Nevada Road Trip Bucket List (2023)

All the best off-the-beaten path things to do in Nevada

Nevada Road Trip Bucket List (1)

Table of Contents

  • Unlimited Road Trip Potential
  • Battle Born – Get To Know The Silver State
  • Nevada Road Trip Bucket List
  • Northern Nevada
  • Central Nevada
  • Southern Nevada
  • Essential Nevada Road Trip Tips

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Unlimited Road Trip Potential

Nevada Road Trip Bucket List (2)

Is there a state more cut out for a road trip than Nevada? I think not.

Nevada checks all the boxes for me: gorgeous mountain views, acres and acres of public lands, wide open highways with quirky nicknames, a vague sense of underdog status.

If you think of Nevada as simply a state you drive through on your way to somewhere else, you’re missing out.

In February 2020, I spent a two-week road trip crossing across the central part of Nevada. This route really showed off Nevada’s natural beauty, from the pine trees and snow topped mountains near Carson City to the otherworldly desert views of the Extraterrestrial Highway to the towering rock formations of Cathedral Gorge State Park.

I’ve also had the chance to traverse the state’s other main Interstates (not to mention back roads) during our RV travels, driving across Northern Nevada’s cowboy country and exploring the history-filled ghost towns near Death Valley.

Nevada is a place that never fails to surprise. And while some 40 million people visit the Silver State to answer the siren call of fabulous Las Vegas, there’s so much more to see. Cue up my Nevada playlist and read on for the ultimate road trip guide to the best things to do in Nevada, off the beaten path.

Battle Born – Get To Know The Silver State

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First of all, it’s pronounced “Nev-ADD-ah.” Not “Nev-AH-dah.”

Nevada is the 7th largest state in terms of size. And about 86% of its 70 million acres are public lands – owned by the federal government and available to us all for camping, hiking, and other adventures. That’s the highest ratio of any U.S. state. The non-federally owned part of Nevada is actually smaller than West Virginia.

Somewhat paradoxically, “Nevada” means snow-covered in Spanish… which is appropriate, since it is the most mountainous state in the Lower 48. But it’s also the driest.

The Silver State has a long and colorful history that seems very much alive today. The Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe native people lived here originally. The U.S. took ownership of the area in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. But the first non-native settlements in the state weren’t established until Mormon settlers arrived in 1851.

In the late 1800s, miners flocked here hoping to strike it rich in silver or gold. Now the state has more ghost towns than inhabited cities thanks to those deserted mining camps. The 20th Century ushered in the Nevada many of us think of today, a Nevada known for its casinos and a “what happens here, stays here” mentality. Not to mention, nuclear test sites and tales of alien encounters.

If you love taking an open road to discover small towns that fully embrace their quirky past, Nevada is for you.

I’ve organized the itinerary below moving north to south and west to east. This road trip guide focuses on roadside stops that you might miss if you don’t know what you are looking for.

Nevada Road Trip Bucket List

Northern Nevada

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Northern Nevada’s authentically western heritage is proudly on display in small towns across I-80. It’s also a great place for hiking and mountain biking.


  • Vya is a small ghost town near the California border. In 2019, the Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area was named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, one of just eleven such sites in the world. Its remote, pristine night skies are protected from light pollution.


  • A tiny town in far northern Nevada that is both the self-proclaimed “Center of the Known Universe” AND the “Potluck Capital of the World” according to its town welcome sign. It is also the gateway city to Burning Man, held annually in the nearby Black Rock Desert since 1990. Take a tour of the whimsical and weird Fly Geyser.


  • Stop for a photo opp at the Biggest Little City in the World sign. Stroll through classic casinos and check out the burgeoning public art and food scenes. Fun fact: Reno is actually farther west than Los Angeles.
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Virginia City

  • The Comstock Lode built this mining boom town, now known as one of the most haunted places in the U.S. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark. It hosts the Annual International Camel & Ostrich Races each September – an event that dates back to 1959, when the local paper (in the satire tradition of Mark Twain, who also got his start here) published results about a fictional camel race… and the San Francisco Chronicle challenged the paper to host a real event.
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Carson City

  • Carson City is Nevada’s perfectly wild west capitol city. It’s a small town for a capitol, with only 55,000 people, and is a great place to stock up on road trip essentials before heading out into more remote parts of the state. Be sure to do a self-guided tour of the capitol building (featuring an antler chair made for a presidential visit) and meander down North Carson Street for some great old neon signs and delicious local restaurants. Head to Washoe State Park to see some of Carson Valley’s famous wild horses.

