Essential RV Nevada:
Striking it Rich Beyond the Vegas Strip
in the Silver State
by Suzanne Wright
If you associate Nevada solely with the neon lights of Sin City, you’re in for a treat! Beyond the glittering boulevards of Las Vegas, Nevada unfolds in many unexpected and under-appreciated ways. The federal government owns nearly 80 percent of the state’s land. So while neighboring states may enjoy better publicity, the truth for those in-the-know is that a sizeable chunk of the American West’s grandeur is encompassed within Nevada’s borders. There are four national park sites, the country’s largest, clearest, and purest natural alpine lake, 27 state parks, and quirky rural towns steeped in history. Ride with us as reveal the many attractions that await you in the Silver State.
Greater Las Vegas Area
The go-go allure of Las Vegas is undeniable, which is why it attracts more than 42.5 million visitors a year. There’s the gambling, of course, but also top-notch entertainment, four-star dining, and splashy shopping. All of which are worth surrendering to for a short time. We really love taking our winnings and rejuvenating our road-weary bodies at the superlative spas throughout the city. The Moroccan-themed spa at the Encore, the Roman-inspired Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino and the lavish Canyon Ranch at The Venetian Resort are serene indulgences. Offbeat attractions like the Burlesque Hall of Fame, the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat, The Neon Museum, and The Liberace Mansion are also fun to-do’s. The Springs Preserve is a great place for a desert garden stroll, and is especially colorful during the early November Day of the Dead celebration. Golfers can check out the championship courses of Lake Las Vegas.
Striking out from Vegas, days trips abound in every direction. The starkly beautiful Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a desert oasis for boating, canoeing, and swimming. The jaw-dropping Hoover Dam, on the Colorado River, is a National Historic Landmark. We also recommend the Powerplant Tour and a boat tour to appreciate every angle of this engineering marvel. Goodsprings Ghost Town, less than an hour south of Vegas, is home to the oldest bar in southern Nevada, The Pioneer Saloon, the site of gunfights and ghost sightings.
Where to Stay:
If you want to be where the action is, the only camping on the strip is at Circus Circus RV Park. Guests can enjoy a children’s play area, pool and hot tub, pet run, and shower and laundry facilities. The Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort pampers campers with an onsite cafe, a concierge service, and an array of full hookup sites, including back-in PremiumPlus ones that feature extended grassy areas, decorative fencing, and BBQ pits.
Death Valley National Park
Along the Sierra Nevada mountain range, two deserts—the Mojave and the Great Basin—meet in surreal Death Valley, about two hours out of Vegas. Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, often records the highest temperature on earth. Plant and animal adaptations in this harsh environment are nothing short of miraculous. A place of extremes and contrasts, it’s home to a biodiverse plant community, along with burros, butterflies, big horn sheep, desert tortoises, iguanas, and jackrabbits. At the edge of the park in Beatty, Rhyolite Ghost Town, once among the world’s greatest gold camps, is the most famous of Nevada’s abandoned places. Forelorn remains of the bank, general store, and depot make for great photos. The Tom Kelly Bottle House and Goldwell Open Air Museum are avant-garde additions to the site.
Where to Stay:
Fiddler’s Campground in Death Valley won’t give you much privacy, but you’ll have quick access to the park, plus the amenities of Furnace Creek Resort, including a general store, laundry facilities, pool, and restaurants.
Great Basin Highway & National Park
U.S. Route 93, better known as the Great Basin Highway, is a monumental springboard to adventure. This road trip for outdoor adventurers is jam-packed with astonishing natural wonders, and offers an excellent introduction to the varied geology of the state. The Great Basin Desert is the largest U.S. desert, covering 190,00 square miles. Because of its northern latitude and high elevation, it’s considered a “cool” or “cold” desert, with winter precipitation often falling as snow. Sprawling Great Basin National Park is notable for its ancient bristlecone pines, considered the oldest trees in the world. These gnarled beauties are a testament to longevity, some up to 4,000 years old. Peaceful, remote, and lightly visited, it’s a mind-blowing Milky Way stargazing destination. At more than 13,000 feet, Wheeler Peak punctuates the Snake Mountain range; it’s usually snow-dusted even in summer when wildflowers stud the meadows. Underground, ranger-led tours of Lehman Caves fascinate with their fanciful formations. Do not leave town without dining at Kerouac’s, the town’s convivial and polished eatery.
