Park Packed Weekend On The Great Basin Highway

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  • Getting wild in several totally unique Nevada State Parks
  • Navigating labyrinthine slot canyons at Cathedral Gorge State Park
  • Taking in the colors in breathtaking Rainbow Canyon
  • Leaving civilization behind for the meandering trails and trout-packed streams of Beaver Dam State Park
  • Uncovering Wild West history in the “living ghost town” of Pioche
  • Chasing ghosts in the historic Overland Hotel & Saloon

It doesn’t get much more out-of-town-for-the-weekend than this wild trip. Marked by stunning contrasts around every bend, this route blasts out of Vegas, winding through wide-open country to several spectacular Nevada state parks—each completely different—and a couple of classic, historic, small-town-Nevada towns. Pro Tip? Pack all the things; this route is replete with opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, stargazing, swimming, fishing, endless photography, and a whole lot more. 

Valley of Fire State Park

Get Up, And Get On The Road

Our advice: set that alarm. Depending on your choices today, an early start gets you a shot at golden hour in Cathedral Gorge. But we’ll get to that. Right now, let’s get you rockin’.

If you haven’t been to Valley of Fire before, our very first (and very famous) state park is well worth at least a leg-stretch. Cooler morning temps are perfect for picturesque hiking and wildlife spotting along under-a-mile strolls to petroglyph-etched Atlatl Rock and Mouse’s Tank (which also contains a natural rock basin), or more ambitious trails to faves like Elephant Rock and the fabled Fire Wave.

Reward yourself in Overton with a milkshake, sundae, or another sweet treat from The Inside Scoop for the road, then pilot your adventure mobile back onto the Great Basin Highway.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Travel Nevada Pro Tip

Take the scenic route. From Vegas or Henderson, get yourself to state Route 167 – AKA Northshore Road – and cruise past vistas out to Lake Mead, Gold Butte National Monument, and even peaks of Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Keep your eyes peeled for wild horses, and consider a quick dip at Rogers Spring, a literal desert oasis!
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Pahranagat Pitstop

Watch for migratory birds throughout Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge’s watery grandeur, a major stop along the avian Pacific Flyway, including from a network of nice walking trails and vista points. When you hit Alamo, fill up the car (it’s one of your last chances for a while) and—if all that bird nerdin’ has got you peckish—also your belly with a burger or some extra crispy wings from Chester’s Chicken To Go. Or snag some jerky (and pose with some spaced-out cowboy aliens) at Hiko’s E.T. Fresh Jerky, which marks the turnoff for another out-of-this-world Nevada road trip, the Extraterrestrial Highway. (Did we just plan your way home? You’re welcome!)

Delamar Ghost Town

Joshua Trees & Ghost Town Must-Sees

As you head out of Hiko, watch for the “forest” of Joshua Trees, which pickily only poke up in places with a very specific combo of climatic and environmental conditions—lucky for us, this is one of ‘em. Ghost Town aficionados with high-clearance vehicles owe themselves a detour to Delamar, where a fascinating cluster of mining-era buildings made from a kaleidoscope of colored stones will move you to leave a “glowing” review. 

Travel Nevada Pro Tip

Ghost Town Detour: History buffs in desert-tested vehicles should make the 13-mile detour off US-93 to investigate dozens of miners’ cabins, town buildings, mining structures, and other vestiges of Delamar’s short-but-sweet stint as Nevada’s primary ore producer from 1895 to 1900.
Caliente, Nevada
Caliente Railroad Depot

Caliente: Your Hot Ticket To State Park Paradise

Now that you’re all warmed up, welcome to Caliente! Dubbed the “City of Roses” for its rosebed-lined streets, this former resort town (you can’t miss the classic Mission Revival-style railroad depot that proves it) is your petal-powered gateway to miles of fresh-cut mountain bike singletrack and some spectacular scenic wonders. If you arrive early enough, set up shop at your lodging of choice (we love Patty’s Motel), but keep your boots on; adventure awaits.

Rainbow Canyon

Rainbow Canyon: Color Yourself Impressed

Aptly-named Rainbow Canyon entices off-the-grid climbers and shutterbugs alike, while hikers should head for lush, trail-studded Kershaw-Ryan State Park and students of frontier history to Elgin Schoolhouse State Historic Site. (Best advice? Visit all three; each is located along that same beautiful byway.)

