You may already know what’s up at some of Nevada’s world famous parks. Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park stuns with its sandy beaches, crystal-clear water, and towering peak-studded vistas. Meanwhile, Valley of Fire enchants with its signature show-stopping red rock vibrancy and petroglyph windows to the past. There’s good reason these two gems beckon hikers, photographers, and nature-lovers from all over the globe. That said, we’re spoiled here. There are dozens more gems found in Nevada state parks, state recreation areas, and Nevada national parks—each ready to surprise you with its own secret stash of snag-worthy magic moments. The best part? You’re often likely to have those moments all to yourself. Unspoiled, crowdless, and easy to get to… this lineup of 24 Nevada state parks—and two stunning Nevada national parks—will have you ticking things off your bucket list before you even knew they were on it.
This deliciously remote central Nevada state park offers a two-for-one history experience, with the remains of a mining-era ghost town down the hill from 225-million-year-old marine reptile fossils—permanently “beached” 7,000 feet above today’s sea level. Find a ranger, head for the Fossil House visitor center, and get face-to-snout with the largest concentration of Ichthyosaurs ever discovered.
Lake Tahoe Nevada State Parks
As the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is spectacularly scenic, and not just for its famous Caribbean-esque hues. Whether you’re after a dreamy day on Sand Harbor’s sandy beaches (followed by a play during the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival), or you’re looking to hit the trails at Spooner Backcountry and Marlette Lake (with access to the Tahoe Rim Trail system), or you’re curious about the cultural history of Cave Rock and Tahoe’s first inhabitants, this multi-site Nevada state park complex is ideal for summer and winter getaways.
Beaver Dam State Park
Looking for a true off-grid reset? Head for Beaver Dam State Park. Nevada’s most remote state park beckons solace-seekers with deep canyons, trout-packed streams, waterfalls, and thickly wooded forests. Keep your camera ready for porcupines, bobcats, and, of course, beavers.
Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Discover what life was like 150 years ago in Nevada when this U.S. Army fort was built to protect westward-bound pioneers and Pony Express riders. Today, about an hour from Carson City, the fort’s ruins stand in a state of “arrested decay,” withstanding time with the aid of northern Nevada’s arid, high desert climate. It’s already a photographer’s dream, but, with minimal light pollution, did we mention that Fort Churchill State Historic Park has brilliant night skies?
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
Set against the spectacular red rock formations of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, this historic ranch sprang up before statehood and had quite the list of riveting owners, including a chinchilla baron, the original owner of the 30-carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond, and even Howard Hughes. If the colorful scenery doesn’t get you, the history—and resident pet cow, Penelope—will surely seal the deal.
Valley of Fire State Park
Famous for its striking red Aztec sandstone outcrops and some of Nevada’s more impressive petroglyph panels, Valley of Fire State Park was Nevada’s first state park and, for obvious reasons, remains one of its most popular. Head for the famous Fire Wave, hike the White Domes Trail, pore over petroglyphs in Mouse’s Tank, and keep an eye out for desert bighorn sheep, who have been locals here for thousands of years.
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park
Explore several camera-hogging, 30-foot-tall, 27-foot-wide, beehive-shaped charcoal kilns, built in the 1870s to power Nevada’s then-largest silver processing efforts, and which later moonlighted as hideouts for stagecoach bandits. Visit the ovens along your Great Basin Highway road trip to camp, hike, stargaze, or hike into the historic Ward Mining District.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
With such a diverse lineup of Nevada state parks—offering everything from scenery to history and far beyond—we doubt you’ll be able to choose just one. Get your hands on an annual Nevada State Parks All Access Permit and have your pick of parks for a full calendar year.
Nevada National Parks
Great Basin National Park
“Half the park is after dark” at this stellar Nevada national park, which is not only one of the darkest, quietest places in the country, but also among America’s least crowded and most underrated national parks. Schedule a tour of Lehman Caves, with marble rooms and limestone formations, then head up to Great Basin National Park’s stunning high country.
Take Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which carries you from 7,000 to 10,000 feet elevation and leads to camping and hiking trails with ample parking lots. Take on the Wheeler Peak Trail for a 13,063-foot vista stretching into Utah, or walk the 2.7-mile Alpine Lakes Loop to a pair of ruggedly beautiful lakes. Then get “gnarly” on the four-mile Bristlecone-Glacier Trail to look in awe at ancient bristlecone pines—Earth’s oldest living trees—and a stark, rock-rimmed cirque, housing Nevada’s last active glacier.
Death Valley National Park
Knwon for its striking desertscapes, thermometer-shattering climate, and all around extreme reputation, Death Valley National Park is most easily accessed through Las Vegas along one of Nevada’s wildest road trips: The Death Drive. The lowest, hottest, and driest place in North America, Death Valley’s beauty is as varied as it is austere, characterized by miles of sweeping sand dunes, kaleidoscopic canyons, towering peaks, and a stunning assortment of native wildlife. Drink in the colors from panoramic viewpoints and stroll among rock formations and dry, salty lake beds. Or, to get a sense of just how extreme this Nevada national park can be, cruise up to Dante’s View, where on a clear day you can see Mount Whitney, meaning you’ve got the highest and lowest points in the Lower 48 in the exact same view.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
This glimmering desert jewel is the largest manmade lake in America, created by the mighty Hoover Dam. Escape the southern Nevada heat with cliff jumping, boating and waterskiing, and some of the best bass fishing in the Southwest. In fall, winter, or spring months, head for the historic Hoover Dam Railroad Tunnel Trail, as well as miles of hiking trails that surround Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
With more than two dozen state parks and recreation areas, Nevada satisfies any adventure you’re after. Get sky high with panoramic hikes and brag-worthy climbing routes, or make waves while boating, swimming, and kayaking. Better yet, set up camp for the night and let the stargazing stun, courtesy of some of the darkest skies in the Lower 48.
If you happened to “find your park” here in Nevada, show us which one—or ones—you discovered. Tag #TravelNevada and let us hike, bike, camp, fish, stargaze, and get out there vicariously through your feed. If we love your photo, you may find it featured here.