I think it goes without saying that the Great Basin Highway offers the best of Nevada packed into one amazing road trip. This incredible route traverses U.S. Highway 93 from Las Vegas to Great Basin National Park and back again.
It offers ghost towns, mountain ranges, historic sites, wide-open spaces, and an incredible national park.
After several visits to Nevada, we can say without hesitation that this is one of our favorite road trips in the state. We spent 7 days uncovering the very best along this 355-mile route so that we could share this extensive itinerary with you!
If you’re looking for something fun that shows off some of the best natural wonders in eastern Nevada, then you’ve come to the right place.
Ultimate Great Basin Highway Itinerary
Table of Contents
Great Basin Highway Road Trip Map
HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of our highlights along the Great Basin Highway. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places we mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version.
Day 1 – Arrival in Las Vegas
Today you’ll start your trip by arriving in Las Vegas, picking up your rental car, and making your way to your hotel. You’ll want to plan your first night in Las Vegas, so you have some time to rest and prepare for your Great Basin Highway Adventure.
Las Vegas, of course, offers plenty of things to keep you entertained if you are looking for something to do, along with plenty of food and accommodation options.
We’ve been to this city more than a dozen times combined, and each time have done completely different things. You can read more about that and get some ideas of stuff to do by checking out these articles:
Downtown Foodie Tour
On this particular trip, we opted for an afternoon food tour with Lip Smacking Foodie Tours. The tour highlighted the new foodie scene that has sprung up in the original downtown area around Fremont Street.
All of the restaurants featured in the tour are both trendy and popular, meaning under normal circumstances you would experience a wait to get in.
By booking the food tour, we never waited outside, and our tasting platters came out as soon as we sat down. It was the perfect way to fight off the jet lag and begin acclimatizing to the heat of Nevada.
Seven Magic Mountains
Afterward, we hopped in the car and made our way south of the city to the area of Sloan to see the colorful art installation known as Seven Magic Mountains.
The installation sits in the desert with some gorgeous mountain and desert backdrops. The best time to visit is sunrise or sunset, as it can be super busy during the day.
Even if you’re not an art aficionado, you can appreciate the simplicity, color, and natural backdrop of this popular Las Vegas attraction. We certainly did!
Where to Stay: We stayed at The Strat and found the new renovations welcoming. The hotel offers free parking and easy access to the freeway without having to drive down the super busy Las Vegas Blvd.
Road Trip Tips – Before You Leave Las Vegas
As you’ll be in Las Vegas with your rental car, we highly recommend that you take some time to stock up on supplies and snacks.
Once you leave Las Vegas, your next opportunity for restaurants will be Moapa Valley and Caliente. Some of the state parks offer gas station-type food, but not all.
Be sure to bring a refillable water bottle with you. It is going to be hot and you’ll be able to refill at all the state parks. The more you can avoid plastic, the better. All of the water along the route is potable.
Lastly, make sure you have a full tank of gas. If you just picked up your car, you’ll be full, but if you’ve run around Las Vegas at all, we’d recommend topping up before you head off on the Great Basin Highway tomorrow.
Travel Nevada also offers a detailed page for the Great Basin Highway with additional tips for making the most of this amazing road trip route.
Day 2 – Las Vegas to Pioche
You’ll want to get up early and get on the road to beat the heat, and the crowds. The first stop on your itinerary today is the Valley of Fire State Park that opens at sunrise and is located around 45 minutes from Las Vegas.
This means you’ll want to be checked out and on the road by 6 or 7 am depending on the time of year. You have a long day ahead of you but trust us when we say it will be an epic one.
Valley of Fire State Park
- Distance from Las Vegas: 46 miles
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle (Be sure to ask the ranger for a park map)
The Valley of Fire State Park is not only the most popular state park in Nevada but also the oldest and largest. It is full of geological and historical wonders to explore, even offering some fantastic desert hiking trails.
