on the west side of Kingston Canyon, or beautiful Kingston Campground for tranquil, tree-studded sites along a flowing stream.
Whether you’re admiring Austin’s photogenic historic district, hitting the dirt on foot or two wheels, or simply sippin’ Bloodys at the Lucky Spur Saloon, tag your snaps with #TravelNevada so can follow along—and maybe even share them here.