From rugged desert landscapes to pristine alpine lakes, Nevada’s scenery has captivated many travelers, photographers, and outdoor adventurers.
In this guide to the best scenic drives in Nevada, we break down what makes each of these routes special and some tips for what to see and do along the way. Buckle up for a wild west trip you won’t soon forget!
1. Nevada Scenic Drives: Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop
- Distance: 13 miles
- Time needed: 1 hour or more if you stop
Located in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, this drive may be short in distance, but there isn’t an inch of it that doesn’t have a stunning view. It’s a well-maintained one-way road and a popular drive, so be prepared to go slowly and be courteous of other travelers.
Stop at the Visitor Center at the entrance of the loop to learn a bit more about the region’s fascinating geology. If you want to explore the area on foot instead of just from your vehicle, you can pick up maps of various trails. Calico Tanks Trail is a popular, easy trail through the Calico Hills, or more experienced hikers might want to opt for the challenging Turtlehead Peak Trail.
Along the drive, you can stop at one of the numerous pull-out areas to appreciate the overlooks, take photographs, or have a picnic meal at one of the designated picnic areas.
When to go: April-May or September-October are the best months since you can avoid the high temperatures of summer.
2. Nevada Scenic Drives: Valley of Fire Road
- Distance: 11 miles
- Time needed: 30 minutes or more, depending on stops
Valley of Fire is the oldest state park in Nevada and one of the most popular parks to visit. As you might guess, the park gets its name from the brilliant red sandstone, which can appear firelit, especially when the sun hits the rocks.
For this reason, it’s also one of the most photographed places in the state, so be prepared to pack your camera to capture the stunning Nevada scenery!
This is a great scenic drive near Las Vegas since it’s less than an hour away from the city. Even though it’s not far away, you’ll feel worlds away from the busy downtown and bright lights of Vegas in the sandstone canyons.
Although the entire drive is beautiful, there are some notable points of interest, like Atlatl Rock, an iconic rock formation that also has some petroglyphs you can get out to view up close.
Rainbow Vista is another main attraction of the drive. There’s an overlook where you can park to get out and appreciate the multi-colored sandstone formations. If you want to hike, the Rainbow Vista Trail is a good, family-friendly hike that takes you away from the road for even better views of the landscape.
When to go: Spring and fall are best, especially if you want to hike since summer temperatures can make exploring difficult. If you do drive in summer, make sure you have good AC!
3. Nevada Scenic Drives: Great Basin Highway
- Distance: 510 miles for the entire route
- Time Needed: 1 day or more
Often referred to as U.S. Route 93, this is one of the best scenic drives in Nevada if you’re traveling north or south through the state. The entire drive spans the length of eastern Nevada, connecting the Las Vegas area to Great Basin National Park.
Although the whole drive is beautiful and full of stunning desert views and mountain landscapes, the region in and around Great Basin National Park itself is considered to have the best Nevada scenery.
Close to the Utah border, the Great Basin is characterized by its undeveloped landscape, craggy mountain peaks, and expansive desert views. Wheeler Peak is the crowning mountain of the park, standing at 13,063 feet tall. Around the peak, there are lots of great hiking opportunities, including easier, family-friendly trails as well as difficult routes for expert hikers.
This is also one of the best drives in Nevada for wildlife viewing, including animals like elk, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and coyotes.
There are many places to camp in the park and a few nearby lodges if you’d rather not stay in a tent.
When to go: May through September are considered the best months to visit Great Basin National Park. The park remains open in winter, but there are limited accommodation options. Route 93 is open year-round and is good to drive for any Nevada road trip.
4. Nevada Scenic Drives: Extraterrestrial Highway
- Distance: 98 miles
- Time Needed: 2 hours without stops
One of the more unique scenic drives in Nevada, the Extraterrestrial Highway, goes close to the famous Area 51 and its top-secret military operations, which have become the fuel for numerous conspiracy theories, many of which feature UFOs and aliens.
A lot of the local towns along the way have taken their proximity to Area 51 in stride. In the town of Rachel, you’ll find a lot of UFO-themed stores and restaurants, such as the famous Little A’Le’Inn restaurant and motel. Even if you don’t want to spend a night, you can still check out what events and alien-related activities might be hosted during your drive.