- Take the scenic drive
- Stop at the viewpoints
- Hike to see ancient petroglyphs
- Fire Wave Hike
- White Dome Hike
You need time to see the best of this park, especially if you like to hike. We arrived at first light and didn’t leave until 1 pm. Truth be told, we still felt rushed. You could spend a whole day in this park and not see all of its wonders.
We’d recommend picking out a handful of things you want to see and then managing your time closely. You wouldn’t want to leave any later than 1 pm if you’re following our itinerary exactly. If you do, you’ll miss golden hour in a special place later in the day.
If you find yourself in the Valley of Fire around lunchtime and haven’t packed lunch from Las Vegas, then you can head to the visitor’s center. Here you’ll find a small selection of gas station-type sandwiches, chips, and drinks to choose from. There are also water refill stations and clean restrooms available.
Otherwise, you can get food in Caliente further up the road, home to a couple of small restaurants and no fast food.
Distance from Valley of Fire: 29 miles
Once you leave Valley of Fire State Park and start heading north, you’ll be taken through the Moapa Valley. If you’re sitting around 1 pm, you won’t have time to stop but if you’re earlier than that, we’d highly recommend a stop at the Lost City Museum.
This highly detailed museum offers an up-close look at many artifacts that were recovered from prehistoric archaeological sites in the area that were flooded when the Colorado River was dammed to form Lake Mead.
The entrance fee is $5 per person and hours are 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Distance from Moapa: 65 miles
Acting as a small hub to some of Nevada’s outdoor wonders, this place is as small-town as it gets. That said, you’ll find a couple of restaurants, a beautiful historic Union Pacific train depot, and a mountain bike skills course.
It’s a great place to stop, grab a bite, and stretch your legs for a few minutes before hopping over to Kershaw-Ryan State Park. The entrance to this park is right on the edge of town and easy to find.
If you wanted to stay here for the night, we’d recommend the Caliente Hot Springs Motel.
Where to Eat:
- Knotty Pine – served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. American classics.
- Side Track – pizza joint that also serves bread bowl soups, smoothies, and vegetarian options.
Kershaw-Ryan State Park
- Distance from Caliente: 3.5 miles
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle
After the sweltering desert heat and orange-hued landscapes of the Valley of Fire, you’ll be quite shocked to find that Kershaw-Ryan State Park is a lush, green oasis. We certainly were!
While it’s not a big park, offering only a couple of trails that lead you through the most scenic areas of the park, its location in the valley of a deep gorge makes it a worthwhile stop.
You could spend an hour here, if you have time, walking the two main trails that kind of loop into each other and dipping your toes in the wading pool to cool off. There’s also a neat koi pond near the parking lot with a small waterfall.
You’ll also find nice shaded parking, clean restrooms, and water refill stations here. There are no food options in the park.
- Canyon Overlook Loop Trail
- Rattlesnake Loop Trail
Cathedral Gorge State Park
- Distance from Kershaw-Ryan State Park: 19 miles
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle
Leaving Kershaw-Ryan, you’ll again continue north on Highway 93 with sights set on the spectacular Cathedral Gorge State Park. This park was easily one of the highlights of our trip, especially because we timed our visit for a golden hour sunset.
Here you’ll find spectacular clay-formed slot canyons that tower above you and reach for the sky. The entrances start wide, leading you into narrow spaces until you cannot go any further.
It’s a pretty amazing place to explore, especially if you are into photography.
The park also offers some longer hikes that will take you over the canyon part but know that you can also drive there once you’ve had your fill of exploring the canyons. You don’t want to miss this part of the park.
- Juniper Draw Loop Trail
- Cathedral Caves
- Canyon Caves
- Moon Caves
- C.C.C Water Tower
- Miller Point Overlook & Trail
The park also has some great camping options if you’re road tripping in an RV or van. The park charges $15 per night for dry camping and $25 per night for hookup camping. Sites are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Distance from Cathedral Gorge State Park: 8 miles
Nevada is known as the Silver State, and Pioche is where it all began when Francois L.A. Pioche struck silver on the surrounding hills. The town boomed over the years with many claims, pulling more than 5 million dollars worth of silver from the earth in the late 1800s.
