Nevada's Back Country Byways

March 27, 2012, 6:36 am

California Trail Back Country Byway

The byway begins 25 miles north of Wells off Hwy 93 and traverses 96 miles of gravel roads in extreme northeastern Elko County. More than 40 miles of the route from the Winecup Ranch to Little Goose Creek parallels the California National Historic Trail. Trail ruts are still visible in many locations. Trail markers along the route allow visitors an opportunity to walk the same path blazed by nearly 250,000 emigrants 150 years ago. An information kiosk four miles into the byway near the Winecup Ranch provides insight into the history of the area.

Contact: Elko Field Office, 775-753-0200
3900 E. Idaho Street, Elko, NV 89801

Lovelock Cave Back Country Byway

The 20-mile byway begins at the Marzen House Museum in Lovelock. The museum holds fascinating artifacts from Lovelock Cave and Lovelock’s past. Pick up a self-guided tour book and children’s activity book at the information kiosk. Follow the byway signs through town to Lovelock’s round courthouse, the Central Pacific Railroad station and Lovelock’s historic Chinatown. Continue south through irrigated fields frequented by wild birds. Cross the Humboldt River. The road changes to dirt and the landscape becomes more primitive. The byway passes through the lakebed of ancient Lake Lahontan, paralleling traces of the California Trail on the way to Lovelock Cave, the cradle of Great Basin archaeology. Lovelock Cave yielded thousands of artifacts, including the world’s oldest duck decoys. At the cave there are interpretive signs, a self-guided nature trail hike, bathrooms and picnic facilities.

Contact: Winnemucca Field Office, 775-623-1500
5100 E. Winnemucca Blvd, Winnemucca, NV 89445

Fort Churchill to Wellington Back Country Byway

The byway begins at Fort Churchill, 35 miles east of Carson City. Fort Churchill was established in 1860 to protect the Pony Express mail line. In 1957, the fort became part of the Nevada State Park system. Leaving the fort, head west on Nevada State Highway 2B for 21 miles along the tree-lined Carson River to Dayton. The road follows the route of the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Turn south at Dayton and travel 29 miles through the rugged Pine Nut Mountains, climbing steeply above Eldorado Canyon and passing through the Como Mining District, and dropping down to Wellington on Hwy 208. Roads can be rough and muddy. Four-wheel drive is recommended on the Dayton to Wellington section.

Contact: Carson City Field Office, 775-885-6000
5665 Morgan Mill Road, Carson City, NV 89701

Mount Wilson Back Country Byway

The byway begins on State Road 322 at Pioche, or off Hwy 93 at the Pony Springs Rest Area, about 22 miles north of Pioche. The byway traverses 66 miles of mostly gravel roads. The route winds through an ancient volcanic caldera now forested in piñon and juniper at the lower elevations and with aspen, mountain mahogany and ponderosa pine at the higher elevations. Spectacular scenery, rich settlement history and water-based recreation opportunities make this byway an ideal adventure destination. The historic mining town of Pioche provides many services. High-clearance vehicles are recommended for travel on the northern half of the byway. Access is extremely limited during the winter. Route signing is minimal so please obtain a route map from the BLM.

Contact: Ely Field Office, 775-289-1800
702 N. Industrial Way, HC33 Box 33500, Ely NV 89301

Bitter Springs Trail Back Country Byway

The 28-mile long byway begins two miles east of I-15 at the Valley of Fire State Park exit. The route runs along the foothills of the Muddy Mountains, through several dry washes, past abandoned mining operations and terminates on North Shore Drive in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Verdant desert streams, evidence of borax mining operations and geologic formations rare for this region of Nevada delight byway travelers. A high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle with narrow wheel base is recommended.

Contact: Las Vegas Field Office, 702-515-5000
4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89130

Gold Butte Back Country Byway

The byway begins about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. Exit I-15 at Riverside Drive, about seven miles south of Mesquite. Head east and turn right after crossing the Virgin River bridge. The 62-mile scenic trip offers opportunities to see desert wildlife, awesome red and white sandstone, sinkholes, petroglyphs, the Muddy Mountains and Lake Mead. The historic mining town of Gold Butte, established in 1908, is along the route. The primary extractions from Gold Butte are copper, gold, lead and zinc. The last 19 miles of the byway should only be traveled by high-clearance vehicle.

Contact: Las Vegas Field Office, 702-515-5000
4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89130

Red Rock Canyon Back Country Byway

The byway is the Scenic Loop Drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, off State Route 159. The one-way scenic drive is completely paved and features self-guided trails, picnic areas and vista pullouts. Stop by the visitor center for information about the area. A fee of $5 per vehicle is collected at the entrance to the Scenic Loop Drive. All of the money collected remains at the site for improvements.

Contact: Las Vegas Field Office, 702-515-5000
4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89130

Lunar Crater Back Country Byway

The byway begins and ends 75 miles east of Tonopah on Hwy 6. This area contains numerous volcanic features. Byway travelers will be able to explore cinder cones, maars and basalt flows similar to features found on the moon. The first distinctive geologic feature travelers see is Easy Chair Crater. Continuing along the route are sculptured rock formations which lead to Lunar Crater. Lunar Crater was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973. From the crater’s rim visitors can see 20 extinct volcanoes in the nearby hills. High-clearance vehicles are strongly recommended on this unpaved, 24-mile long dirt road.

Contact: Battle Mountain Field Office, 775-635-4000
50 Bastian Road, Battle Mountain, NV 89820

Source:, 2006.