Get Outside Guide: Summer in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains
The residents of the cowboy town of Elko, Nevada have a massive secret in their backyard. And it’s called the Ruby Mountains Wilderness.
Just a half-hour southeast of Elko, rising from northeastern Nevada’s sagebrush-swept steppes, is a mountain range boasting peaks that reach beyond 11,000’—nearly 5,000’ above the valley below. Harbored within is Lamoille Canyon, a glacier-carved summertime sanctuary, where flowing streams, alpine lakes, aspen groves, and meadows bursting with wildflowers beckon outdoor action-seekers of every stripe.
Whether you’re a hiker, biker, angler, or simply a Sunday driver hankering for a picture-perfect picnic spot, the Ruby Mountains are a dream destination for people of every level of adventurousness.
Read on to discover what to do, where to stay, and how to make the most of Nevada’s Ruby Mountains and Lamoille Canyon on a memorable summer excursion.
Find out how to get in on some Ruby Mountain recreation this summer.
Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway
AKA National Forest Road 660
The moment you turn off of Lamoille Highway / State Route 227, near the tiny ranching community of Lamoille, you get a sense of just how big the Ruby Mountains are. Over the next 12 miles, this paved scenic byway climbs nearly 2,900’ alongside rushing Lamoille Creek, passing waterfalls, craggy peaks, and plenty of panoramic pullouts—some offering interpretive panels, all promising killer Kodak moments.
Gaze up at the ridges and peaks hemming in the canyon and be sure to watch out for wildlife—mountain goats, bighorn sheep, beaver, marmots, pika, chickadees, golden eagles, mountain lions, bobcats, and the Himalayan snowcock all call the Ruby Mountains home.
While Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway is your gateway to every outdoor activity below, if you’re simply out on a joyride, you’ll find worthy stops at Powerhouse Picnic Area, Glacier Overlook, the Terraces Picnic Area, and Roads End. For an easy leg-stretcher, consider walking the Changing Canyon Nature Trail, detailed below.
Hiking in the Ruby Mountains
Hikes are listed in order of appearance as you ascend Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway; all figures are round-trip, except the Ruby Crest Trail thru-hike.
Without a doubt, Lamoille Canyon and the Ruby Mountains are home to some of our absolute favorite places to hike in the entire state. Here’s a handful to get you started.
Thomas Creek Trail (4.4 mi / 1,272’ / Moderate) – Starting at Thomas Canyon Campground, ascend out of aspen and pine groves along cascading Thomas Creek to its headwaters at the foot of 11,220’ Mt. Fitzgerald.
Changing Canyon Nature Trail (0.5 mi / 70’ / Easy) – Follow interpretive signs as you loop past pretty wildflowers, bird and beaver habitat, and benches to take in the incredible views.
Island Lake (3 mi / 1,000’ / Easy) – Switchback up to a glacial cirque—occupied by, well, a lake with an island—with sweeping canyon views along the entire way.
Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail – This 43-mile stretch of backcountry bliss follows the backbone of the Ruby Mountains, with abundant options for out-and-back excursions of all lengths to some of Nevada’s most pristine alpine lakes. Choose from short day hikes (Dollar Lakes and Lamoille Lake – 3.7 mi / 990’), all-day adventures (Liberty Lake – 8.7 mi / 2,063’), or an ambitious multi-day, all-the-way thru-hiking trek between Harrison Pass and Lamoille Canyon. Learn more here.
Road Cycling & Mountain Biking
For those with plenty of gears, good brakes, and buns of steel, Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway promises an epic earn-it-then-burn-it ride up and down what is easily northeastern Nevada’s most popular road bike route. A couple miles from NV-227, just before you hit Lamoille Creek, you’ll find a parking lot with bathrooms that serves as a staging area for cyclists and equestrians. From there it’s a steady-but-gorgeous 10-mile climb with just over 2,500’ of elevation gain to Roads End. And then you get to bomb it all the way back down.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Mountain bikers can set up in the same staging area before hauling their bikes up a dirt footpath and about 350 yards of road to the Talbot Trailhead. This trail was constructed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers—and it shows, thanks to fun rocks and optional features, including several drops and a nice granite wall ride. Like the road ride above, this one is pretty much all climbing on the way up with an exhilarating, technical payoff on the way down. (5.1 mi / 1600’)
Ruby Mountain Fly Fishing
Traditional rod-and-reel rockers do great with bait, too. But if you’ve got a fly rig or a tenkara setup, this slice of country is definitely your oyster. Well, trout. Specifically, you’ll be casting for native brookies, rainbows, mackinaw (lake) trout, and even our state fish, the Lahontan cutthroat trout—along with tiger trout, which are stocked annually.
Lamoille Creek & Beaver Ponds – Every inch of this creek is fishable, from the bottom of the canyon (near the staging area) all the way up to its headwaters near Roads End. In early snowmelt season (May/June), when runoff peaks around 500 cubic feet per second, stick to the beaver ponds midway up. Go for brookies, wild rainbows, and tiger trout.
Alpine Lakes – There are fish in more than a dozen lakes throughout the Ruby Mountains, which you can hike into with a portable fly rig. While a variety of trout stick out the winters in every one—including multi-pound cutthroats—monster-sized mackinaw have been known to inhabit Liberty Lake (reached from the Ruby Crest Trail) and Echo Lakes (reached from Camp Lamoille).
For the latest info on stocking and to obtain licenses, visit the Nevada Department of Wildlife. For expert advice from one of Nevada’s most respected anglers, swing by Elko Fly Shop.
