10 wild ways to get back to nature in Nevada's great outdoors

Peter Watson

From off-roading desert canyons to biking backcountry wild trails, here are 10 Nevada outdoor capers.

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A hiker in the Valley of Fire, NevadaJoshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Forget Vegas. Nevada's real attraction is its nature.

With Lake Tahoe's translucent waters and forested peaks, Reno's cascading Truckee River, the jagged peaks of the Great Basin, the playas of the Black Rock Desert – where Burning Man was born – and the stark wilderness of Highway 50 – the 'Loneliest Road in America' – the Silver State has something for dreamers and daredevils alike.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Nevada is basically one giant playground. More than 80% of its territory is unfenced, totally wild, and – most importantly of all – public.

With the highest percentage in the contiguous USA of pure, open, unspoiled wilderness for all recreational desires, when it comes to adventure, Nevada is unbeatable.

Nevada is a great destination for outdoor pursuits (Video: Travel Nevada)

1. Hiking & backpacking

With more than 300 named mountain ranges, millions of acres of rugged, untamed wilderness, and thousands of miles of trails, it’s safe to say the Silver State offers hikers and backpackers a lifetime of exploration. 

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Hikers in Boundary Peak WildernessTravel Nevada

Just 50 miles from Downtown Las Vegas is the Valley of Fire State Park, a masterpiece of Southwest desert scenery comprising 40,000 acres of psychedelic red Aztec sandstone, petrified trees and ancient Native American petroglyphs.

2. Dark skies

A “true dark sky” is a natural resource that’s becoming increasingly rare. With its millions of acres of rugged, untamed wilderness, Nevada offers dark sky lovers some of the most stellar explorations on Earth.

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Dark skies above Massacre Rim in NevadaTravel Nevada

The International Dark Sky Association has designated Great Basin National Park an International Dark Sky Park and Massacre Rim one of only seven designated Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world.

3. Wildlife

The Silver State is home to some of the largest national wildlife refuges in America, providing dozens of specialized habitats to a collection of animals, birds, and reptiles found nowhere else on the planet.

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The Greater Sage-grouse in NevadaTravel Nevada

From desert bighorns hoofing it in their largest habitat and the rarest fish on Earth to dozens of incredible wildlife photography subjects you never expected, out here, the unimaginable runs wild.

4. Camping

As the 7th-largest state and one with more than 80% public land, Nevada is essentially a camper’s dreamland.

There may be more free camping in Nevada than just about anywhere else in the country, from 10,000-foot summits to hot spring havens. Basically, if you can get your vehicle to a spot you dig, home is where you park it.

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Camping in Great Basin National ParkTravel Nevada

With 24 state parks, 2 national parks, and dozens of recreation areas across its 100,000+ square miles, hundreds of beautifully developed campgrounds appeal to those seeking the comforts and tried-and-true amenities of a traditional campsite.

5. Rockhounding

Millions of years of geologic activity made Nevada – much of which was once a seafloor – the perfect stomping grounds for mining gold and other precious minerals, while also forming distinctive fossils and countless crowd-free Nevada rockhounding sites, loaded with unimaginable diversity.

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Rockhounding on the Otteson Brother’s Turquoise Mine TourTravel Nevada

That combined with millions of acres of unfenced public land access makes for next to perfect conditions in this rockhounder’s paradise.

6. Off-roading

Thousands of miles of dirt roads, trails, and tracks criss-cross open valleys, desert canyons, more than 300 mountain ranges, and plenty in between, beckoning OHV-ers to come ride.

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Off-roading in the Sand Mountain Recreation AreaTravel Nevada

From caravanning across a nationally recognized state-spanning trail system to watching the needle climb on lunar landscapes to roughing it on some of the most remote trails in the Lower 48, Nevada OHV trails are some of America's finest.

7. Fishing

With more than 200 lakes and reservoirs and upwards of 600 rivers and streams, swimming with everything from trophy striped bass to gargantuan 40-pound Lahontan cutthroat trout, Nevada’s opportunities to toss a hook in run deep.

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Fishing in Pyramid LakeTravel Nevada

The IGFA recognizes angling achievements through its slam and trophy clubs. All seven trout required to achieve the Trout Royal Slam can be found in Nevada waterways: Rainbow, Brown, Bull (catch and release only), Golden, Brook, Lahontan Cutthroat, and Mackinaw.

8. Mountain biking

With thousands of miles of open road, wild trails, and untracked backcountry, on everything from freshly paved asphalt to desert washes and rocky alpine ridges, Nevada is home to some truly epic rides.

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Mountain biking in Barnes Canyon Mountain Bike TrailsTravel Nevada

Whether you’re ready to rip spine-tingling singletrack mountain bike trails in Nevada’s hundreds of mountain ranges, or you’re looking for easy, scenic cycling on freshly paved roads, Spring Mountains scenic byways and shore-hugging Lake Tahoe bike paths, all you need are two wheels and a sense of adventure.

9. Rock climbing

From thousands of classic, world-class climbs in places like Red Rock Canyon and Lake Tahoe to tons of untapped first-ascent territory throughout this wild state, Nevada rock climbing knows no bounds.

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Rock climbing in Calico BasinTravel Nevada

Some of the best rock climbing in Nevada stands just 17 miles from the entertainment capital of the world.

Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area calls climbers from all over the world to thousands of routes ranging from incredible bouldering to lead climbing, trad, and sports climbing to multi-pitch routes and beyond.

10. Winter sports

Okay, it's not the right time of year for this one, but you know what they say? The best things come to those who wait... or something like that?

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Skiing above Lake TahoeTravel Nevada

Whether you’re dropping into the perfect line in the Rubies, snowshoeing with the chickadees, or jumping aboard a two-horse open sleigh with the fam, the Silver State’s winter sports scene beckons the powder pursuer in all of us– now and always.

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

Phoenix, AZ
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