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Great Basin Heritage Trail

Updated: Jan 17

While many people hold the firm belief that Nevada is an endless sea of nothingness and sagebrush, there's a sense of freedom in the rugged emptiness of the Great Basin that is hard to find in the lower 48. However, beyond the apparent emptiness, the Basin Ranges that cover the vast majority of the state conceal wonders and beauty that most people may never get to experience—until now. Enter the Great Basin Heritage, one of the most remote tracks in the lower 48!


Route Overview


Trip Length & Season

Adventure Rating: Dakar Trip Length: 2105 miles, 2-6 weeks. You can blast through many sections of the GBHT, but for those who wish to take in the scenery and the discovery points, we recommend spending at least 4 weeks on the track. Season: The best time to explore the Great Basin Heritage Trail is typically in mid to late spring, and early to mid-fall. Summer temps make much of the track unbearable, and many of the mountain passes become impassable during the winter months. Always be sure to check on snow levels before heading out, and check out the snow re-route option (alternative tracks) for the Jarbidge Mountains, which sees the most snowfall on the route.

Digital Maps & GPX Files

Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans

Discovery Points

Permits & Papers


 

Route Details

Segment 1: Virginia City to Eureka, NV

Trip Lengthy & Season

Trip Length: 692 miles, 5 days - 2 weeks. We recommend starting your trip by spending at least half a day in Virginia City. Many sections of segment 1 can be managed at an expedited pace, and the beginning leg from Virginia City to south of Gardernville contains mostly pavement before jumping onto dirt. Season: The best time to travel segment 1 is during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. You may be able to travel large parts during the winter months, but expect snow at higher elevation. Summer heat in the desert lowlands regularly exceeds 100 F during the day.

Technical Ratings & Terrain

Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans

Fuel, Provisions and Recommended Gear

Camping Recommendations

Alternative Routes

Beginning in the historically rich mining outpost of Virginia City, you'll soon discover why Nevada is called the Silver State if you're not familiar with its history. Virginia City is practically a living and breathing museum. Spending a half-day strolling through town and visiting the numerous shops and museums is a fantastic way to kick off the Great Basin Heritage Trail. Aside from a quick jaunt over the mountain, much of the beginning of the track is pavement until reaching the dirt south of Gardnerville. Before hitting dirt, there are several opportunities to learn about Nevada's history in locations like Carson City and Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park (DP10) in Gardnerville.

The first significant stretch of dirt winds around Leviathan Peak on the edge of the Sierra Nevada, just west of Topaz Lake. You'll cross the West Walker River and head back into Nevada, working your way around Desert Creek Peak before meeting up with the pavement along Route 338. There are fantastic campsites along the East Walker River, including Bighorn Campground. If you've got time, we highly recommend visiting the Aurora Crater Lava Flow, which is a mere 25,000 years old. From the lava flow, the route takes the well-graded dirt road up and over Lucky Boy Pass and into Hawthorne. Like many Nevada towns, Hawthorne was established due to nearby mines but these days is home to the Hawthorne Army Depot.

As you depart Hawthorne on a dusty but well-kept dirt/gravel road, you begin to appreciate the vastness of Nevada and how few people there are in the backcountry. This next stretch will be your first taste of wide-open nothingness combined with rugged beauty that you can expect along much of the track. Climb through the barren mountains and up and over Ryan Pass and onto a trio of mines (Davis, Goldyke, and Pactolus mines). Those feeling a bit more adventurous may wish to venture west, exploring the old ghost town of Simon. The track heads south to another historic mining outpost, Tonopah, which also happens to be home to the world-famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) Clown Motel (DP24).

Leaving Tonopah, the track heads north through some of the more scenic sections that embody the Basin and Range Province. Working your way north and south through these isolated sky islands, you'll pass through the Shoshone Mountains, Toiyabe Range, Monitor Range, McKinney Mountains, and the Hot Creek Range. After snaking your way through these basin ranges, you'll arrive at the end of segment 1, and the old mining outpost of Eureka, NV (not to be confused with the Eureka in Utah, which you'll visit in segment 2). Eureka emerged in 1864 as a silver mining haven, riding the wave of a fervent mining boom that swept the American West. While inevitable economic downturns tested its resilience, Eureka's historic charm endures, inviting modern-day travelers to stroll through its National Historic Landmark District (be sure to visit the Eureka Sentinel Museum and the old Opera House, DP59 and 60, respectively) and relive the captivating chapters of the American mining frontier.

Segment 2: Eureka, NV to Wendover

Trip Lengthy & Season

Trip Length: 732 miles, 5 days - 2 weeks. Season: Like segment 1, the best time to travel segment 2 is during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. You may be able to travel large parts during the winter months, but expect snow at higher elevations. Summer heat in the desert lowlands regularly exceeds 100 F during the day.

Technical Ratings & Terrain

Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans

Fuel, Provisions and Recommended Gear

Camping Recommendations

Alternative Routes


Departing Eureka (NV), the track continues eastward through the Basin Ranges of central Nevada and into the Great Salt Desert of Utah. From Eureka, the track climbs into the mountains to Windfall Pass (DP62) and then descends back into a valley that leads into the Hot Creek Range. Morey Ghost Town (DP64) and Project Faultless (DP65) are both worthy of a quick stop. The government detonated a 1-megaton nuclear warhead (67 times more powerful than the atomic bomb used in Hiroshima) at a depth of approximately 3,200' underneath the Project Faultless site. Project Faultless represents just one of a small handful of sites that the government used to research nuclear explosions in Nevada. About three miles to the south sits the Project Adagio nuclear test site.

