Camping In Nevada: An RVer’s Paradise Of Natural Wonders & Old West History
When people think of Nevada, Las Vegas comes to mind. Las Vegas is definitely an interesting place to visit with its huge casinos, extensive buffets, and Broadway productions, among other things to do there. However, that is not all the Silver State has to offer campers and RVers.
Traveling through Nevada, one can find unique forests, amazingly vast desert landscapes, large lakes, and historic towns. Whether you are simply passing through on a road trip or heading to Burning Man, Nevada has a little bit of wonder and adventure for everyone.
When is the best time to visit Nevada?
The weather in Nevada varies depending on what part of the state you are in. Southern Nevada has mild winters with scorching summers. The northern parts of the state enjoy a cooler summer, but with that comes colder winters.
Adding to the variable weather is 150 mountain ranges that include 1,787 named peaks. The changing elevations can result in drastic weather changes in a mere 40-minute drive. For example, many people escape the blistering heat of June in Las Vegas, with just a 35 to 40 minute drive up to Mt Charleston, where beautiful 80-degree camping weather awaits.
Because of the climate variance, it is possible to plan a trip to Nevada year-round if you have specific places in mind. If you want to visit the vast desert landscapes and hit famous places like Death Valley, you will want to plan to go to Nevada from October to late April when it’s cooler.
Driving your RV in Nevada
Nevada is a largely unpopulated state. You will not find the spiderweb of interconnected highways and byways sprawled out over every conceivable corner as you might find in some other states. Two interstate highways run north and south through the state, the U.S. 93 on the east side of the state and the U.S. 95 on the state’s west side.
Travelers will find several major roads traversing the state from east to west. The I-80 travels across the northern part of the state. The U.S. 50 cuts across the center. The U.S. 6/NV 375 winds across the lower third of the state, approximately 100 miles north of Las Vegas and meets up with the U.S. 93. The I-15 travels along the bottom tip of the state.
It may seem like the lack of roads would make the state inaccessible, but that is far from the case. There are numerous small towns, ghost towns, and an abundance of wide-open spaces to travel to off the main freeways. Much of the state is public land offering free camping too. This land is typically undeveloped and sometimes requires leaving the paved road. If you love boondocking, you will love Nevada.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, boondocking refers to camping out in the “boondocks” or away from civilization without hookups. Check out the following resource to learn more about what boondocking is and why you should try it.
On a cautionary note, Nevada is known for its hot summer weather and dry conditions. Some regions in the northern part of the state and higher up in elevation, such as the Lake Tahoe area, can have some hazardous winter road conditions.
For those who are camping in the southern part of the state between July and September, that is the peak flash flood season. Flash floods can be hazardous while driving and camping.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service offers the following advice about flash floods,
“Flash floods can happen quickly and during any time of year, particularly during the monsoons in summer. A rainstorm miles away can cause a flash flood through a storm-free area. Keep to higher ground and avoid hiking and camping in washes and canyons. Flash floods are misleading in their depth and speed – never attempt to drive through or otherwise enter flood waters!”
RVing in the Las Vegas Area
Known as the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas is a must-see while camping in Nevada. It isn’t difficult to find a place to park your RV. A quick look at Campground Reviews shows there are over 20 RV parks with full hookups in and around the city. There are also a lot of dispersed camping areas and BLM land nearby.
It is possible to find an RV park within walking distance to Las Vegas’s most famous high-rise casinos. If you want to stay a little ways away from all of the action, there are RV parks in the connected city of Henderson as well.
The best time to be in an RV in Las Vegas is from mid-October to about mid-May. The warmer part of the year reaches over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day on average, which may not be comfortable in an RV.
The Strip is a 4.2-mile stretch of Las Vegas Blvd. The flashy lights and giant casinos make it impossible to miss. The Strip is where you will find the big casinos, shows, world-class restaurants, shopping, art, and any other type of indulgence you can think of.
The Strip has so much to do and see that it would fill up several pages to list them all. There is an RV park located at the northern end of the 4.2-mile stretch of road, so it is possible to stay there and easily walk to many of the attractions there.
