Updated: May 10, 2021
The Black Rock Desert may be one of the lesser traveled desert regions in the United States, but adventurers who make the trip will be rewarded with expansive horizons, abandoned mines and ghost towns, hot springs, and DIY art exhibits. Tired of battling the crowds in Death Valley and the Mojave, then consider heading north to the Black Rock High Rock National Conversation Area for your next off road adventure!
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 223 miles, 3-5 days
Season: October - Late May (check with BLM for conditions on the playa, as it may be difficult or impossible to traverse when moisture or mud is present. High Rock Canyon is typically closed from Feb to mid-May).
Technical Rating: Mostly green, with some blue sections
Typical Terrain: A combination of dry lake bed, gravel roads, and jeep trails with some rocks and ruts.
Recommended Vehicle: SUV or truck with 4x4 and all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: unknown
Alternative Routes: n/a
The Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area covers 1.2 million acres that are managed by BLM. The featured overland route makes a veritable loop through the NCA, passing by many of the region's must see sites (check the Google map for POIs). While the Black Rock may not have the name recognition of Death Valley, the Mojave, or Joshua tree within the off road community, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover the Black Rock to be every bit as scenic and spiritual. One added benefit of the Black Rock is its remoteness, which keeps the crowds at bay (except during the week of Labor Day, when Burning Man takes over the playa). So you've made the decision to go all in on this adventure, great! What can you expect? Like other deserts in the western region of the United States, the Black Rock has its fair share of historical sites (ghost towns and abandoned mines) and quirkiness-- be sure to check out the art on Guru Road! Wild life you may encounter along the way include wild horses and burros, big horn sheep, raptors, pronghorn antelope, marmots, and more. Because the nearest major population center is several hundred miles away, the Black Rock features some of the best stargazing in the contiguous United States.
While much of the route is relatively tame in terms of terrain and could be managed by a typical automobile, the trail through High Rock Canyon does feature rocks, ruts, and creek crossings-- but nothing too technical! The route begins in the town of Gerlach, be sure to fill up on gas and supplies as this is your only option along the route! The route begins by crossing the playa and heading north. While it may seem safe to speed along the playa at highway speeds, the playa often gives the illusion that it's completely flat. Many travelers who've destroyed wheels, axles, and other vehicle parts on the playa while traveling at high speed would caution you to slow your speed unless you want to test the limits of your vehicles durability! After making a stop at Soldier Meadows, you'll head west passing High Rock Lake, and then north again through the majestic High Rock Canyon. High Rock Canyon features many great campsites, but please respect BLM's rules that require you camp in designated spots in the canyon. As you make your way north, the jeep road eventually turns into a wide gravel road bringing you to Massacre Ranch and then to the old ghost town of Vya. From Vya, take county road 34 (a wide gravel highway) south. Before you make your way to Gerlach, be sure to check out the Leadville ghost town and Fly Geyser.
Guidelines and Rules for Camping in the NCA
At Soldier Meadows Springs and High Rock Canyon, camping is allowed only in designated campsites.
Camping at Stevens Camp and Massacre Ranch will be limited to designated sites in the future.
Vehicles are allowed to travel within 50 feet off of designated routes to camp. Use existing campsites where possible.
Do not camp within 300 feet of any open water. Please respect wildlife and camp away from the fenced off Coyote Springs Dunes area on the playa.
Campfires on the playa and dunes must be contained or elevated to prevent scarring or burning of the playa surface.Extinguish all fires before you leave.
On the playa (great for sunsets and stargazing)
Pole Canyon camp
Yellow Canyon camp
Designed sites in High Rock Canyon
Recommended Points of Interest
Hardin City mining camp
Soldier Meadows hot spring
Leadville ghost town
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (base map layer)
Download GPX files