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Black Rock Desert Adventure Route

Updated: Jan 14

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 Conservation Area for your next off road adventure!



Route Overview

Adventure Rating: Epic

Trip Length: 231 miles, 3-6 days

Season: Spring and Fall are the best times go visit the Black Rock, but keep in mind High Rock Canyon is typically closed from Feb to mid-May. It's possible to visit during the summer months, but triple digit temperatures aren't uncommon on the playa during the warm season. Higher elevation trails may be impassable due to snow and/or mud during the winter months. Always check with BLM for conditions on the playa, as it may be difficult or impossible to traverse when moisture or mud is present.

Avg Technical Rating: 2

Peak Technical Rating: 4 (expect steep, loose, and eroded roads on the way to the Black Rock Point Vista)

Typical Terrain: A combination of dry lake bed, gravel roads, bumpy/rocky jeep tracks (upper High Rock Canyon), and some steep, and loose trails on the way to Black Rock Point Vista.

Recommended Vehicle: 4x4 with A/T tires.

Adventure Vans: You may explore the souther section around Black Rock City and the Playa. Sprinter 4x4s are not recommended in High Rock Canyon or the trail to Black Rock Point Vista.

Alternative Routes: n/a Other Info: BLM enforces a maximum speed limit of 45 mph when traveling across the playa.

 

Route Details

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 is a highlight reel of all the better known and lesser known points of interest within the National Conservation Area. The NCA is named after the Black Rock Desert, High Rock Canyon, and the numerous emigrant trails that passed through the Black Rock Desert. The most well known of these trails includes the Applegate, Lassen, and Nobles Trails. The trails acted as major thoroughfares to both Oregon and California for emigrants seeking opportunity out West. The same trails were used for intra-state/territory travel to reach the Sierra gold fields and mines in Idaho. In all, over 120 miles of emigrant trails pass through the NCA. It's hard to imagine the adventure and tragedy that emigrants faced in the harsh and unforgiving desert landscape. Traveling High Rock Canyon is hard on vehicles, it must've been hell for the early emigrants who would've bushwhacked their way through the breast high sagebrush.