Fremont Street Experience
Fremont Street is the most famous street in Nevada besides the Strip. It still houses some of the most famous neon lights and old casinos featured in movies and television. The street itself is covered by millions of LED lights, creating the largest video screen in the world. It is 1,375 feet long and 90 feet wide.
Visit the historical casinos like Binions and the Four Queens. Listen to free local and famous bands playing from one of the several stages along the street. Check out Las Vegas’s past in organized crime at the Mob Museum.
If you aren’t afraid of heights, you can hop on the SlotZilla, an 11-story slot machine-inspired zip line that runs down the street. Don’t plan on driving down the street, though. Aside from cross streets that intersect it, the Fremont Street Experience is only open to pedestrian traffic.
Red Rock Canyon
Just a few miles west of the city is Red Rock Canyon. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area encompasses 195,819 acres within the Mojave Desert. Breathtaking red sandstone mountains and hills surround this beautiful desert landscape teeming with wildlife and Joshua tree thickets.
There is a 13-mile paved loop for those that want to take a drive around the park. The loop offers access to many day hikes, photography opportunities, and picnic areas. Other activities include biking, rock climbing, and off-road driving, which are available in the area.
There is one official campground near the visitor center. It is closed during the summer months due to heat. The campground does not offer any amenities like water, sewer, or electricity, so consider it dry camping. There are some boondocking opportunities in the area, such as anywhere along Lovell Canyon Rd, off Nevada State Rd 160.
Would you believe, just minutes away from the warm desert city of Las Vegas, there is a ski resort? Mt. Charleston rises to 11,916 feet and is one of Nevada’s highest peaks. On hot summer days, when the lower desert temperatures soar to 100+ degrees, many people flock to the 80+ degree temperature the high altitudes provide.
As one makes their way from the 2,000 ft elevation of Las Vegas to the towering height of 10,000+ feet of the mountain, they will see a rather swift landscape change. The desert shrubs and Joshua trees will transition to a spring-fed alpine landscape featuring many evergreen trees like the longest living tree known to exist, the bristlecone pine. Some are over 4,000 years old.
RVers can enjoy the many hiking trails and wildlife the ancient forest Mt. Charleston has to offer in the warmer months. In the winter, snow blankets the mountain allowing the ski resort to open for those who love to play in the snow.
Several campgrounds are scattered across the mountain, and RVers can access them by turning off the US-95 onto Nevada State Route 156 (Lee Canyon Rd) or Nevada State Route 157 (Kyle Canyon Rd). The campground sites vary in size, and only one of them, Fletcher View Campground, has electrical hookups.
Lake Mead Recreation Area
The Lake Mead Recreation Area encompasses more than just a large lake. It is 1.5 million acres and features mountains, canyons, valleys, and two lakes. Visitors to Lake Mead will want to take a tour of the hydroelectric dam that powers the neon lights of Vegas not too far away.
Built during the Great Depression, Hoover Dam was the largest hydroelectric installation in the world until 1949. It is still among the largest in the country. You can purchase tickets to take a tour inside the dam and view its gigantic turbines.
Among water sports, hiking, biking, and other activities, RVers will have no trouble finding places to camp—the area has at least 7 campgrounds with full hookups scattered throughout the recreation area.
For those looking to find free dispersed camping, you won’t be disappointed either. Well-established camping areas like Boxcar Cove are easily accessible to RVers. They are simple to find on RV trip planning tools like RV Trip Wizard and Campground Reviews.
Valley of Fire State Park
Just west of the northern tip of Lake Mead lies Valley of Fire State Park. The park gets its name from the fiery red sandstone cliffs in the area. There are numerous hiking trails. The trails wind through the cliffs and sport breathtaking sandstone features along with ancient, petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years.
The park offers two campgrounds with restrooms, dump stations, and water. There are a limited number of RV sites that have water and electricity at the site as well. RVers can access both campgrounds by taking the Valley of Fire Highway from either the I-15 from the east of the park or Northshore Rd from the west.
Read more about Valley of Fire State Park in this Do It Yourself RV article.
Camping in Nevada ghost towns along US-95
Due to the gold and silver mining booms throughout the state, Nevada has many ghost towns. These towns have become a mixture of historical ruins and lived in villages. All of them are filled with old west history.