Travel Nevada Pro Tip

Take the Passport Challenge! The Nevada State Parks Passport booklet can be picked up at any state park. Visitors who have their booklets stamped at 15 different parks will earn a FREE annual pass to all Nevada State Parks.
Cathedral Gorge State Park

Cathedral Gorge-ous

If you waited until now to check in to your hotel, enjoy your breather, but don’t get too cozy just yet. Less than 20 minutes up the road, Cathedral Gorge State Park is your golden hour go-to, where that waning Nevada sun ignites countless hoodoos, spires, and otherworldly formations as you slink through labyrinthine slot canyons. Not a bad way to end the day.

Travel Nevada Pro Tip

Earn yourself an appetite? For evening eats, beeline it to Side Track Restaurant for juicy burgers, hand-rolled pizza, and tasty cocktails at its accompanying Side Car Speakeasy, both situated in a charming, refurbished historic building.
Beaver Dam State Park

Morning Meanders In Our Most Remote Park

Rise and dine at the Knotty Pine, Caliente’s capital for café classics since at least the 1950s, where the décor befits the name and the chicken fried steak & eggs gets us every time. They open early to help start your day in the right direction, which happens to be about an hour east to Nevada’s most gloriously remote state park. Beaver Dam begs an A.M. expedition among waterfalls, mixed-conifer forest, fin-like erosional features, stunning vistas, trout-packed honey holes along Beaver Dam Creek (Tenkara anglers, rejoice!), and, of course, plenty of evidence of the critters that earn this park its name. [4×4 is not generally required in dry weather, but call the park to check conditions for this 25-ish mile stretch of dirt road.

Spring Valley State Park

Spring Forward, Echo Back

When you return to pavement, you can double back the several miles to Caliente for something to gnaw on at JJ’s Burger Station, or continue north to the area’s two sister state parks, Echo Canyon and Spring Valley, whose sizable reservoirs beckon swimmers, birders, boaters, and fishermen. The road into Spring Valley, straight out of a Harley Davidson commercial, is lined with alluring rock formations, some of eastern Nevada’s earliest homesteads, and even “pioneer graffiti” etched or oil-greased onto sandstone outcroppings as far back as 1872.

Million Dollar Courthouse

Post Up In Pioche

Now it’s time to hit the town. And by “town” we mean “Nevada’s liveliest ghost town,” Pioche. The Wild Western roots of this infamous enclave (Tombstone and Dodge City had nothin’ on rambunctious ol’ Pioche) can be seen among its historic buildings, the Million Dollar Courthouse (free by appointment through the Lincoln County Museum), and intriguing epitaphs at Boot Hill Cemetery, situated beneath Nevada’s last-standing ore-hauling aerial tramway. 

Boot Hill Cemetery

Treat yourself to a self-guided downtown photo tour, then sit down to comfort-food classics at the Historic Silver Cafe (nearby, The Gunslinger’s got you covered for caffeine tomorrow morning) before settling in at the amazingly ornate, old-school, western-chic—and allegedly haunted—Overland Hotel & Saloon

Travel Nevada Pro Tip

Each of the Overland Hotel’s rooms are uniquely themed (we love the Bears Den and the Victorian Suite), except for the mysterious Room #10. If you like good ghost stories, ask why at the check in counter…
Overland Hotel & Saloon

If you’re thirsty, the authentic saloon downstairs, as well as a couple other solid sagebrush saloons up the street, will pour the adults in your crew something to sip on as you reminisce, swap pics, and toast one helluva trip. Only in Nevada, baby.

Got more time? There’s plenty more to explore. Push north along the Great Basin Highway to action-packed Ely and Great Basin National Park. Or loop back to Las Vegas via a quirked-up combo of the Extraterrestrial Highway and the Free-Range Art Highway.

Business Highlights

Overland Hotel & Saloon

Overland Hotel & Saloon


Side Track Restaurant & Side Car Speakeasy

Side Track Restaurant & Side Car Speakeasy


Beaver Dam State Park

Beaver Dam State Park


Boot Hill Cemetery

Boot Hill Cemetery