With the mining success, though, came the hoards. With the hoards came the politics of old west mining towns, all of which led to Pioche becoming one of the most notoriously crime-ridden towns in the west.
Today Pioche is Nevada’s liveliest ghost town. It is full of history, as are any locals that you stop to chat with, making a visit here one of both visual and speculative wonder.
- Boot Hill Cemetery
- Million Dollar Courthouse
- Overland Saloon – one of the coolest wild west saloons we’ve ever visited!
- Silver Mining History
Where to Eat:
- Silver Café – an American diner-style café that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Gunslingers – offers subs, salads, and a coffee shop.
- Overland Saloon – serves frozen pizza and brats but has all the feel of an old west saloon. If you’re looking for atmosphere, you’ve come to the right place.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Overland Hotel in room 17.
Days 3/4 – Baker & Great Basin National Park
Distance from Pioche: 77 miles
Baker is a very small town that exists to support visitors to Great Basin National Park. You will not find many amenities here other than an inn, campground, a few food options (that run strange hours), and fuel pumps.
That said, it makes a fantastic base for exploring the national park, so we’d recommend staying there. Keep in mind though that rooms are limited, so make your bookings well in advance.
We enjoyed the very low-key vibe of the town and made quick work of visiting all of the small businesses that operate there. They seem to all honor a rotating schedule that spreads out business, so you’ll find that one place is open one day but not the next.
Also, worth noting is that there is no market or grocery store here. Currently, the only place to buy supplies is in the lobby of the Stargazer Inn. The supply is very limited and expensive, but they stock enough inventory to put together a sufficient picnic lunch for a day of hiking.
- Great Basin National Park
- Baker Archeological Site
- Dark Sky
Where to Eat:
- Sugar Salt & Malt – open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Kerouac’s – open for dinner and offers a full bar.
- Taco Truck – open for lunch and dinner, Thursday – Sunday.
- Burger Truck – open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Great Basin Café – open for breakfast and lunch.
- Border Café – open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Stargazer Inn and found that they offered clean, comfortable, and affordable accommodation with WIFI close to the national park.
Great Basin National Park
- Distance from Baker: 5 miles
- Hours: 24/7
- Entrance Fee: Free Admission
Congratulations! You’ve made it to one of the least visited national parks in the USA, Great Basin National Park. A park that features ancient bristlecone pine forests, alpine lakes, a cave system, mountain peaks, and mule deer all overlooking the Great Basin desert.
You’re now officially halfway on your Great Basin Highway road trip, and don’t forget to stop at the visitors center for a park stamp.
On this itinerary, we gave ourselves two days to explore this park. As you’ll be coming from Pioche on the first day, you’ll likely arrive by 10 am or so, which is perfect because it gives you time to pick up a park map and take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive through the park and get your bearings.
After the drive, head down to the Lehman Caves visitor center, also the location of the Great Basin Café, and have lunch. This will put your timing just about perfect to take the 3 pm National Park Service guided cave tour.
The Lehman Caves, named for their discoverer Absalom Lehman, are one of the main attractions for the park and the park service offers daily guided tours that require reservations.
They sell out and are in high demand. We highly recommend that you book your cave tour tickets as far in advance as possible. You can do this on recreation.gov. The tours last 60 minutes and cost $12 per person.
Hiking in the National Park
For your full day in the park, even if you’re not a hiker, we recommend that you at least hike the Bristlecone Pine Trail. This is a 2.8-mile out-and-back trail, totaling 5.4 miles, that gets you up close and personal with the most famous residents of the park – ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees.
The hike introduces you to several trees, a few of them more than 3,000 years old! It also weaves through various levels of alpine vegetation offering a look at the beauty and uniqueness of this national park.