Lake Tahoe

  • Millions of people visit Lake Tahoe each year to enjoy its beautiful blue waters and ski in the nearby mountains. It is the second deepest lake in the United States. About 1/3 of the lake is in Nevada and the rest is in California. Lake Tahoe is a quick 40 minute drive from the Carson Valley area. Hike the short Cave Rock trail!
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  • Just south of Carson City and east of Lake Tahoe sits Genoa, the oldest town in Nevada and home of the state’s first bar, which is still in operation: the Genoa Bar and Saloon aka “The Oldest Thirst Parlor”. Check out the Mormon Station Historic Park to learn about the state’s first emigrant settlers or hike to a waterfall.


  • Add your lock to the plaza for good luck in this historic railroad town on I-80.


  • Winnemucca is a rugged town on I-80 that just so happens to be home to the largest Basque population in the U.S. Stop by the Martin Hotel for a traditional Basque dinner – and be sure to come hungry. Basque restaurants are known for their hospitality and seemingly never ending number of courses.
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  • The biggest city in Northern Nevada is home to the Western Folklife Center (and annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering), California Trail Interpretive Center, and the World’s Largest Stuffed Polar Bear.


  • From Elko, head south on Highway 227 to discover Jiggs, a tiny town with one saloon that’s perhaps best known for fitting its entire population inside of a Volkswagon for an ad back in the ‘60s. The Jiggs Bar (the only business open for miles) is now a piece of living history.


  • Stop by the reservation-required Ruby Mountain Brewing Co, the only craft brewery in the region. Check out Metropolis, the bustling city that never was. 12 Mile Hot Spring is also nearby.

West Wendover

  • Get a photo with Wendover Will, the 63-foot tall neon cowboy with quite an interesting past, who is the first to welcome you to Nevada (or say goodbye, as you head into Utah) on I-80.

Central Nevada

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Central Nevada is where things get weird. In a good way. Think: haunted hotels, still-living ghost towns, and alien sightings a-plenty.


  • Middlegate Station is a pony express stop turned roadhouse on I-50 (aka the Loneliest Road in America), a colorful place to grab a burger and a beer. Also nearby: the famous Shoe Tree – and not much else. In 1987, Life Magazine famously suggested that travelers need “survival skills” to navigate this remote highway.
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  • A mining town at the junction of I-95 and I-6 known for the very historic and very haunted Mizpah Hotel and a clown motel located next to a cemetery. (The clown thing gets a big NOPE from me, but just sharing in case that’s what you are into.) USA Today named Tonopah as the #1 Stargazing Destination in America.
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  • Once the largest city in Nevada, this gold rush town is now the second-smallest county seat in the U.S. It’s a truly fascinating living ghost town. The local radio station (89.1 FM) is the perfect thing to listen to while cruising around town. Be sure to check out the historic (and again, reportedly haunted) old buildings downtown that reveal the town’s heyday and the International Car Forest of the Last Church public art display. The town’s graveyard rather famously is home to the grave of “Unknown Man Who Died Eating Library Paste”.
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  • Keep an eye out for UFOs while driving the 98-mile Extraterrestrial Highway (also known as State Route 375). Make time to stop at the Little Al’e’Inn for a burger and some alien souvenirs in Rachel, Nevada – the closest community to Area 51. Get a photo with the Extraterrestrial Highway sign (named in 1997 to commemorate the movie Independence Day) and stop by the Alien Research Center and E-T Fresh Jerky at the junction of Hwy 375 and I-93.
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  • This town is northeast Nevada is chalk full of railroad history. You can ride the “Ghost Train”, a steam locomotive and National Historic Landmark that is still operated by the Nevada Northern Railway. There are also murals and the historic Hotel Nevada & Gambling Hall (a favorite of Old Hollywood era stars) to explore.
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  • Blink and you will miss Baker, the gateway “city” to Great Basin National Park, one of the hidden gems of the NPS system. Tour the Lehman Caves and remember, half of the park is after dark – this is one of the best places in the U.S. for star gazing.
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  • The little town of Panaca was southern Nevada’s first settlement, founded by Mormon emigrants in 1864. It’s the closest town to the amazing Cathedral Gorge State Park, a little park that’s full of stunning rock formations and hiking trails.
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  • About 20 minutes up US-93 from Panaca is Pioche, a well preserved ghost town. It earned a reputation as one of the most notorious mining camps around – visit Boot Hill cemetery for proof. An aerial tramway that carried ore from the mines to town during the 1920s and 30s still stands, with empty buckets still dangling over the town.

