Explore mountains, lakes, high desert, and hoodoos in this western state.
When most people think of Nevada, one of two things come to mind: either Las Vegas or desert landscapes. It's an understandable assessment; after all, most of the state's population is concentrated in the Las Vegas area, and much of the state is, indeed, rugged desert land. In fact, it’s the driest state in the union. That said, Nevada offers plenty more than casinos and barren expanses and is a fantastic place if you want to get out in nature without crowds. Here you’ll find massive mountain peaks, ancient rock formations, Wild West towns, oddball roadside attractions, and plenty of opportunities to commune with nature in near silence.
Nevada's northernmost stretch is characterized by Wild West nostalgia and quiet communities, many heavily influenced by the descendants of the Basque immigrants who settled the region in the 19th century. The western part is home to both the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and the Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man is held every year. Continue further east and you'll find yourself in the remote Ruby Mountains, an amazing place to hike, camp, and birdwatch.
This quiet swathe of Nevada has some of the best outdoor attractions in the state, from the Lehman Caves system in Great Basin National Park to the massive sand dunes appropriately known as Sand Mountain. If you really want to get a feel for the region, take a long drive down desolate Highway 50, which follows the old Pony Express route. Drive far enough west and you'll end up in Lake Tahoe, offering year-round recreation and easy access to the largest alpine lake on the continent.
Vast central Nevada offers a mix of quirky roadside attractions and rocky scenery. Cathedral Gorge State Park is particularly fantastic, with otherworldly caves, towering hoodoos, and more than its fair share of jackrabbits. Fans of the supernatural won't want to miss a trip along the so-called Extraterrestrial Highway, which passes Area 51 along with all sorts of UFO-themed oddities.
Although Las Vegas is southern Nevada's undisputed star, there's plenty to see and do in the region beyond Sin City, from immersing yourself in Wild West history at the Pioneer Saloon in Jean to learning about the history of hydroelectric energy at the massive Hoover Dam. If you want to take a hike, head to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, where you'll find over 30 miles of red sandstone-flanked trails.