You can also combine this hike with the Alpine Lake Loop and the Glacier Trail to put in a full day of hiking. We did this and felt it was the best way to see this area of the park. We packed a picnic lunch, some snacks, plenty of water, our layers and spent all day hiking.
Alternatively, you could do the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail – which is an all-day hike and the most strenuous trail in the park. It is not possible to do both in one day. If you want to do all the trails, plan to add another day to your itinerary.
Lastly, be sure to head into the park after dark and do some stargazing at least once during your visit. Great Basin National Park is one of the last truly dark sky areas in the country and the views are insane!
The national park service also runs stargazing tours – be sure to check the schedule before you go.
- Lehman Caves
- Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
- Bristlecone Trail
- Alpine Lake Trail
- Glacier Trail
- Wheeler Peak Summit Trail – takes you to the highest point in the park
Where to Stay: You can either stay in Baker, as mentioned above, or you can camp within the national park. These are the best options. Alternatively, if you’re unable to secure a reservation at either of those, you could stay at the Border Inn that is a 15-minute drive from the park entrance.
Day 5 – Baker to Ely
You’ll want to get an early start today so that you have time to see some of the sights in Ely when you arrive later in the day. That said, be sure to eat breakfast in Baker before you leave as there are no options along the route to Ely.
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park
- Distance from Baker: 55 miles
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle
Have you ever seen a photo of those beehive-shaped brick structures and wondered what they were all about? I know we have! Turns out, they were used for creating charcoal back in the silver mining days.
The Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park is a convenient stop along the Great Basin Highway and a place that lets you get up close to these strange structures.
The ones that exist at this park were used from 1876 to 1879 and are in beautifully preserved condition. They even still smell like resin from the trees that were burned in them.
When they ceased being used for mining, they were abandoned, leaving them open to cattlemen and stagecoach bandits seeking refuge from the harsh conditions.
Cave Lake State Park
- Distance from Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park: 19 miles
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle
If you’re still looking for a bit of quiet nature before arriving in Ely, then be sure to plan a short stop off at Cave Lake State Park.
Here you can find a beautiful lake, nice beach, mountain biking trails, and hiking trails. The park also offers camping options for tent and RV, in addition to yurt rentals.
We enjoyed our stop at this park as the drive to the lake is scenic and lush with vegetation. If you’re not hiked out from Great Basin, we’d recommend exploring one of the hiking trails to stretch your legs before heading to Ely.
- Steptoe Creek Trail
- Cave Springs Trail
- Cave Overlook Trail
- Twisted Pines Trail
Distance from Cave Lake State Park: 15 miles
After spending most of our time in small towns along the Great Basin Highway, Ely felt huge to us.
Here you’ll find plenty of hotel accommodations, attractions, grocery stores, fast food, and restaurants. Ely is also where the Great Basin highway overlaps the Loneliest Road in America.
We arrived around noon and had no trouble filling the rest of our day exploring the town.
If you can only pick and choose a couple of things, definitely do not miss the White Pine Public Museum – where you can see the remains of an ice age cave bear – the East Ely Railroad Depot and Nevada Northern Railway Museums, and the Ely Mural Walk.
- Ely Mural Walk
- White Pine Public Museum
- East Ely Railroad Depot and Nevada Northern Railway Museums
- Renaissance Village
- Garnet Hill
Where to Eat:
- Cellblock Steakhouse – excellent steaks served in historic jail cells. We had so much fun here and recommend that you make reservations as seating is limited.
- Economy Drug – this is an old-fashioned soda shop serving up sandwiches and retro charm.
- Margarita’s – a tasty Mexican restaurant located within the Prospector Hotel.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the historic Hotel Nevada in the historic downtown area. The rooms in the hotel feature prominent old west film stars, which adds character. They also include a free breakfast at the attached Denny’s and two free drink vouchers for the casino bar.
Day 6 – Ely to Las Vegas
You’re going to wake up in Ely, which means you can enjoy a nice breakfast. You’ll also have time to explore any of the sights you missed the day before.