Many of these mining towns would spring up almost overnight, only to be abandoned when the gold or silver ore ran out. These historical sites are spread throughout the state. If you are traveling from Las Vegas to Reno or vice versa, you can hit some of the more famous ones along the way. Starting with the south and moving north, the following is an example of a ghost town and Nevada mining history trip all the way to Carson City.
Entering Nevada from California on the I-15, you will quickly come to the turn for Goodsprings. Goodsprings became a booming mining town in the early 1900s. It boasted a general store, a saloon, and more. Many old buildings still stand, including the Pioneer Saloon, which is still serving drinks and is the oldest saloon in Nevada.
Visitors can get a drink or a bite to eat in the bar built out of pressed tin from a Sears Roebuck and Co. kit. While there, travelers can spot a couple of bullet holes in the wall along with a coroner’s report detailing how the bullet holes got there. You can even enjoy taking a ghost hunt tour of the town at night.
Although there are no official RV parks directly near Goodsprings, the nearby Jean Roach Dry Lake is BLM land and offers dispersed camping. You have to turn off the paved road to get to one of the many spots located there, but most of them can be found right off the dirt road.
Beatty and Rhyolite Ghost Town
Heading up the I-95 towards Reno, you will come across the town of Beatty, Nevada. Beatty is a great place to stay a little while. It has a few RV parks and is close to Death Valley National Park located in Nevada. A visit to this section of the park allows you to see sites such as the two-story Spanish Villa known as Scotty’s Castle.
Just 4 miles outside of Beatty on Hwy 374 lies Rhyolite, a ghost town that once had high hopes. The population grew exponentially when gold was discovered in 1905. It had churches, banks, hotels, a school, and an opera house. They had a train depot, electricity, and a newspaper, too. The town went bust by 1911, and they shut the power off in 1916.
Today, you can see remnants of the bank, the jail, and many other buildings. The train depot is privately owned and one of the few full buildings still standing. You can also view three bottle houses that prospectors built from empty beer and liquor bottles from town saloons.
Continuing north on the US-95 from Beatty, you will end up driving right through Goldfield, Nevada. This ghost town doesn’t feel as dead as some of the other ghost towns you might encounter. Goldfield was one of Nevada’s most known and iconic boomtowns. It once had a population of 30,000 people, and today, a mere 300 people call this enchanting desert town their home.
The most striking building that is still standing today is the Goldfield Hotel. The hotel is closed to the public, but it was considered the most luxurious hotel between Chicago and San Francisco in its heyday. There are two RV parks in town, allowing RVers to stay and explore for as long as they want. Careful though, many of the 300 people living there stopped to see the town, fell in love with it, and decided they didn’t want to leave it.
Tonopah and Belmont Ghost Town
A little way north of Goldfield, the US-95 runs through the town of Tonopah. There are three RV parks in the area with full hookups. The town of Tonopah is small, but that doesn’t mean RVers have nothing to do.
Besides the typical casinos, the Clown Motel, which was named “America’s Scariest Motel,” draws many visitors due to its creepy clown theme and proximity to the Tonopah Cemetery. If you love ghost hunting or haunted hotels, the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah has been around since 1907 and was voted #1 Haunted Hotel by USA Today.
If haunted hotels aren’t your thing, consider visiting for the amazing stargazing opportunities. According to www.tonopahnevada.com,
“Tonopah, Nevada has the unique distinction of having one of the darkest nighttime skies in the country. Take advantage of this rare opportunity where the brightest lights around are what you see in the sky. On clear nights, you can see up to 7,000 stars and the Milky Way with your bare eyes, no equipment necessary.”
While enjoying Tonopah, RVers can take a five-minute trip outside of town and see what’s left of the silver and copper mining town of Belmont. Established in 1865, the town grew to a sizable population of 15,000 people and had newspapers, saloons, and restaurants. Today the courthouse, a few mills, and a saloon are all that remains in the ghost town.
RVing around Walker Lake
The desert landscape that covers much of Nevada can be stunningly beautiful. Still, after many days of traveling through it, you may be wishing to see a body of water.