Camping in Lamoille Canyon and the Ruby Mountains
Thomas Canyon Campground – Lamoille Canyon’s go-to campground anchors the confluence of Lamoille Creek and Thomas Creek, as well as the vast canyons they’ve cut over the millennia. Groves of aspen and cottonwood trees shelter 40 sites for tent and trailer campers, many of which are located on Lamoille Creek itself. Campsites can be reserved in advance, except during the tail end of the season (beginning in September) when all sites become first come, first serve.
Terraces Campground & Picnic Area – You and several dozen of your best buds can post up at Lamoille Canyon’s gorgeous group campground. Essentially one big tents-only campsite (reservable in advance), the facility fits up to 75 campers and 17 vehicles, although visitors without reservations can show up on a first-come, first-serve basis if any of the nine individual family picnic sites are not yet booked or occupied. This scenic setting sits at 8,000’ of elevation against a cliff lined with aspen groves—hence the name “Terraces”—and offers breathtaking views from most of the sites, making it a popular destination for family reunions, retreats, and even weddings.
Backcountry Camping – If you’re looking for solitude and solace in one of the most scenic slices of the Silver State, the Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail has you covered. Popular overnight destinations include Favre Lake, Liberty Lake, Echo Lakes, Overland Lake, and beyond. Primitive sites abound among patches of wildflowers and tree groves, often with lakes and towering peaks as their backdrop. No permits are required to enter or camp in the Ruby Mountains Wilderness, but be sure to check with the USFS regarding any current restrictions on campfires, stoves, etc.
Lamoille Canyon Lodging
If you’re the kind of person who prefers to end a nature-filled day with a cozy bed and a roof over your head, you’re in luck. Lamoille offers a few fantastic indoor overnight accommodations, while a couple dozen options await in nearby Elko. Here are some of our top picks.
Ruby High Yurt – Situated at nearly 10,000’ on a stunning, tree-studded ridge, this 24’-diameter yurt is a glamper’s dream that boasts cozy beds, a fireplace, a propane stove, and even solar-powered Wi-fFi. Hoof it in solo or guided along a 2- to 4-hr hike, or take the express route by flying in by helicopter.
Conrad Creek Low Yurt – If you’d rather drive right up (and have access to your vehicle the entire time), the Conrad Creek Low Yurt sits at 7,000’ against a babbling brook surrounded by aspens, overlooking the sprawling valley below.
Ruby 360 Lodge – When they say “360,” the owners of this luxurious mountain lodge aren’t kidding, thanks to unbeatable views of the Ruby Mountains and the surrounding valley from its 10 guest rooms, numerous balconies, hot tub patio, and lawn game hangout area. While the lodge specializes in group stays, with packages including exquisite on-site dining and guided adventures, single-occupancy rooms are also available. Ruby 360 Lodge and both glamping yurts mentioned above are operated by Ruby Mountains Heli-Ski Experience.
Hotel Lamoille – This rustic little hideaway offers three separate suites in the heart of the tiny community of Lamoille. Visitors can wander around all five blocks of “town” to a photogenic little church, a large community park, and two tasty restaurants that specialize in steaks, burgers, and other hearty fare.
Elko Accommodations – Hotels and motels are plentiful in the full-service, high-desert cowboy town of Elko. Choose from casino-resorts, retro motels, and plenty in between. For a full list, click here.
Beyond the Rubies: Angel Lake & Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge
While Lamoille Canyon is arguably the Ruby Mountains’ crown jewel, this corner of Nevada is also home to plenty of other scenic gems. Here are some worthwhile ways to extend your trip.
Angel Lake – Perched at 8,500 feet within a stunning glacial cirque, this beautiful aspen-cliffed destination dazzles hikers, photographers, trout fishermen, and anyone lucky enough to spot bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, eagles, and other wild critters.
Angel Lake is home to two lovely campgrounds, one along Angel Creek and the other set against the lake itself, while several indoor options can be found in Wells, just 12 miles downhill via Angel Lake Scenic Byway. This little slice of paradise is about an hour’s drive east of Elko by interstate, or 1.5 hours from Lamoille charming country backroads—some portions of which are unpaved, but firm and generally safe for most vehicles in dry conditions (call a local Lamoille business for the latest info).
Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge – This awe-inspiring, 17,000-acre network of lakes, ponds, and marshlands lies in the shadow of the Ruby Mountains’ “backside,” AKA Ruby Valley. Visitors enjoy fishing for trophy bass and trout, watching for 220 species of birds—including trumpeter swans, greater sandhill cranes, and sage grouse—and navigating the region’s watery labyrinth-like channels by canoe, kayak, or small-engine watercraft (seasonal restrictions apply).
Tent campers and RV-ers can set up for the night at South Ruby Campground, where piñon pines shade in 34 sites, many with uninterrupted views of the entire valley. Ruby Valley can be reached in about 1.5 hrs from Elko or Lamoille via paved Secret Pass or seasonally open, unpaved Harrison Pass. To hear the latest road conditions on Harrison Pass, call up Jiggs Bar; then swing by in person for the cold drinks, great conversations, and unusual taxidermy that make it one of our favorite Weird Nevada wonders.
The Rubies Route – Lamoille Canyon, Angel Lake, and Ruby Valley are all spokes of northeastern Nevada’s wilderness-heavy Rubies Route road trip. Level up your adventure with an excursion to Jarbidge, one of the West’s last true frontier towns, via dirt roads among mountain passes, wide-open basins, and thousands of acres of off-grid recreationalist paradise.