The Loneliest Road in America – US Route 50
Today I drove what Life magazine called the “Loneliest Road in America” — US Highway 50 from Carson City to Baker, Nevada. It is also the route of the old Pony Express and part of the trail of emigrants and gold and silver prospectors.
The route is 381 miles. There are long stretches where the road is straight as an arrow through the high desert. There are only a few towns along the route: Carson City, Dayton, Fallon, Austin, Eureka, Ely and Baker. I started in Carson City around 9:30am and made it in to Ely, where I was spending the night, around 6:00pm. That included a few stops along the way in each town.
Make sure to get your Loneliest Road Passport (free at many of the tourist locations) and get it stamped in each town where you see the marker.
Carson City is the state capitol of Nevada. It’s also the biggest city along the route.
I started by touring the Nevada State Museum in the old mint building. Admission is $8 and there are various exhibits on geology, biology, history, and the mining and minting process.
The capitol building is just a few blocks down.
Highway 50 leading out of Carson City has a number of strip malls and fast food restaurants. Quickly though you are climbing up to Mound House where you will spot the Bunny Ranch.
Quickly you enter the town of Dayton. Gold in Nevada was first discovered here and the town (originally known as “China Town”) grew up to support the silver mines of nearby Virginia City.
I stopped in the quaint free, volunteer run Dayton Museum of the Historical Society of Dayton Valley. I was the first visitor since the museum reopened after being closed for four months due to COVID. Laura Tennant, the museum curator, greeted me and colorfully told me the history of the area.
Continuing east, the larger town of Fallon is more of a population center and less of a historical location. I grabbed some lunch but mostly continued on through.
The drive from Fallon to Austin is long with few services; so gas up before you leave Fallon. Austin has a gas station and a few stores/restaurants. But the big draw is Stokes Castle, a home built and quickly abandoned by a mine developer in the late 1800s. I missed the turn off and ended up on a primitive road. I was glad I had an all-wheel drive vehicle.
Another long drive lay ahead before the next town.
Eureka is perhaps the best preserved of the towns along Highway 50. At the heart of the town is the Opera House, hotel, and courthouse.
Just off the main road is the Eureka Museum, however it was closed the day I visited.
Ely is another more sizable town known for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum and train rides.
Ely is also home to the tallest building I saw on my journey outside of Carson City. The Hotel Nevada and Casino towers over the town. Don’t expect any of the casinos along the route to compare to those in Las Vegas.
I spent the night in Ely at the brand new Holiday Inn Express.
Baker/Great Basin National Park
Baker is the small town at the base of Great Basin National Park and the end of the line for the Loneliest Road. Technically it is a few miles off of Highway 50 but it is the logical end point for the journey. There isn’t anything to see in Baker (except a gas station); you will drive on through to Great Basin.
The park is free to access. The two big ticket items in the park are the Lehman Caves (which are closed due to COVID until at least November, 2020) and the drive up Wheeler Peak. There are a few hikes at the end of the road should you decide to stretch your legs after to 45 minute or so drive up.
I wouldn’t call Highway 50 lonely. Driving during the day, you won’t go too long without seeing other cars. There are very few towns along the road however. And I saw more casinos than Starbucks and McDonalds combined. It is a fun drive to see a different part of the country and a reminder again of the size of America.
After visiting the towns along the route (and getting stamps in my “passport”), I sent in the postcard. A few weeks later I received a certificate and pin in the mail.
Have you driven the Loneliest Road in America? What did you think?