Cathedral Gorge absolutely stuns at any time of day with its unfolding amphitheater of maze-like slot canyons and the ever-eroding fins, “hoodoos,” and spires that earned the place its name; but at night, hours from any kind of light pollution, these dramatic features all glow and dance in the starlight. Cozy beds await ten minutes north at Pioche’s historic Overland Hotel & Saloon, or at several motels 15 minutes south in Caliente.
Dark Sky Detours: Northern Nevada’s Star Attractions
Take a Silver State star-fari to scope out some of the entire country’s darkest, most stellar skies.
Nighttime has always been when Nevada really lights up. And we’re not just talking about all the classic neon signs and dazzling marquees in Reno and Las Vegas. Go beyond the glow of our metros, look up, and you’ll be face to face with the brightest stars in the darkest skies in the Lower 48. Simply put, there’s just no better place to stargaze than the Silver State.
Scope out this lineup of (literally) stellar spots to spy complete constellations, the Milky Way, thousands of twinkling stars, and even distant galaxies with your naked eye—as well as where to stay and what to do to make a proper Nevada overnighter out of it—all within easy road trip range of Reno.
Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary
Distance from Reno: 4 hr / 225 mi
Find it off of the Burner Byway road trip
The northwestern edge of Nevada is about as far away from light pollution as it gets in the contiguous United States. So much so that, in 2019, the International Dark Sky Association (pretty much the United Nations of starry skies) designated a portion of Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary—one of only seven on the entire planet with skies star-studded enough to earn this distinction. In fact, it gets so dark out here that, during a moonless night, even the stars can cast shadows. This stretch of stunning, wide-open sagebrush valleys and volcanic plateaus (meaning uninterrupted panoramas of stars) is rugged and remote, so brush up on Travel Nevada’s Dirt Road Code before you venture this way.
Grab Grub: You’re pretty much on your own out here, so pack some good camp meals. If you need supplies, a couple small markets and a few solid country cafés can be found about an hour west in Cedarville, CA.
Bed Down: Old Yella Dog Ranch (Vya)
Great Basin National Park
Distance from Reno: 6 hr / 385 mi
Great Basin is one of the Lower 48’s most crowd-free parks because it’s so far from any major city (and their lights)—which also makes it a world-renowned destination for astronomers, astro-photographers, and stargazers. Since earning an International Dark Sky Park designation by the International Dark Sky Association in 2016, the park has converted facility lighting to red bulbs (which don’t compete with stars for your eyes’ attention) and built an Astronomy Amphitheater where visitors can listen to a “dark ranger” talk while gazing at constellations, planets, and other heavenly bodies through high-powered scopes.
By day, explore the park’s alpine lakes, peak-bagging trails, ancient bristlecone pine groves, and Lehman Caves system; but nighttime is when you discover why “half the park is after dark.” And if you really want to geek out with some serious astro-pros, swing by in September for the Great Basin Astronomy Festival.
Grab Grub: If you’re staying in Ely, rock into Racks Bar & Grill, home to one of our favorite chorizo burgers in the state.