The remarkable red rock Aztec sandstone outcrops in Valley of Fire State Park were formed by shifting sands 150 million years ago. Hikers of all abilities can enjoy the geologic formations and the Native American petroglyphs. If it’s too hot for hiking, the Mouse’s Tank Road curves provides exceptional views from behind your windshield. Cathedral Gorge State Park’s volcanic eruptions millions of years ago deposited layers of ash. Combined with erosion, the elements have carved dramatic spires in soft, tan bentonite clay. Sunrise or sunset from Miller Point Overlook is the optimum time to peer down into the glowing slot canyons.
Where to Stay:
Valley of Fire has a limited number of sites with power and water hookups. Within Great Basin itself, if your rig is under 40 feet and your needs are modest, check out the campgrounds at Lehman Caves. Full hookups, along with bath and laundry facilities, can be reserved at Whispering Elms Motel/RV Park in Baker.
Known as the “Loneliest Road in America,” U.S. Route 50 is splendidly desolate, save for the occasional tumbleweeds that blow across the blacktop. Far-flung Ely was founded as a stagecoach stop and trading post; it later became a major copper mining town. Large murals grace 11 blocks downtown, depicting the varied cultures of the area’s settlers, as do restored Chinese, Greek, French, Slavic, and Spanish houses in Ely Renaissance Village. Rockhounds will rejoice in their finds at Garnet Hill. A hammer, some gloves, and a little patience are all you need to score semi-precious stones on this public access land. The beehive-shaped Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park were originally used as ovens for melting ore during the silver rush, but later became a place for outlaws to hole up. Grouse and elk are often spotted in this rolling grassland. With a 32-acre reservoir, Cave Lake State Park affords visitors the chance to trout fish, hunt for crawdads, kayak, swim in summer, or ice fish, skate, sled, ski, or snowmobile come winter. Near Austin, in a yawning sweep of open desertscape, Spencer Hot Springs is graced with a spectacular view of the jagged Toiyabe Range. Soak in your birthday suit, if you like.
Where to Stay:
Open roughly from Memorial Day to Labor Day, many accommodations in this part of the state are humble. There are just six RV sites in East Creek Campground. But if you don’t need hookups, the seclusion of an alder, pinyon, and juniper forest and a perennial stream make this a memorable off-grid experience.
Reno & Lake Tahoe Area
“The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno, is a four-season destination with across-the-board appeal. It boasts the highest concentration of ski resorts in North America. Its outsize art scene provides creative underpinning for Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert. The weekly Wednesday Feed the Camel (hump day, get it?!) summer food truck bazaar offers something for every palate. If you’re into thrifting, Reno’s vintage stores are stocked with vintage threads. Autumn leaf-peeping is an especially fine time to visit, as aspens and cottonwoods erupt in a crescendo of brilliant color. North Lake Tahoe is the real jewel. Ringed by pines and peaks, the extraordinarily clear waters have inspired generations to its shores. Incline Village, named for the 4,000-foot-long tramway built in 1878 to transport logs, gives you an aerial experience of unparalleled beauty.
Where to Stay:
Shamrock RV Park is a cozy and centrally located option with 121 paved sites open all year. Picnic areas, dog walks, an exercise room, and a swimming pool are among the amenities. The well-rated and well-maintained Sparks Marina RV Park can accommodate big rigs. It has 204 level sites, a putting green, and an off-leash dog park.
Worth the Detour
Nevada is home to the largest population of wild mustangs in America. The Virginia Range, located in the high desert between Reno and Virginia City, is prime viewing territory. The herd, which numbers as many as 3,000, are all descendants of horses brought first by the conquistadors, and later, by settlers. It’s electrifying to see these magnificent animals roaming free.
In Goldfield off I-95, the International Car Forest of the Last Church is an odd roadside curiosity: a spray-painted, automotive Stonehenge, open 24/7.
Enjoying the old-world cuisine of family-style Basque restaurants in the Cowboy Corridor, which cuts across the northern part of Nevada, is a unique experience. Basque immigrants—sheepherders from France and Spain—arrived during the California Gold Rush, and brought hearty, high mountain cooking with them. Traditional fare includes cabbage soup, green beans, and lamb shank.