From Ely, you have two options for returning to Las Vegas to complete your road trip on the Great Basin Highway.
You can basically head straight back on Highway 93, stopping off at whatever interests you along the way or you can deviate a bit and add the entertaining ET Highway.
Alternatively, you could also head to Salt Lake City, making the route one way.
Nevada’s ET Highway
We simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore the Extraterrestrial Highway on our return to Las Vegas from Ely. Of course, you can do it one of two ways.
The easiest is to head directly south from Ely towards Alamo. You’ll follow Highway 93 until it intersects with the east end of the ET Highway.
Turning onto the ET Highway, you’ll be able to visit the Alien Research Center, see some cool Area 51 signage, and also stop at ET Fresh Jerky. There should also be an official Extraterrestrial Highway Sign on the side of the road, but when we visited it wasn’t there. I guess people like to steal them!
We opted for the second option, which was to deviate a bit to the west from Ely so that we could drive the entire route from start to finish.
In doing this we were able to see the official sign at the start of the road. We also stopped in Rachel, Nevada – home to Alienstock – cruised along the edge of Area 51, and stopped at the Black Mailbox, in addition to the other stops that I mentioned above.
It’s a fun route that is super easy to add onto Nevada’s Great Basin Highway, so we definitely recommend it if you’re into alien stuff on any level. Skeptics and believers alike.
- ET Highway Sign
- Rachel, Nevada
- Black Mailbox
- Alien Research Center
- ET Fresh Jerky
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Distance from Ely: 156 miles
If exploring the ET Highway isn’t your thing, you could opt to spend some time at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll find entrances to it along the way as you head south from Ely to Las Vegas.
This refuge is a natural wetland, one of few in southern Nevada, and acts as a refuge for migratory birds. As such, it’s a lovely place to stop for a picnic as you traverse the Great Basin Highway.
Distance from Ely: 244 miles
If you had some fun along the ET Highway or left Ely later in the day, then you’ll likely be rolling into Las Vegas sometime in the late afternoon. This leaves time for you to check into your hotel, maybe do something cool, and have some dinner.
We opted to visit the Neon Museum, located in the downtown area because we’ve never done it before. It’s basically a cool graveyard of historical neon signs that were part of shaping what Las Vegas is today.
There is a ton of nostalgia and history to be had here, so we’d definitely recommend it. Keep in mind, though, that this is an outdoor museum.
Where to stay: On our last night in Nevada, we stayed at the shiny new Circa Resort & Casino in the Fremont District and we loved it! The rooms are super nice, they have great security, the hotel is directly connected to the Fremont Street Experience, offers cheap valet parking, and is within walking distance of many great food options. It’s easily our new favorite place to stay in the city.
Day 7 – Las Vegas Departure Day
Depending on when your flight departs Las Vegas, you may be able to keep the fun going. We live in the Midwest, so that means a red-eye flight for us and the opportunity to spend another day on vacation.
Area 15 & Omega Mart
To fill our day, we opted to check out the new Area 15. This included buying tickets to the Omega Mart experience by Meow Wolf and it was crazy cool. I’ll admit, it took us a while to figure it out. We just didn’t get it at first, but once we did it was a blast.
It’s basically an interactive and immersive art experience with strange tangible items and lots of neon lighting. There are storylines that you can choose to follow and participate in or you can just wander around and enjoy the art.
Either way, it’s an entertaining way to spend a few hours (we spent 3!).
Area 15 also offers a number of other 3D and virtual reality experiences, but honestly, the Omega Mart was far superior to those. We also had lunch at The Beast – offering a smokehouse-themed menu – and it was fantastic.
Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area
In the afternoon we revisited Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, which is just on the outskirts of Las Vegas (you can’t really keep us out of the outdoors for too long), where we hiked a few trails while we waited for our flight.
This story was made possible in partnership with Travel Nevada and their partners. However, our recommendations, experiences, opinions, and advice are 100% ours, as always.
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