With warm and welcoming Elko as your hub on The Rubies Route, travelers will connect with real-deal western cultures, epic outdoor playgrounds, and all-to-yourself scenic treasures. Adorned with alpine peaks, lakes and flowing streams, tree-lined canyons and horizon-chasing, high-desert valleys, Elko County is vast and varied—and paired with the beauty of Lamoille Scenic Byway, the Ruby Mountains make for a breathtaking centerpiece.
The northeastern Nevada city of Elko will be your base camp when exploring the Ruby Mountains, Nevada’s wettest mountain range. It's the perfect playground for hiking, fishing, and photography; and in winter, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. One of the jewels of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the Ruby Mountains are a steep and rugged range capped by the 11,387-foot (3,470-meter) Ruby Dome. In the winter months, many of the roads that are at higher elevation, including Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, are not plowed and are typically closed due to snow, so plan your trip accordingly!
Elko wears its heritage on its sleeve, with Basque, American Indian, buckaroo, and other traditions on display at every turn. And be warned: people are damn friendly—so, forget what your parents told you and be prepared to talk to a stranger or 10.
Elko to…. where? On The Rubies Route, think of Elko as your hub and these awesome adventures as your spokes. Elko County boasts some wildly diverse terrain, including its most famous standout mountain range, the Ruby Mountains. Often likened to the Swiss Alps, their steep, craggy peaks spike up past 11,000 feet (3,350 meters), only to be united by the aspen-studded, creek-harboring, glacier-carved sliver of paradise that is Lamoille Canyon, Nevada.
Start your trip in Elko by learning famous cowboy and ranching traditions at the Western Folklife Center, which presents the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering every January. You’ll be staying in Elko for this trip and venturing out into the wild green yonder from here, so get ready to enjoy incredible camping, lake views, and much more.
On your way into town, swing by the California Trail Interpretive Center, just off Interstate 80 on the western edge of Elko. Here, visitors can learn the stories of pioneers who endured this 2,000-mile trek.
If time allows, check out the Western Folklife Center office, which has the Wiegand Gallery, exhibiting artistic works connected to horseman and ranching cultures from around the world. Next, stop by the 20-seat Blackbox Theater, where you can watch a 16-minute video about cowboy musical tradition and of course, check out their fantastic gift shop.
Head across the street to J.M. Capriola, a world-famous saddle and leather tooling shop to see saddles being made in the store’s small, second-story workshop. Aching for saddles and leatherwork or not, swing into Cap’s to browse the western wear—and Western wares. Then, cruise a few doors down to their brand new Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum to ogle some local history. Admire top-notch handiwork that’s outfitted working buckaroos, Hollywood stars and collectors for over a century.
On your way out of town, you’ll be taking on Nevada state Route 227 (Lamoille Highway). This 22-mile (35 km) drive takes you through the residential community of Spring Creek before you make a right onto Forest Service Road 660 (Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway). This 12-mile (19 km) paved road cuts through a glacier-carved canyon that is a photographer’s dream come true*— and not just for its fall colors and spring waterfalls. There are many places to pull over your vehicle on the drive, including one that leads to an interpretive trail that passes by a small pond and beaver dam. Lamoille Creek, which flows near the road in many places, is a popular place for stream fishing.
*March 2019 Update: Although a swathe of aspens and summer camp cabins were lost when a lower portion of the canyon burned in 2018, much of it was untouched and Lamoille Canyon Nevada remains a proud scenic treasure.
The scenic drive ends at 8,800 feet (2,438 meters). This upper part of Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway is closed in winter due to snow. Come winter, though, the Rubies boast 300 inches of the driest, fluffiest snow in the USA— seducing snowshoers, snowmobilers, and powder-hungry backcountry and heli-skiers alike.
During the more temperate seasons, hikers can access several trails from the terminus of the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, including trails to Lamoille Lake and the Ruby Crest Trail, as well as a multitude of other alpine lakes the Rubies are well known for. Cowboy John Tours out of Elko offers a Ruby Crest Trail Shuttle Service, too.
On the drive back to Elko, if time allows, you may want to take the one-mile detour into the tiny community of Lamoille, population 105, according to 2010 Census data. Here, along Lamoille Highway, is the picturesque Lamoille Presbyterian Church, one of the most photographed locations in Elko County. Grab dinner at the Pine Lodge Dinner House for a hearty meal and an eyeful of big game taxidermy. Lamoille also is home to historic Red’s Ranch, which can be reserved for conferences, special events, or family gatherings.
During the winter months, you should take advantage of one of the only heli-skiing operations in the United States at Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience. The business also offers multi-elevation yurt accommodations up to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), which are open year-round.
Angel Lake, a mountain lake in the East Humboldt Range in the Rubies and also part of the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest, is your goal today.
When the road is clear, you’ll want to schedule some time to explore Angel Lake, a natural body of water that was dammed in 1900 to create an irrigation system that is still in use today. Fishing is great (rainbow, brook and tiger trout), as well as non-motorized boating. Look to the south for a glimpse of Chimney Rock, a rock spire that serves as a local landmark. Here, you’ll find trailheads to Smith Lake and Winchell Lake, as well as a picnic area, restrooms, and a campground. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope!
As you head back to the city of Wells, you may either want to go straight to Elko or explore a few other areas like Jarbidge and Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is 80 miles (129 kilometers) south of Wells. Hunting and fishing are allowed in particular areas during specific seasons on Ruby Marsh, so be sure to check with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services prior to your visit.
Jarbidge, on the other hand, is a living ghost town. Depending on what route you take, you’ll quickly find that it is easily one of Nevada’s, and the country’s, most remote cities. It is about 105 miles (the fun way) or about 200 miles (the highway) from Elko and is located on the very edge of Nevada's border with Idaho. Jarbidge may be one of our closest ties to the Wild West: one of the last gold rushes took place here in 1909, as well as one of the last stagecoach robberies.
Today, Jarbidge remains Nevada’s most isolated town as well as a one-of-a-kind wilderness outpost for fishing, big-game hunting, off-road exploration, unbeatable photography, camping, and more. Depending on the season, about 11 to 100 residents live along its dirt-road main drag, right across from “Downtown’s” two bars (because Nevada…). The Red Dog Saloon and the Outdoor Inn join forces to keep visitors warm, satiated, and entertained, while the latter establishment also serves up good grub and comfortable accommodation.
TravelNevada Pro Tip: Taking the most direct (and exciting) route to Jarbidge, Nevada (north from Elko up NV-225 toward Wild Horse Reservoir, right onto CR-748 / Charleston-Jarbidge Road) means summiting unpaved passes that only get plowed once a year (for their mighty July 4th bash), and, it has been known to snow as early as October, here. So, check all travel conditions before you go. If weather, seasons, or vehicles are an issue, take the paved way around the area via Wells, Jackpot, and even through a small slice of Idaho.
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