Southern Nevada

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Viva Las Vegas! But there’s also another world beyond the neon glow of the strip. The Silver State’s colorful mining past is not so ancient history here. And there’s nowhere quite like Death Valley…


  • Beatty is the rare mining town that beat the odds and avoided becoming a ghost town. It’s the closest town to the east entrance of Death Valley National Park, a must-visit NPS site for its otherworldly terrain. Have a beer at the Happy Burro and watch the town’s real-life (somewhat) wild donkeys wander by. Visit the Bonnie Claire dry lake bed about 30 minutes north of Beatty to try to find “sailing stones” that are much easier to get to than Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa. (Full disclosure – I didn’t see any moving rocks during my visit, but still enjoyed the view!)
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  • Is this the most famous ghost town in all of Nevada? Find out for yourself if the hype is real. Rhyolite is only about 10 minutes from Beatty but it might as well be in another world. Rhyolite had a five-year population boom but all that’s left now are some stately old dilapidated buildings. On the outskirts of town, stop by the free Goldwell Open Air Museum to see some famously weird art such as a ghostly Last Supper.
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  • About an hour or so from Las Vegas lies the unincorporated community of Pahrump. It was the quirky hometown of Art Bell, the late night radio host of Coast to Coast AM. Locals and tourists love taking off road vehicles through the area’s canyons. Pahrump Valley Roasters is the largest specialty coffee roaster in southern Nevada.


  • About 65 miles of Vegas on I-95 is the infamous Nevada Test Site. Nuclear explosives have been tested here since the 1950s. A handful of scientists still live in Mercury but it is not open to the public. Guided tours of the sprawling site (including a huge man-made crater and a town designed by the military to test the impact of atomic bombs) are offered once a month.
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Las Vegas

  • It’s a city that needs no introduction. But for something more offbeat than walking the strip, check out The Neon Museum (preserving the city’s beloved old signs), National Pinball Museum, or the Instagram-favorite Seven Magic Mountains art installation in the nearby desert. The Valley of Fire State Park is also a short drive away.

Boulder City

  • This charming oasis of a small town was originally established as a temporary home for builders working on the Hoover Dam, a marvel of engineering. Enjoy its retro Main Street before heading to Lake Mead Recreation Area for hiking trails and the chance to see the aforementioned dam in action.

Essential Nevada Road Trip Tips

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New to road tripping? Here are a few tips to set you up for success.

  • Pack a couple of gallons of water in your car in case of emergencies. It’s hot and dry out there most of the year.
  • Bring plenty of snacks. Also – I’ve never seen a state with more fresh jerky stands, so be prepared to stop if that is your snack of choice.
  • Fill up on gas when you can – some small town businesses close at night and there are long stretches of highway without a gas station.
  • Download a ton of podcasts (here are my favorites) or my Nevada playlist on Spotify.
  • Don’t rely on your cell phone for maps – you are pretty much guaranteed to lose cell service at some point during your Nevada road trip. Download your maps before hand, or even better, bring a good, old fashioned folding map.
  • Visiting a National Park Service site like Lake Mead or Great Basin National Park? Consider buying an annual National Park pass – a great value.
  • Be sure to include sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses in your backpack if you plan to go hiking.
  • If dog is your copilot, be sure to pack a travel water dish and food for them, too! Check out this awesome dog weekender kit.
  • You will definitely want a small tripod for your iPhone to capture all those #WeirdNevada photo opps. You might even want to splurge on a GoPro to document your adventures.
  • If you are exploring Highway 50, pick up Travel Nevada’s official Highway 50 Survival Guide and get it stamped in designated spots along the route to receive a “I Survived” certificate.

For more ideas to help you plan your next Nevada road trip, check out these additional resources from Bearfoot Theory, Thrillist, and Travel Nevada. Or grab a copy of Lonely Planet’s Western USA Travel Guide.

If I left off your favorite Nevada road trip stop, please let me know in the comments or connect with me on Instagram. I plan to update this list over time. And remember – sometimes the best places are not “on the way” to anything else. Thanks for reading!



Nevada Road Trip Bucket List? ›

Highway 50: Plenty of Space at Your Own Pace

Today, this famous Nevada road trip is your gateway to ghost towns, historic mining communities, stunning state parks, unsurpassed recreational opportunities, and a handful of authenticity-packed Sagebrush Saloons, to boot.

