3 National Monuments in Nevada: Ancient, Epic, and All to Yourself

Jurassic sandstorms frozen in place. Ice Age fossils unearthed in plain sight. Ancient petroglyphs lining sandstone walls. Often completely all to yourself. Discover Nevada’s three massive, marvelous, natural national monuments—before everyone else does. 

First off, if the term “national monument” makes you think of old battlefields, military forts, and famous statues along D.C.’s National Mall, you’re not wrong. However, there’s more to the story. Out west, national monuments can also be vast expanses of wilderness, set aside for protection for their cultural, scientific, and/or scenic value—like Wyoming’s Devils Tower or California’s Muir Woods. 

Designation as a national monument is pretty much the step just before national park status. In fact, Death Valley, Zion, Olympic, Nevada’s own Great Basin, and many other now-famous national parks all started as national monuments. And in the mid-2010s, three new national monuments were established here in the Silver State—each one spectacular in its own distinct way.

Whether you’re looking to ogle Ice Age fossils a few minutes from civilization, meander among natural arches and ancient art in wide-open country, or venture off-grid into a haven of otherwordly rock formations, read on to find out what awaits you at three incredible Nevada national monuments, as well as how to make the most of your adventure when you visit them.

As new additions to the National Park System—each one wild in its own way—you won’t find visitor centers or even many established trails at Nevada’s national monuments. While that makes each adventure truly your own, it also means doing your homework and showing up prepared are absolute requirements. Get our tips on how to recreate responsibly—and safely—here.

Prepare to be wowed by Nevada’s three wild, wondrous national monuments. 

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Some of the most complete, extensive, and valuable records of Ice Age fossils on the entire planet were—and continue to be—discovered at Tule Springs. We’re talking Columbian mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, camelops, and more. Crazy enough, this 22,650-acre jackpot of rare flora and 200,000-year-old fauna lies just past where the pavement ends at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area’s northern edge.

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The Big Dig

Back in the 1960s, paleontologists conducted a major excavation called the “Big Dig,” uncovering an unimaginable amount of Ice Age-era animal fossils. While exploring the site today, it is common to spot tusk or bone fragments—so common that the Protectors of Tule Springs stewardship group likes to say that, if you don’t see something, “you’re doing it wrong!” NOTE: Removing ANY fossil is not only extremely uncool, it’s also illegal.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Exploring Tule Springs

Start by winding through scrubland on the 3.25-mile Aliante Loop trail, which offers chances to spot fossils and take in uninterrupted views of the Las Vegas Range. Five interpretive stops feature QR codes, allowing you to dig deeper into the backstory of what you’re seeing. In the spring and summer months, wildflower blooms here can be magical. Meanwhile, the entire rest of the monument is open to off-trail exploration for intrepid hikers looking to (literally) get off the beaten path.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Protectors of Tule Springs

The go-to guardians of Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument lead interpretive hikes at various locations around the monument. They also invite all nature-lovers to become members (AKA fellow “protectors”) in order to fund efforts like trail building, participation in hands-on activities, in-school programs, and even to bring a Burning Man-debuted life-sized Columbian mammoth sculpture to soon-to-exist Ice Age Fossils State Park.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Lodging Options

After a day of hoofing it around the monument, all the amenities you can think of await at Aliante Casino, Hotel & Spa, located about 5 minutes away in North Las Vegas. If you’re looking for a respite from the desert entirely, a half-hour drive and a 5,000’ elevation gain carry you to the Retreat on Mt. Charleston or the cabins at Mt. Charleston Lodge, where mountain and canyon views—and cooler temperatures—abound.

The Retreat on Charleston Peak

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Basin & Range National Monument

At just over 700,000 acres (more than three times the size of New York City), the largest of Nevada’s national monuments is a wide-open wonderland packed with geologic, natural, and cultural history. Golden eagles buzz peaks as desert bighorn sheep bounce around islands of sandstone—including one of Nevada’s most breathtaking natural arches—while 4,000-year-old petroglyph panels line large rock walls throughout this vast, open-ended natural playground.

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Exploring Basin & Range National Monument

Only a handful of dirt roads span this vast wilderness. However, a plethora of tracks and trails carry off-roaders to its more rugged reaches. Overlanders have their pick of know-it-when-you-see-it camping options; intrepid mountain bikers, boulderers, and climbers will find almost endless opportunities to chase their passions; and hikers can wander pretty much anywhere they want—likely with no other competition in sight.

Photo by: BLM Nevada

Basin and Range National Monument

White River Narrows

About 30 minutes north on NV-318 from its junction with the Extraterrestrial Highway lies a winding Pleistocene-era canyon that harbors an abundant concentration of petroglyphs dating back at least 4,000 years. The many impressively large panels in this 4,000-acre archaeological district (added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976) depict the lifeways of the indigenous peoples who lived in this region for millennia.