Black Rock Desert
Distance from Reno: 2+ hr / 110+ mi
Find it on the Burner Byway road trip
There aren’t too many places where you can view other planets and the curvature of your own at the same time. This 1.2 million-acre wonderland is home to remote hot springs, craggy canyons, and its famous centerpiece: the Black Rock Desert playa, one of the longest, flattest, openest stretches of land on Earth. The skyward vistas from the 200-square-mile playa go on forever, with a distant rim of rocky mountains offering a shadowy frame. One glimpse of this unbelievable landscape confirms why people love coming here during Burning Man. But trust us—it’s even better without radiating space lasers, pulsing EDM beats, and 70,000 LED-illuminated bikes rolling around it. (Well, when it comes to stargazing, that is…)
Grab Grub: The wilderness gateway of small, funky Gerlach has you covered at Bruno’s Country Club for full meals (and famous ravioli) and the Miners Club for small pizzas, smoothies, good coffee, and occasional baked goods. Several minutes back down the highway, the Empire Store has a full deli and shelves full of snacks.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
The Loneliest Road in America
North Central Nevada
375 to 500 mi
Learn more about the Loneliest Road in America road trip
This famous stretch of Highway 50 earned its name for being a wide-open road trip through the heart of Nevada with only a handful of thinly populated towns dotting its 375-mile expanse. But as for “lonely”—who needs people when you can become pals with a few thousand stars? Spend the day exploring ghost towns, Sagebrush Saloons, wildlife areas, and more on your way to celestial vantage points, which are as infinite as the heavens. That said, some of our favorite spots to stargaze include the old ruins of Fort Churchill State Historic Park, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Spencer Hot Springs, Kingston Canyon, Cave Lake State Park, and—of course—aforementioned Great Basin National Park.
Grab Grub: This depends where you are. But here are some of our faves: The Slanted Porch (Fallon), Middlegate Station (40 min. east of Fallon), Owl Club Bar & Steakhouse (Eureka), Cellblock Steakhouse (Ely).
Bed Down: Same deal! But again, faves: Holiday Inn Express (Fallon), Paradise Ranch Castle B&B (Austin), Union Street Lodging (Austin), Jackson House Hotel & Thea Room (Eureka), Eureka Doll House (Eureka), Hotel Nevada & Gambling Hall (Ely), Stargazer Inn (Baker)
The Rubies Route
30 to 375 mi (seriously, the choice is yours!)
Learn more about the Rubies Route road trip
This northeastern Nevada, Elko-based road trip offers a three-part package deal for anyone whom the mountains have called. The byway up glacier-carved Lamoille Canyon carries you to a network of choose-your-own-distance trails to several alpine lakes perched at about 10,000 feet along the spine of the towering, breathtaking Ruby Mountains. Meanwhile, an easy twelve-mile road out of Wells parks you at the edge of Angel Lake, a cliff-lined glacial cirque that makes a dramatic setting for staring straight up.
However, if it’s absolute off-grid solace you seek, hop in something with four-wheel-drive and head for the Jarbidge Wilderness, Nevada’s most untamed mountain landscape where larger-than-life, lake-dotted bowls meet towering, nearly 11,000-foot peaks and aspen-studded mountainsides. Out here, it’s just you, the elk, and more stars than you could ever shake a telescope at.
Grab Grub: Dig into Basque family feasts at The Star Hotel (Elko), juicy steaks at the Pine Lodge Dinner House (Lamoille), eclectic everything at Bella’s Restaurant & Espresso (Wells), and hearty burgers and homemade milkshakes at the Outdoor Inn (Jarbidge).
Worth the Trip
These dark sky destinations are further south. But if you’re really shooting for the stars, you’re gonna want to get these gaze-worthy waypoints firmly on your radar.
Cathedral Gorge State Park
Tonopah Stargazing Park
There’s a reason USA Today named the “Queen of the Silver Camps” America’s #1 Stargazing Destination, and you don’t have to look too far (up) to find it. BYO telescope to the Tonopah Stargazing Park, set it up on a concrete pad, and aim it at the several thousand stars visible here, or just lie back and take in the Milky Way. Better yet, show up for a monthly Star Party and take a guided tour of the galaxy with a certified astro pro, high-tech viewing glass and all.
Gold Point Ghost Town
This silver camp once boomed with hotels, saloons, and more than 100 dwellings—the remains of which make for some highly intriguing (albeit a bit spooky) starlight exploration, all beneath some of NV’s darkest skies. Call ahead to arrange an overnighter in a spruced-up old miner’s cabin, courtesy of Gold Point Ghost Town B&B. More traditional accommodations await just 30 minutes away in Goldfield (itself a “living ghost town”) or an hour up the road in Tonopah.