The Loneliest Road in America: Five stops along U.S. 50 in Nevada

Sand Mountain Recreation Area. Credit Sydney Martinez-TravelNevada.
Sand Mountain Recreation Area. Credit Sydney Martinez-TravelNevada.

Thirty years ago this month, Life magazine published its America the Wondrous issue, which referred to U.S 50 in Nevada as the Loneliest Road in America.

Readers were warned not to travel the 287-mile route unless they possessed survival skills.

Eureka Opera House in Eureka. Credit Romona Robbins.
Eureka Opera House in Eureka. Credit Romona Robbins.

It wasn’t exactly a rousing endorsement, but the state of Nevada, ever resourceful, developed a travel campaign around it. A Highway 50 Survival Guide was developed, and travelers could have it stamped at the handful of small communities along the route. Upon completion, visitors could send the guide to state Division of Tourism (TravelNevada) and get a congratulatory certificate from the governor.

Whether or not certificates are your thing, U.S. 50 is worth a look. Reno is a great place to start, as it’s an easy drive on Interstate 80 east to Alt. U.S 50, and then to Fallon and U.S. 50 proper. From there, it’s a nice, lonely and beautiful drive to Ely.

And here are five things to check out along the way:

Sand Mountain: Sand Mountain Recreation Area, 25 miles east of Fallon on U.S. 50, is a popular spot for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts. But even if you’re not an OHV van, it’s worth stopping here to check out the 600-foot-high sand dune. There’s pit toilets and interpretive signs explaining the area’s geology as well as its significance to local American Indian tribes.

Stokes Castle: This 19th century ruin in the small community of Austin (population 192, according to 2010 U.S. Census data) is a quick stop, and if you’re there around sunset, a great place from which to photograph the Reese River Valley to the west. Stokes Castle, built in 1897 by mine developer and railroad magnate Anson Phelps Stokes, is another photo op.
Note: If you’ve come from Reno, you’ve driven 173 miles. If you want to call it a day, there are a few places to overnight in Austin, including Union Street Lodging bed and breakfast and the Cozy Mountain Motel.

Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area: This campground about 25 miles east of Austin on U.S. 50 has examples of petroglyphs (ancient rock art). There’s a self-guided, half-mile hike that takes visitors past multiple petroglyph panels. You’ll also find pit toilets and picnic areas at Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area.

Eureka Opera House: This restored opera house is a gem along the Loneliest Road in America. Built in 1880, the Eureka Opera House originally was used for dances and concerts before becoming the Eureka Theater (and showing movies) in the early 20th Today, it’s once again used for concerts and meetings, and is generally open during the day for those who want to check it out.
Note: If you’ve come from Reno, you’ve driven 243 miles. If you want to call it a day, there are a few places to overnight in Eureka (population 610, according to 2010 U.S. Census data), including the Eureka Gold Country Inn.

Nevada Northern Railway and East Ely Railroad Depot Museum:  In the early 20th century, the Nevada Northern hauled ore from the copper mines near Ely (population 4,134 according to 2015 U.S. Census data). Today, the Nevada Northern is an excursion steam train offering 90-minute rides. Train buffs also will want to check out the adjacent East Ely Railroad Depot Museum.
Note: If you’ve come from Reno, you’ve driven 320 miles. There are plenty of places to stay in Ely, including the historical Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall.

Stokes Castle in Austin_Credit Romona Robbins
Stokes Castle in Austin. Credit Romona Robbins.
Chris Moran
About Chris Moran 218 Articles
Chris Moran has lived in Reno since 1996, and currently works at the Nevada Division of Tourism as a public relations specialist. She is a former editor and writer at the Reno Gazette-Journal, and has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley. Her hobbies include skiing, hiking, reading, photography, coffee and coffeehouses, and exploring Nevada. Check out her blog at www.ChrisinNevada.wordpress.com.

4 Comments

  1. Why start in Reno when you can start on highway 50 in Carson City? Hwy 50 is much better than the interstate.
    GT, Dayton,NV

    • Hey Gerry! Good question – and Carson City is a good place to start the Highway 50 route on the western end. My column reflects my bias: I am a Reno resident, so I usually start my trips from there. That said, Highway 50 does run through Carson City (about 32 miles south of Reno on U.S. 395/Interstate 580), which makes it an excellent – some would say superior! — starting point for a Highway 50 road trip.

  2. Having made this drive several times I’d love to hear about the cyclists who have crossed over and back, with support, where they stayed and their mental journey on The Loneliest Road.

    • Hi Michelle! So glad to hear that you have driven the Loneliest Road! I don’t have a lot of information about bicycling on the road, but one resource would be Pony Express Territory. That’s the organization of tourism, business and other entities along the route. The website is PonyExpressNevada.com. Also check the Bike the West website. This is a group that produces cycling events throughout the Nevada, but they may have information on bicycling the Loneliest Road. Details: BiketheWest.com.

Comments are closed.