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EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ROAD TRIPPING THE USA'S STUNNING HIGHWAY 50 AKA THE LONELIEST HIGHWAY IN NEVADA, INCLUDING THE TOP 8 THINGS TO SEE ALONG THE WAY.
If you are anything like us, you have probably looked at a map of the Western part of the United States and focused in on states like Colorado, Utah, and California. You scan it over and just barely glance at the state in between: Nevada.
For years we never gave the “Silver State” a second thought. It was the state that you drove through, not a state you stopped and did things in. To us it seemed empty, arid, cracked and dismal. It seemed there was nothing there to actually see.
But that is completely and utterly wrong.
We have now seen the error of our ways and cannot wait to spend more time exploring this beautiful state. Now, don’t get us wrong, Nevada is still empty - there is no denying that - but that, in truth, is part of its appeal. In fact, the state is so empty that it has had one of its major highways - Highway 50 - nicknamed the Loneliest Highway in America.
Highway 50 - better known as the Loneliest Highway - stretches from Fallon, Nevada (near the much bigger city of Reno) all the way across the state to Delta, Utah. Along the way, the road twists and turns over mountain ranges, next to various ghost towns, through historic mining communities and stunning state parks (home to many fun recreational opportunities). If you are looking for a road trip that combines nature and history, but you don't want to deal with crowds, then driving the Loneliest Highway might be a great way to spend a couple of days.
💬 INSIDER TIP: we decided to drive the Loneliest Highway west to east (we started in Reno and ended in Delta) but you can very easily go the opposite direction. Just note that the stops below and the directions to each will need to be reversed.
LONELIEST HIGHWAY | BY THE NUMBERS
472 miles | the distance from Reno, Nevada to Delta, Utah, this is considered the main route of the Loneliest Highway.
7.5 hours | the average time it takes to drive from Reno to Delta, though this does not include any stops along the way.
3.14 million | the total population of the entire state of Nevada, over one-sixth of that lives in the city of Las Vegas.
300+ | the number of mountain ranges in the state, which surprisingly, is the most mountainous state in the USA (you will drive over many of these mountain ranges along the Loneliest Highway).
WHAT IS THE LONELIEST HIGHWAY?
While Life magazine was the first publication to give the highway the nickname “ the Loneliest Highway in America” back in 1986, it was the Nevada Commission on Tourism that really made it stick (check out their website here).
This was largely due to their numerous marketing campaigns that included such things as creating a Highway 50 Survival Guide as well as large highway roadside signs that remind you mile after mile that you are out there entirely alone. Heck, you can even receive a certificate, signed by the governor of Nevada, if you complete the entire driving route.
Thanks to all of that, what began as a fun moniker in the 80s has now become a well-known slogan for a road that stretches just over 400 miles across the entire state of Nevada.
\\ The Best Time to Drive the Loneliest Highway
The shoulder seasons are always a good time to visit this area of the USA. In the spring, you will have a great chance of seeing everything in bloom - including wildflowers in Great Basin National Park. Whereas during the fall, you will get to see the trees change color, especially the aspen groves that can be found throughout the entire region.
We actually drove the Loneliest Highway in the winter, and while everything was open and there wasn't too much snow around (this was the end of December), it was definitely very (very) cold. If you aren't afraid to be a bit chilly on hikes or are totally prepared to bundle up, then this could also be a great time to drive the highway and explore the area.
\\ Where to Stay Along the Loneliest Highway
While you can do the whole drive from Reno or Carson City to Delta in one long day, we instead recommend splitting it up into at least 2 days. This allows you enough time to stop off at the many scenic places along the way - including 8 of the best destinations down below.
The main towns you can stay in along Highway 50 are Reno, Carson City (depending on where you are starting from), Austin and Ely. Below are some of the best places to stay in each town.
ATLANTIS CASINO RESORT SPA
Located in the southern part of the city of Reno, this casino/resort hotel has a wonderful pool, gym, ample parking and is well-located near many popular tourist attractions. It is also quite close to two major roads - Highway 580 and Highway 659 - both of which take you out to the start of the Loneliest Highway. Book a room here.