For those traveling the US-95 between Reno and Las Vegas, Walker Lake is just outside Hawthorne, Nevada. The lake is the remnants of a vast inland sea that covered Nevada around 10,000 years ago. RVers can stop and enjoy some fishing, swimming, or picnicking.
There are a few designated camping areas around the lake. They only offer dry camping, but at least one accommodates big rigs. There are a few parks in the nearby town of Hawthorne for those looking for full hookups, only 10 miles away from the state park.
Those visiting Virginia City will be treated to the many buildings still standing from its time as a bustling mining town. At one time, the town mined enough silver to build San Francisco, California, and even helped save the Union during the Civil War. Not only are many of the buildings still there, but they are also in business. Virginia City allows you to step back in time and be a part of a wild west mining town.
The Virginia City RV Park has full hookups and is just a short walk from downtown. Virginia City offers mine tours, stagecoach tours, railroad ride tours, saloon tours, and any other kind of old west mining town tour you can think of. Families can learn about history, pan for gold, and enjoy the Wild West Comedy Show. Yea, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s a fun tourist trap with lots of history, cool bars, good food, and fun entertainment.
RVing in the Reno Area
Known as “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno, Nevada has the casinos, buffets, and world-class entertainment that Vegas has to offer, but that’s not all. Over the years, the city has reinvented itself and offers much more than just gambling and glitz. The big little city is also known for its public art installments with bohemian shops, a diverse music scene, and interesting food.
Downtown Reno is where visitors can find the landmark casinos. The Downtown Reno Riverwalk hosts many shops and sculptures. It follows the Truckee River.
Midtown District is where you will find funky boutiques, bistros, vintage shops, art galleries, tap houses, and music venues. If you are looking for something artsy, eclectic, or hip, Midtown is the place to find it.
If you love old rock n’ roll, classic cars, and well, everything to do with the 50s and the 60s, Hot August Nights is Reno’s biggest festival of the year. At the beginning of August, the festival draws up to 800,000 people to enjoy classic cars and entertainment every year.
RVers will find plenty of RV parks spread throughout Reno and the neighboring city of Sparks. All of them offer electricity, water, and sewer, and most of them have a pool.
Those planning to go camping in Nevada may want to check out its capital, Carson City. Along with its many outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and skiing, there is a wonderful art community as well. RVers will find full-hookup sites at the three RV parks located in the north, east, and south areas of town.
The history buffs can visit the state capital building, Nevada State Museum, and the Nevada State Railroad Museum to learn about the state’s fascinating and storied history. The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum and the Warren Engine Co. No.1 | Fire Museums are other places to learn even more about the area.
With all the desert scenery, it’s easy to forget that the largest alpine lake in North America is in Nevada, half of it anyway. Lake Tahoe straddles California and Nevada. The mountainous alpine forests provide ample hiking and skiing opportunities, while the crystal blue waters of the second deepest lake in the U.S. give travelers beach and water activities. The Nevada side of the lake also offers some casinos, of course.
For those looking to explore a picturesque drive, Highway 28 and 89 follow all the way around Lake Tahoe’s 72-mile shoreline. It has been dubbed, The Most Beautiful Drive in America, and you can find out all the places to stop and check out by going to www.mostbeautifuldrive.com.
It is possible to drive the entire road in a day, but RVers want to explore, right? There are many RV parks located around the shoreline of Lake Tahoe. While most of them are on the California side, two are located in South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side.
RVing in the Black Rock Desert
About 100 miles north of Reno sits the Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. In this 800,000-acre Conservation area, RVers can find hiking trails, historic wagon trails, natural hot springs, and the Black Rock Desert playa. The very playa where Burning Man is held every year.
For those who love art, Burning Man is a unique festival. According to Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey, the event is guided by ten principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.
If you ever thought about taking your RV into the middle of the desert with 80,000 other people to create a temporary city and any of the above principles speak to you, check out Burning Man.
The area is very remote, and there are no official campgrounds. Those who decide to camp in the area should plan to head off the paved road and have no cell service.