In 1991, the Burning Man Festival relocated from San Francisco to its current home, the Black Rock Desert Playa. As the festival gained international notoriety, the lore, infamy and reputation of the Black Rock Desert also rose. But if you want to experience the desert with all of its spiritual glory, we recommend visiting when Burning man IS NOT happening (avoid the last week of August through Labor Day)! And while the Black Rock may not have the name recognition of Death Valley, the Mojave, or even Joshua tree within the off road community, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover the Black Rock is every bit as scenic, spiritual, and filled with all kinds of history. One added benefit of the Black Rock is its remoteness, which keeps the crowds at bay (save Burning Man). The distance from major urban centers also creates for spectacularly dark night skies. Just to the north of High Rock Canyon sits the Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary. 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 (old mining camps, pioneer graffiti and abandoned mines) and quirkiness-- like the desert art along 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. The route can be traversed in either direction, but the official guide starts in Gerlach and travels in a counter-clockwise direction. The route begins by traveling north through Guru Road (DP1) and shortly thereafter, Fly Geyser (DP2, be sure to make a reservation if you plan on visiting). After 10 or so miles from Gerlach the pavement gives way to a wide gravel road, which then takes you through the rugged Razor Canyon (DP3). Other sites along the gravel county road include Leadville Mining District (DP4) and the Lund Petrified Forest (DP5) before the route travels into the National Conservation Area. Follow the route into the hills until reaching the Little High Rock Hilton (DP6). The mouth of Little High Rock Canyon also makes for a great campsite as well. From here the route heads past High Rock Lake and over to Fly Creek Canyon (DP7), which is a popular nesting site for birds, but also has many interesting geological features. From Fly Creek Canyon, the route travels through High Rock Canyon (DP8). The start of High Rock Canyon is open and wide, until a series of easily identifiable rock spires appear on your right. The spires instill a sense of awe when first coming upon them, and shortly after you reach the spires there's a number of interesting discovery points, like the old Post Office Cave (DP9) and Pioneer Graffiti (DP10). It's said that emigrants passing through would leave letters in the cave, and travelers heading in the opposite direction would pick up the mail and drop it off at the next location (another post office?). As you make your way through the canyon, the trail crests and knoll, which provides a vantage point of a choke-point through the canyon. It's here that you'll pass through a series of water crossings, which are typically 1-2 feet deep depending on the time of year. The cliffs along this section of trail are filled with nesting birds. The sounds and shrieks of the birds echoes off the canyon walls, providing an otherworldly acoustic experience! The trail continues to ascend into the mountains, which are more like giant hills in this part of the desert. The dirt track gives way to a rock-studded trail that's slow going. Be sure to take it slow and watch where your tires are, as there's a lot of obsidian in this part of the desert, which has gained quite the reputation for puncturing even the most robust of tires! Out of the canyon you'll soon reach Stevens Camp (Dp13), which is actually perhaps the best kept cabin within the NCA (and you can camp in it). The route passes through the highlands until reaching Summit Lake (DP14) and then shoots south on a wide gravel road until reaching Soldier Meadows. There are a number of hot springs within the Black Rock Desert (some are not suitable for soaking due to high temps). Adjacent to the Soldier Meadows Campground and hot springs (DP16) are a series of soaking pools, which we found to be the nicest within the NCA. We highly recommend spending the night at Soldier Meadows, as a soak in the desolate desert with the sun setting is quite the experience! The route follows the western arm of the Black Rock Desert along the Applegate trail until reaching the Lassen-Clapper murder site (DP17). This short out-and-back trail is a bit bumpy and crosses a number of washes until reaching the cabin where Peter Lassen and Edward Lassen were murdered in cold blood by a sniper while on a prospecting expedition. Peter Lassen had built quite a reputation for himself, and was well respected by Chief Winnemucca and the northern Paiutes as well. Today a prominent mountain peak, national park, national forest, and California County all bear his name. Upon departing the Lassen-Clapper murder site, you're on the home stretch. This section of trail tends to be bumpy and slow going, and it can get muddy if there's been any recent rain. While you can't soak at Double Hot Springs (DP19), it's worth stopping to check out the clear turquoise water. Straight ahead you'll see a massive black rock, which is Black Rock Point (DP20). Not far from Black Rock Point sits perhaps the most impressive view within the Black Rock Desert, but you'll need to work for it. The track gets more rugged, and seems to get steeper and steeper as you near the bluffs that overlook the desert playa. Expect to spend a good amount of time in 4-low. At approximately 1500' above the playa, the views atop the Black Rock Point Vista (DP22) are nothing short epic! If you're visiting during the warmer months, the temperature and breeze often provides a nice respite from the baking temperatures that plague the desert floor. And back down we go! Along the way back down you'll pass through 2 micro playas. The Island microplaya (DP21) is one of our favorite places to camp. And while you can't have fires on the playa, you can set up a fire on the island, as long as it's a good distance from the playa dirt. The route shoots across the Black Rock Playa (DP25) to the center of Black Rock City (DP25), where the Man is erected and ultimately burned each year on Labor Day. The official route shoots over to Trego Hot Springs (DP26), which are suitable for soaking but not nearly as nice as Soldier Meadows. You also have the option of taking the playa to one of the access points along Soldier Meadows Road on the north end of the Playa. The official route follows the graded yet bumpy Jungo Road back to Gerlach. Winter Route Options for Avoiding the Playa Always check with the BLM regarding conditions of the Playa during the winter and Spring, or after any recent rainfall. If BLM recommends avoiding the playa, you may take Soldier Meadows Road from Gerlach to Soldier Meadows. Do Not Risk crossing the playa, as vehicle recovery in this part of Nevada tends to be very expensive.



Discovery Points

  • DP1 - Guru Road

  • DP2 - Fly Geyser (reservations required)

  • DP3 - Razor Canyon

  • DP4 - Leadville Mining District

  • DP5 - Lund Petrified Forest

  • DP6 - Little High Rock Hilton

  • DP7 - Fly Creek Canyon

  • DP8 - High Rock Canyon

  • DP9 - Post Office Cave

  • DP10 - Pioneer Graffiti

  • DP11 - Cliff Nesting Birds

  • DP12 - High Rock Garage

  • DP13 - Stevens Camp

  • DP14 - Summit Lake

  • DP15 - Soldier Meadows Cabin

  • DP16 - Soldier Meadows Hot Springs

  • DP17 - Lassen-Clapper Murder site

  • DP18 - Hardin City

  • DP19 - Double Hot Springs

  • DP20 - Black Rock Point

  • DP21 - Island Microplaya

  • DP22 - Black Rock Point Vista

  • DP23 - Black Rock Hot Spring

  • DP24 - Black Rock Playa

  • DP25 - Burning Man / Black Rock City

  • DP26 - Trego Hot Springs


Camping Recommendations

Be sure to read up on the camping guidelines from the Black Rock Desert-High Rock NCA . Some of our favorite camp locations include:

  • Island Microplaya

  • Soldier Meadows campground

  • Little High Rock Hilton

  • Fox Homestead / High Rock Garage

  • Red Bluff Camp

  • Pole Canyon

  • Stevens Camp

  • Massacre Ranch


Hot Springs Our favorite springs for soaking is definitely the main pool near Soldier Meadows campground. Trego hot springs also offers a nice soaking pool, but the bottom tends to be muddy. Other hot springs like Double Hot Springs are unsafe and much to hot (can cause serious injury or even death). Be sure to head the warnings signs from BLM!


 

Maps + Navigation


>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.


Recommended Maps

Download GPX files


 

Resources


Land Managers


Other Resources

 

Gallery


Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on overlandtrailguides.com, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by OverlandTrailGuides, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.

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