What is the most famous route in Nevada? ›

Highway 50: Plenty of Space at Your Own Pace

Today, this famous Nevada road trip is your gateway to ghost towns, historic mining communities, stunning state parks, unsurpassed recreational opportunities, and a handful of authenticity-packed Sagebrush Saloons, to boot.

Are there any pretty parts of Nevada? ›

Although it's true Nevada attracts visitors with its mystery and Vegas nightlife, the state also offers many breathtaking natural sights. Nevada is mostly desert, within the Great Basin, but it is also home to towering mountains, crystalline lakes and landscapes lush with sagebrush and pine.

What is the famous road to Las Vegas? ›

Route 66. No Los Angeles to Las Vegas road trip would be complete without venturing onto Route 66, America's most famous of roads.

What is the most deserted place in Nevada? ›

The tiny mountain mining town of Jarbidge is easily the most isolated town in the Silver State, but its canyon-bottom, mountain-ensconced location may also be Nevada's most stunning.

What is the old fashioned town in Nevada? ›

Discover the charms of Nevada's oldest town

Genoa National Historic District is the oldest town in Nevada, which saw its first settlement way back in 1851. The town lies in the Carson River Valley on the eastern foot of the Sierra Nevada Range, and features an old charm that harks back to the Wild West.

What is very popular in Nevada? ›

Nevada is known for its desert landscapes, large casinos, and vibrant nightlife. The Silver State is also home to a variety of natural wonders, including the Valley of Fire State Park, Lake Tahoe, as well as prominent gold and silver mines.

Where do 3 states meet in Nevada? ›

Cross the Beaver Dam Mountains, visit a huge sinkhole, drive a narrow tortuous canyon and see "3 Corners" where Arizona, Nevada and Utah meet. The original 3 Corners Monument (a sandstone shaft) was established in 1870 on what the surveyor believed to be the 37th parallel, north latitude.

How many hours should you drive on a road trip? ›

How Long Can You Safely Drive a Day? A good rule of thumb is to expect to safely drive 8 hours each day of your road trip. 8-hours a day is less than the 10 hours a day regulation that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires passenger-carrying drivers to follow.

How many miles a day can you drive on a road trip? ›

As a general rule, it's safe to drive for no longer than eight hours a day, taking breaks of at least 15 minutes every two hours. This means you can safely drive for around 500 miles, not taking into account external factors such as slowing for tolls, traffic, travelling with children, and tiredness.

How many miles should you drive a day on a road trip? ›

You should not drive for more than 9 hours a day, excluding breaks. For every 4.5 hours driving you should take breaks amounting to 45 minutes. For long-distance driving, this means you can drive around 500 miles safely in a day.

What is the beautiful street in Las Vegas? ›

10 Popular Streets in Las Vegas
  • The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard)
  • Fremont Street.
  • Main Street (Arts District)
  • Tropicana Avenue (hotel casinos)
  • West Spring Mountain Road (Chinatown)
  • Sahara Avenue (hotel casinos)
  • Durango Drive (parks)
  • Paradise Road (museums, convention centers)

What is the ghost town between Las Vegas and Los Angeles? ›

Calico is an old West mining town that has been around since 1881. In it's heyday, with over 500 mines, Calico produced millions of dollars in silver ore.

What is the famous street in Old town Las Vegas? ›

Situated north of the Las Vegas Strip in Downtown Las Vegas, Fremont Street was the city's actual birthplace, famous for block after block of the city's most iconic neon signs and marquees adorning some of Las Vegas' first casinos, like Binion's Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget, the Pioneer Club, and many more.

What was the most famous route? ›

Route 66 has gained a reputation as the United States of America's most famous road.

What is the famous route? ›

Arguably the most famous route of all, Route 66 is known as the “Main Street of America” and the “Mother Road.” Established in 1926, this stretch of pavement has become a cultural institution, signifying the very freedom that comes with hitting the open road.

What is the most famous highway route? ›

It doesn't get any more famous than Route 66. The 'Historic' Route 66, constructed in 1926. “The Mother Road.” Chances are this famous highway is ringing some bells. Route 66 begins in Chicago and goes through SIX states (Santa Monica, California.

What is the most famous route in the world? ›

1. Most famous road. Linking Chicago and Los Angeles, Route 66, also known as the Main Street of America, has been immortalised in song and on screen and is certainly a candidate for the title of world's most famous road.

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