Kids will enjoy visiting the Alien Research Center, which is really more of a gift shop and an iconic landmark of the route. Be sure to get photos in front of the legendary ET road sign, then pick up a fun trinket at the gift shop, which features hats, mugs, games, toys, and tons of other cool gadgets related to aliens.
Beyond the quirky attractions of the drive, the Extraterrestrial Highway is also one of the best Nevada highways to appreciate the desert scenery. Thanks to the large stretches of road between towns, it’s also known for its beautiful starry night skies. Who knows, you might even spot something that’s not a star….
When to go: Any time of year is good for this scenic byway in Nevada. Always double-check your gas tank when you’re in towns since there are often long distances between stops.
5. Nevada Scenic Drives: Lake Tahoe Loop
- Distance: 72 miles total
- Time Needed: 2 or more hours
The entire Lake Tahoe Loop is half in Nevada and half in California. If you’re on a road trip in Nevada, it’s a great drive to include if you’re already planning on heading onwards to northern California.
Although the views from the lake’s road and surrounding mountains are already beautiful, it’s worth setting aside enough time to make a few stops or even spend a night or two.
On the Nevada side, Sand Harbor is one of the popular places to visit. There are excellent sandy beaches, so you can swim in the turquoise alpine waters (be warned, it is cold!), or rent a boat for a paddle. There are also picnic areas, so it’s a perfect place to stop for lunch before continuing the drive.
If you’re interested in outdoor activities, Lake Tahoe will not disappoint you. During the summer, in addition to the lake activities like paddleboarding and swimming, you can go hiking or take horseback riding tours in the mountains. In the winter, Lake Tahoe is a popular ski destination with great resorts in Incline Village near the north end of the lake.
When to go: Any time of year is good in terms of scenery, but certain seasons are better for various outdoor activities. Make sure you have reservations in advance around Lake Tahoe year-round since accommodation fills up fast!
6. Nevada Scenic Drives: Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway
- Distance: About 12 miles
- Time Needed: At least 30 minutes, but longer for stops and hiking
One of the best scenic byways in northern Nevada, the Lamoille Canyon Drive is listed as one of the National Forest Scenic Byways in the United States. This area of the Ruby Mountains is considered to have some of the most beautiful scenery in Nevada.
Photographers love the region thanks to the combination of craggy snowy mountain peaks, red rock formations (thus the name Ruby Mountains), waterfalls, and alpine lakes. The drive is stunning, but to really appreciate the area, going for a hike (or at least stopping for a picnic) is a good idea.
Lamoille Canyon itself is the prime attraction of the drive. Some of the top hiking trails include the Lamoille Lake Trail and the Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail. The Lamoille Lake Trail is a good option for families with kids who might not be up to a longer trek but still want to get out to explore the Ruby Mountains.
When to go: This drive is typically open between May and October, but exact opening times may vary depending on weather conditions.
7. Nevada Scenic Drives: America’s Loneliest Road
- Distance: About 300 miles in Nevada
- Time Needed: 3 hours or more
The portion of U.S. Route 50 through Nevada has become known as “America’s Loneliest Road” thanks to the vast expanse of rugged desert scenery that characterizes this area.
Although there isn’t as much variation as other Nevada scenic drives, the rough and wild landscape is still captivating. In the distance, the mountain ranges loom, while beside the car, the wide-open desert has an other-worldly feel.
Keep in mind that “America’s Loneliest Road” gets its name for a reason: there are often very long stretches of highway without any restaurants or service stops. Take advantage of the little towns along the way to fuel up your car, grab a bite to eat, and maybe pick up a Wild West souvenir for your road trip in Nevada.
When to go: Any time of year is good for this drive.
More Tips More Road Tripping in Nevada
Before you set off on your road trip through Nevada, here are a few things to bear in mind:
- The Nevada desert can be unbearably hot in the middle of the desert; the last thing you want to do is break down in the middle of nowhere. We strongly suggest you read our desert driving tips article before you hit the road, especially in the hottest months, June to August.
- Never forget an important road-tripping item again! Download our printable PDF checklist to tick off items as you pack for your next family road trip.
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