Photo by: BLM Nevada

Basin and Range National Monument

Mt. Irish Wilderness

Exploring this wide swathe of wilderness—all 28,000 acres of it—is best done with a solid 4×4 rig and a pair of boots. Backcountry tracks wind around all kinds of bouldery outcroppings in the lowlands, while pinyon-juniper pine-studded canyons and foothills lead up to 8,741’ Mount Irish itself. Watch for wildlife—including desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope—as well as mostly unexplored caves and rocky alcoves covered in petroglyphs.

Mt. Irish Wilderness Area

Lodging Options

While camping under a sky full of stars is our favorite way to end a day out here, indoor respite awaits in the small farming community of Alamo, located 30 minutes south of Seaman Wash Road (where the pavement ends and Basin and Range National Monument begins). This awesomely offbeat Uncommon Overnighter offers individually themed rooms, including Aliens, Under the Sea, Hippie, and others.

Sunset View Inn

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Gold Butte National Monument

If “getting away from it all” is what you’re here for, Gold Butte’s got you covered. This remote, beautifully rugged, 300,000-acre Mojave Desert sanctuary harbors close-up history—from thousands of petroglyphs, 12,000-year-old agave roasting pits, and shelters to ghost town remnants and Civilian Conservation Corps-era structures. It’s also home to twisting canyons, towering peaks, Joshua tree forests, and some of the dreamiest red sandstone formations in the state. On the horizon, breathtaking vistas of Valley of Fire, Lake Mead, and Grand Canyon–Parashant (a fellow national monument in neighboring Arizona) reward keen eyes.

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Exploring Gold Butte National Monument

Gold Butte Backcountry Byway begins just beyond Bunkerville. Be warned: when the sign says the road is unmaintained, they mean it. Even the short stretch of pavement is rough, after which it’s 4×4 turf all the way. However, with the right vehicle (and know-how), 500 miles of motorized trails criss-cross an off-grid paradise for dry camping, off-trail hiking, mountain biking, and more. Time your visit well; in the summer months, when the temperature rises (sometimes well) above 100+ degrees, the hot sandstone sends ambient temperatures skyward.

Gold Butte National Monument

Whitney Pocket & Little Finland

Most visitors’ first stop is Whitney Pocket, which serves as a staging area for off-roaders, day-tripping picnickers, and primitive campers. Signage provides a map of the monument, as well as information about the area’s beautiful geology and intriguing history. Twelve rocky miles southwest lies one of Gold Butte’s true highlights: Little Finland. The striking sandstone formations here are noticeably windswept and chiseled by the elements into unusual shapes marked by thin fins, terraced folds, windows, and arches—all of which drive home the fact that you’re gazing at what some geologists describe as a prehistoric sandstorm frozen in time.

Gold Butte National Monument

Gold Butte Petroglyphs

One of the big reasons Gold Butte was designated a national monument was for its cultural importance. There are literally thousands of petroglyphs here, created by some of Nevada’s very first inhabitants thousands of years ago. As the entire area remains of great spiritual importance to American Indian tribes, we won’t say exactly where, but these hundreds of incredible panels—some of them entire walls—are easy to spot in dozens of locations. When you find them, look but don’t touch; your hands’ natural oils can permanently damage the images.

Gold Butte Backcountry Byway

Pioneer & CCC History

The 1930s-era work of the Civilian Conservation Corps remains on full display throughout the monument, but especially at Whitney Pocket, where a stone-masoned dam, watering troughs, and a partially walled storage cave—all built to aid hardscrabble ranchers—offer a glimpse of Gold Butte’s rugged past. Meanwhile, remnants of pioneer life from the days of the Gold Butte Mining District (active between 1905 and 1910) can still be seen at Gold Butte Historic Townsite in the ghost town-esque form of several foundations, pieces of old cabins, gravesites, abandoned mineshafts, and more. 

Gold Butte National Monument

Friends of Gold Butte

This stewardship group hosts monthly talks, restoration projects, advocacy efforts, and guided outings all over Gold Butte National Monument. They also provide assistance to the Bureau of Land Management by publicizing maps and other crucial materials, raising awareness of what’s all out here, and offering expertise regarding safe, responsible recreational pursuits.

Gold Butte National Monument

Lodging Options

As with Basin and Range National Monument, all camping is primitive (although there are some obviously popular informal spots), but responsible recreators are welcome to set up for the night just about anywhere they want; we recommend Whitney Pocket. Alternatively, indoor options abound in nearby Mesquite, where casino-resorts offer poolside cocktails, spa packages, comfy beds, and an abundance of delicious meals cooked over grills that aren’t balancing on your tailgate. 

CasaBlanca Resort & Casino

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Travel Nevada Pro Tip

When traveling Nevada’s spectacular backroads, tracks, and trails, be sure to live by Nevada’s Dirt Road Code. Travel in an appropriate adventure-mobile (preferably with high-clearance, 4×4 capabilities, and a spare tire or two); carry plenty of extra snacks and water; let someone know where you’re headed and when you plan to return; and practice Leave No Trace methods whenever possible.