Driving US Route 50: The Loneliest Road Trip

The stark landscape along US Route 50 is the origin of its famed solitude, but it has given rise to some of the best recreational activities Nevada has to offer. From hot springs to mountain-biking trails to sand drifts just begging for a dune buggy ride, the Loneliest Road in America is the perfect route for outdoor enthusiasts.

Nevada US 50 leads into a mountainous landscape
US 50 is also known as the Loneliest Road in America. Photo © Neillockhart/Dreamstime.

Day 1: Carson City and Lahontan State Recreation Area

91 Miles / 2 Hours
If you’re based in Reno, slide down to Carson City on I-580 and share the antipasti plate and crab and tomato salad at Café at Adele’s, a candidate for best restaurant in the state. Although it’s not the typical tourist attraction, tours of the old Nevada State Prison encompass the world’s first gas chamber and the most brutal solitary-confinement cell in the country. After a visit, you’ll want to shake the feeling of confinement with an exhilarating flight over lake, ridges, or treetops in Hang Gliding Tahoe’s motorized ultralight aircraft.

Recover from the rush by communing with wild horses, foxes, herons, and Nevada’s only nesting bald eagles at Lahontan State Recreation Area, a little over halfway on the 90-mile drive to Fallon. For dinner, order soup and egg rolls at Vn Pho in Fallon.

Day 2: Hidden Cave and Sand Mountain

125 Miles / 2 Hours
Start your day in Fallon at the Churchill County Museum, checking out the re-creations of frontier dwellings and a Native American tule shelter. At the museum, get directions to Hidden Cave, where generations of local indigenous people stored tools, weapons, and food. Hike a mile from the caves to Grimes Point, containing fine examples of Native American petroglyphs.

Continue east on US 50 to spend the rest of the day at Sand Mountain. Wax up your sandboard and hurtle down 500-foot inclines, dodging OHVs along the way. If the ATVs and motorcycles don’t drown them out, listen for the whistling moans of the “singing sand” as the wind blows through the grains.

Stop at Cold Springs Station for comfort food and a Pony Express history lesson, then cruise the final 50 miles to bunk down at Union Street Lodging in Austin.

ATVs in the distance on Sand Mountain
Enjoy a day on the sand at Sand Mountain. Photo © Natalia Bratslavsky/Dreamstime.

Day 3: The Toiyabe Range and Spencer Hot Springs

136 Miles / 3.5 Hours
After loading up on coffee and carbs at Union Street’s complimentary breakfast, break out the mountain bikes and pedal some of the varied trails scattered throughout the Toiyabe Range. Castle Loop, a 4.5-mile ride, is a moderate place to start. (More seasoned cyclists may want to take the time to test their mettle on the steep climbs of the 27.5-mile Gold Venture Loop.)

Morning exercise out of the way, take the scenic drive south along NV 21, flanked by the Toiyabe and Shoshone Ranges. It takes nearly two hours to cover the 50 miles to Ione Pass through the southern Shoshones, but your destination, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, is at the end of the pass. Spend a few hours strolling among the well-preserved mining town relics and check out the ichthyosaur fossil beds and interpretive displays that describe the life and times of the ancient marine lizard that once plied the seas covering Nevada.

Take the easier route back through Austin via NV 844, NV 361, and US 50. Your bike-addled bones and muscles will thank you for continuing the 20 miles southeast to Spencer Hot Springs, one of the most visitor-friendly hot springs in Nevada.

From Austin, you can retrace your route back to Reno or continue eastward to Great Basin National Park. Better yet, jump on NV 305 north for 95 miles (1 hour 25 minutes) and take I-80 back to Reno through Winnemucca and Lovelock.

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