Safety note: Only one of the hot springs has safe enough temperatures to swim in. The others are too hot and can cause serious injury and death. Injuries can even occur by sticking a hand or foot in the water temporarily. Unless specifically noted, treat all hot springs as if they are dangerous and keep pets, children, and yourself a safe distance. You can learn more here.
RVing in Great Basin National Park
On the eastern side of Nevada, Great Basin National Park is known for its ancient bristlecone pines and the Lehman Caves at the 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak base. For those looking for a scenic view, the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is an out and back road that takes travelers up past 10,000 feet for spectacular views. The park is also an International Dark Sky Park for those that love to stargaze.
Most people head into the park from the Nevada State Route 487 off of the U.S. 50. There are several campgrounds in the park. While none of them have full hookups, most have dump stations. Those wanting full hookups can stay in the nearby town of Baker.
Nevada RV Road Trips
There are a few notable scenic drives that are a must-see for those camping in Nevada. Some of them are less scenic and more in the realm of interesting or curious. Others showcase the beauty that Nevada has to offer.
The Extraterrestrial Highway (Area 51)
Route 375 between Crystal Springs and Warm Springs is known as the Extraterrestrial Highway. The road runs adjacent to the Nevada Test and Training Range. Part of that range includes the famous top-secret Area 51 base.
The U.S. military has conducted flight tests there for some time. Alien sightings and stories about what might be going on at the secretive base lure many travelers to the area to see if they can get a glimpse of E.T. in the U.S.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for UFOs while traveling down the highway. RVers can also enjoy the shops and oddities along the way, such as E.T. Fresh Jerky and the Alien Research Center. Take a photo with The Black Mailbox. Stop at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel, for an Alien Burger. Best of all, enjoy the wide-open spaces this scenic drive has to offer.
Safety note: Area 51 is a heavily guarded military base. It is important to obey all signs and not attempt to trespass in any way. They will respond to any trespassers, and it will ruin an otherwise nice scenic trip.
The Loneliest Highway in America
The Nevada portion of the transcontinental U.S. Route 50 was named the “The Loneliest Road in America” by Life magazine in 1986. Life did not mean that in a positive sense, but Nevada turned it into a marketing slogan. Today, those seeking to travel the sparsely populated highway that runs along the northern part of the state can get an official Nevada Highway 50 Survival Guide and get it validated with stamps along the way.
Taking a road trip along this highway in Nevada has hiking opportunities, historical sites, dark-sky viewing, hot spring soaking, and more. RVers looking for open spaces and easy driving will not want to miss this scenic byway.
The larger towns along the route have RV parks, so it isn’t hard to find a place to stay. Those looking to boondock in the wide-open spaces won’t be disappointed at the number of “just off the road” BLM land that offer free dispersed camping along the way.
Great Basin Highway
RVers wishing to head from Las Vegas to the Great Basin National Park or vice versa will want to take the Great Basin Highway. The highway closely follows the U.S. 93 and will take travelers through several of Nevada’s state parks like Valley of Fire State Park, Beaver Dam State Park, Echo Canyon, Spring Valley State Park, and more.
RVers will have opportunities to hike, mountain bike, rock climb, stargaze, swim, fish, and so much more. If you love the outdoors and only have time to take one Nevada road trip, the Great Basin Highway will take you through some of the most amazing natural wonders that Nevada has to offer.
There are plenty of RV parks along the route for those who like a full hookup site, but if you are in the mood for some boondocking, there is plenty of BLM land allowing free dispersed camping as well.
Plan your Nevada camping trip
Nevada may be mostly unpopulated, but it really can be an RVer’s paradise. There is so much to see and do. Visit Travel Nevada’s site to find out more about what Nevada has to offer and download their visitor’s guide. It also has numerous travel ideas and other resources.
For RV-friendly directions while camping in Nevada, and to find even more points of interest relevant to RVers like RV parks, gas stations, Walmarts, and more, start planning your route with RV Trip Wizard and the RV Life App.
Levi Henley and his wife, Natalie, workamp around the country in their
26-foot motorhome. Along with writing for RV magazines, they recently
published their first book together, Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How
We Did It. They share their experiences and RV-related tips on their own
blog henleyshappytrails.com as well as videos on their YouTube Channel,
also called Henley’s Happy Trails.