Continuing south, the track briefly follows Highway 6 and then heads into the Lunar Crater Volcanic Fields (DP67). The volcanic fields create a welcome juxtaposition against the wide-open basins and rugged mountain ranges that you've been working through for the last several hundred miles. Before exiting the volcanic fields, be sure to check out the Lunar Playa (DP67). Continue east, making your way through the small ranching community of Lund and into the Schell Creek Range. At 10,745', Cave Mountain represents the highest drivable location along the Great Basin Heritage Trail, and the views atop are impressive should you decide to make the short out-and-back trek in your rig.

Atop Cave Mountain, you can easily spot Wheeler Peak (DP81) in the distance to your east. At 13,065', Wheeler Peak is the crown jewel of Great Basin National Park and Nevada's second-highest peak. Continuing eastward, you'll make your way around the northern boundary of the Snake Range, passing the old Osceola boom town, which has long since transitioned to its status as an official ghost town. A 12-mile gold-bearing quartz vein was discovered at Osceola in 1872, and mining continued into the 1880s. To the east of the Snake Range lies the Great Basin National Park Visitor Center (DP80) in the small outpost of Baker. While not part of the official route, Great Basin NP is only a few miles to the west and makes for a fantastic day trip.

A few miles east of the visitor center lies the Nevada-Utah border. Follow the pavement of America's Loneliest Highway (Highway 50) for a few miles, and then you'll be back onto the dirt heading towards Tule Valley. The always impressive monolith of Notch Peak (DP82) looms over the desert basin below. Notch Peak is famous for its vertical rock face and is second only to Yosemite's El Capitan in terms of vertical drop. The Great Basin Heritage Trail reaches its eastern extreme in the old mining community of Eureka, Utah. Yes, there are two Eurekas on this track, and each has a rather colorful past! As the track heads westward, you'll soon enter the expansive playa of the Great Salt Lake Desert (DP102). These salt flats were covered with the water of Lake Bonneville 15 short millennia ago. Working your way around the edges of the Great Salt Lake Desert, segment two concludes in Wendover. Be sure to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats (DP108), which are only a few miles from town before continuing onto segment 3.

Segment 3: Wendover to Carson City

Trip Lengthy & Season

Trip Length: 684 miles, 5 days - 2 weeks. Season: Like segments 1 and 2, the best time to travel segment 2 is during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. You may be able to travel large parts during the winter months, but expect snow at higher elevation. The Jarbidge mountains see the most amount of snow along the track. Be sure to check out the Snow Re-route, which circuments Bear Creek Summit (elev. 8448') through the heart of the Jarbidge range. Summer heat in the desert lowlands regularly exceeds 100 F during the day.

Technical Ratings & Terrain

Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans

Fuel, Provisions and Recommended Gear

Camping Recommendations

Alternative Routes

As you leave the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Great Salt Desert, the track heads north to the rural outpost of Jarbidge (DP114) at the foot of the Jarbidge Mountains. With only about 100 residents a few miles from the Idaho border, Jarbidge has been proclaimed the most remote town in the contiguous United States. Driving through the dirt road of Main Street, you'll feel like things haven't changed much in this town over the last 50 years, and that's just the way the folks like it. Be sure to stop in at the Red Dog Saloon (DP115), which is popular with folks passing through while exploring the Nevada and Idaho BDRs, OTG's Great American Outback Trail, or this track! Large numbers of overlanders and adventure bikers pass through this tiny town every year, and the least you could do is spend a few bucks in town and perhaps share a few stories with the locals as well.

From the outpost of Jarbidge, the track zigzags through the incredibly picturesque Jarbidge Mountains. If you're traveling earlier or later in the season and snow becomes an issue, check out the Snow Reroute in the alternative routes section, which bypasses Bear Creek Summit (elev. 8448'). Once you leave Jarbidge, there aren't a whole lot of people living in this corner of Nevada. You'll pass a few rural outposts like Tuscarora (DP121) along the way, but the next real town/city, Winnemucca, is 220 miles away. Tuscarora has been called a living ghost town, and like most rural towns, it came into being when Silver was discovered in 1871. About 40 miles down the track sits the Midas ghost town (DP122), which definitely isn't a living ghost town. The opening of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 brought a flood of people out west in search of riches. Gold was found in Midas shortly after the opening of the railroad, and thousands descended upon the new town to lay their claim. In typical boomtown fashion, most folks left Midas within a year due to the lack of stamp mills to process all but the most lucrative claims.

Midas Road takes you to Interstate 80, which leads to the old industrial town of Winnemucca. While not the most scenic town in the west, there's a lot of history to be told about Winnemucca and its importance as a railway hub for the surrounding region (Reno, northern California, Idaho, and Oregon). The Buckaroo Hall of Fame (DP126) and the Humboldt Museum (DP125) have done an excellent job preserving the history of the region, and both are worthy of a quick or prolonged visit.

The final leg of segment 3 and the Great Basin Heritage Trail wraps around the Stillwater Range and through the Lahontan Valley, passing the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge (DP127), which contains nearly 80,000 acres of playa and wetland (a favorite for migrating birds) as a result of the Carson River sink. From the Lahontan Valley, the track passes through smaller basin ranges like the Dead Camel Mountains and the Pine Nut Mountains that border Carson City to the east. The track concludes upon reaching Carson City.

 

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.com, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.

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