GRAND SIERRA RESORT AND CASINO
Another good option is this resort and casino, which like the hotel above, also offers a pool, gym, parking and access to a casino. This resort is actually the largest resort in all of northern Nevada, so if you want lots of options for things to do, then this might be the place to go. Book a room here.
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES
While it might not have the pizzazz as some of the resorts in nearby Reno, this simple hotel in Carson City checks all of the boxes - plus it comes with free breakfast. Book a room here.
There are really only a few options when it comes to staying in Austin, Nevada - luckily, the options are pretty cute and definitely funky. We personally stayed at the Pony Canyon Motel and have nothing bad to say about it. The other options are Cozy Mountain Motel and Union Street Lodging (this is actually a very cute Bed and Breakfast).
When booking a night in Austin, expect to either do it over the phone (at least for the Pony Canyon Motel and the Union Street Lodging BnB) or just show up in person.
PROSPECTOR HOTEL AND GAMBLING HALL
Keeping with the theme of hotels also being casinos or places where you can gamble, we bring you Prospector Hotel, located in the heart of Ely, Nevada. The hotel offers a nice pool, ample parking, a bar and of course, a casino. Book a room here.
Another option is to stay at this locally owned and run motel near the southern side of town. While this motel is quite basic, it does allow pets. Book a room here.
\\ What to Bring With You When Road Tripping the Loneliest Highway
Besides the obvious items - clothes, comfortable shoes to walk around in, etc. - a few other useful things you should remember to bring are...
| An extra gas can. This is more of a "just in case" thing, but something definitely worth considering since you then won't have to stress about the relatively long distances between gas stations. For example, it is 110 miles between the town of Fallon and Austin with no gas stations along the way. Similarly, between the town of Ely and Baker/the Utah border it is 65 miles and then from that gas station it is yet another 90 miles to the next gas station in Utah (near Delta).
| Plenty of snacks and water. Before heading out on the Loneliest Highway you will first want to make sure you stock up on ample amounts of food and water. Besides a few small restaurants, between the towns of Fallon and Delta (aka the entire stretch of the Loneliest Highway) there really are not very many food options available. We recommend stocking up in Reno or Carson City if coming from the west and the Salt Lake City area if coming from the east. Similarly, you will want plenty of water while driving, especially if you plan to do any walks along the way.
| A swimsuit and towel for the hot springs. The state of Nevada has roughly 300 hot springs dotted around its land, and many of those are within somewhat easy driving distance of Highway 50. We highly recommend stopping off, at the very least, at Spencer Hot Springs (read more below). While this hot spring is clothing optional, it is never a bad idea to come prepared with a swimsuit and towel - just in case.
THE TOP 8 DESTINATIONS ALONG THE LONELIEST HIGHWAY
To get to the Loneliest Highway you can either start in Carson City - the capital of Nevada - or head a bit further north and start in the town of Reno, aka "The Biggest Little City in the World." Either city will be one of the last remaining bastions of services before heading out onto the route, so make sure to stock up on all supplies (food, gas, coffee) before starting the drive east.
💬 INSIDER TIP: when we drove the Loneliest Highway, we chose to begin in Reno solely because we were coming from the west near Lake Tahoe. While Reno is a bit bigger than Carson City (the capital of Nevada), that quaint town also has all the amenities you could need.
1 | RENO
This city is a great jumping-off point for an exciting Nevada adventure because a) it will be the biggest city you go through until you reach either Salt Lake City, Utah or Las Vegas, Nevada, so make sure to stock up on anything you might need and b) it is relatively easy to reach and even has a good-sized airport nearby. Reno also has a couple of fun things on offer, including casinos, parks and of course, nearby Lake Tahoe.
From Reno head out on Highway 80 until you reach the town of Fernley. Now, there isn’t much of a town here ex