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great basin national park nevada
Great Basin National Park | Nevada National Parks

Nevada National Parks

Nevada National Parks, there’s so much more to this beautiful state than Las Vegas. In this article, we’ll go over all of the incredible national park sites in the great state of Nevada. There are 7 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Silver State.

These Nevada national parks include amazing historic sites, incredible monuments, beautiful parks, legendary trails, and so much more.

To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!

Now lets go ahead with the 7 reasons why you’ll want to make Nevada (and not just Las Vegas) your next vacation destination.

Nevada National Parks Table Of Contents

  1. California National Historic Trail
  2. Death Valley National Park
  3. Great Basin National Park
  4. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
  5. Old Spanish National Historic Trail
  6. Pony Express National Historic Trail
  7. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Fort Bridger | Nevada National Parks
Fort Bridger State Historic Park on the California, Mormon Pioneer, Oregon, and Pony Express National Historic Trails | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

1. California National Historic Trail

During the 1840s and 1850s, over 200,000 emigrants traveled to the gold fields and rich farmlands of California. It was the greatest mass migration in American history.

The California National Historic Trail retraces this historic migration. It’s over 5,000 miles long and covers portions of 10 states.

What is a national historic trail? That’s a great question.

A National Historic Trail is a long-distance route that follows and commemorates a historic path of travel that changed the history and character of the United States.

Today these routes offer opportunities to visit surviving sites, trail segments, and defining places of history and learn about the diverse stories they tell. (Source: NPS)

The California Historic Trail In Nevada

The California Trail Interpretive Center | Nevada National Parks
The California Trail Interpretive Center near Elko, Nevada | Courtesy of the National Park Service

In Elko, Nevada, you can visit the California Interpretive Trail Center. It offers dioramas and interactive exhibits that immerse the visitor in the trail experience of those who endured the 2,000 mile trek.

In Elko can also see Hot Hole. It named after its round and reportedly deep shape. This geologic wonder was noted in reports, dated as early as the 1830s, by explorers that passed through the area. Later, emigrants and miners following the same paths, which were now known as the California Trail, wrote about the Hot Hole in their journals.

There are other historic sites in Nevada and you may want to reference the NPS Website to determine which ones are of interest to you.

RELATED: 24 EPIC Arizona National Parks (Ultimate Guide + Photos)

racetrack playa death valley national park california
Death Valley National Park | Nevada National Parks

2. Death Valley National Park

Situated on California’s southeastern border with Nevada, Death Valley National Park spans over 5,000 square miles of otherworldly vistas. The largest national park in the continental United States, Death Valley is a park for superlatives.

Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, the lowest place in North America, and the driest place in the United States. It is also the largest National Park outside of Alaska.

Things to See in Death Valley

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Things to Do in Death Valley National Park | Nevada National Parks

Massive slanted valleys that go on forever and seem to lack only the crashed spaceship in the distance, snow-capped mountains, a year round waterfall (insane, right?), expansive Joshua Tree forests, abandoned mines, conifer groves, and some of the most stunning dune fields in North America comprise the park with the most morbid name.

If you’re visiting the park be sure to check out our full Death Valley National Park Guide!

Best Things to Do In Death Valley | Eureka Dunes

eureka dunes death valley national park | Nevada National Parks
The stunning Eureka dunes at sunset | Nevada National Parks

Located in the remote Eureka Valley and situated at 3000ft elevation, Eureka Dunes is the most stunning dune field (I think) of the five in Death Valley National Park. Eureka Dunes are the tallest in California and perhaps the tallest in North America.

What makes this dune field even more stunning is the backdrop of the massive Last Chance Mountains. As if that isn’t enough to entice one to visit, did I mention they sing?

Yes, these dunes sing underneath your feet under the right conditions with a bassy resonance resembling that of a pipe organ.

RELATED: 10+ (FASCINATING) Death Valley National Park Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Best Things to Do In Death Valley | Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin | Nevada National Parks
Sunset at Badwater Basin | Nevada National Parks

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282ft below sea level. This salty wonderland features dazzling geometric shapes and record temperatures in the Summer.

Visitors can park at the Badwater Basin parking and walk out across the salt flats to the end of the boardwalk and out onto the salt itself which is a truly amazing experience.

Badwater Basin Hike: Most visitors just hike out a few steps beyond the short boardwalk but to truly get a sense of the scale of the salt flats one can do the entire 1.8mile path.

Best Things to Do In Death Valley | Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point | Nevada National Parks
Sunrise at Zabriskie Point | Nevada National Parks

Zabriskie Point is one of the most iconic locations in all of Death Valley National Park. This location is perhaps *the* best place in the park to watch a sunrise. This iconic location features panoramic views of the valley and stunning rock formations.

As one of the parks most popular locations crowds here can be quite large especially during the popular seasons. Be sure to show up early for sunrise to get a good spot!

There is a short, steep paved pathway that takes visitors from the parking lot to the viewpoint.

The Death Valley Video

This is More Than Just Parks visually stunning Death Valley Video | Check it out!

“Let us get the overall picture of this extraordinary sink and its forbidding mountain barriers. The valley is boxed, east and west, by precipitous slopes–the Amargosa Range on the Nevada side, and the Panamints on the other. From Dante’s View or Zabriskie Point, on a day when the haze permits, the High Sierra can be seen.”

-Freeman Tilden, The National Parks

Death Valley Inspired A Television Show

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Death Valley National Park inspired a television series titled, Death Valley Days.” Pictured above are three of the actors who appeared in that series including a very young James Caan on the left. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

How many national parks have their own television series? Death Valley did! Death Valley Days was first a series on the radio before being adapted for television. It was an anthology series featuring true accounts of the Old American West.

The show was created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman. The original inspiration was the group of prospectors who perished in the real Death Valley. Little did anyone realize the show would turn out to be one of the most popular westerns on television.

One Of The Longest Running Westerns On Television

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Photo of actor Jim Davis (later Jock Ewing on Dallas) from an episode of Death Valley Days | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The program broadcast on radio until 1945. It came to television in 1952 and ran until 1970. The show continued in syndication until August 1, 1975. This made Death Valley Days one of the longest running western television programs in history.

The show’s sponsor was the Pacific Borax Company. The company was famous for its “20 Mule Team Borax” slogan which was the brainchild of its advertising manager Stephen Mather.

This is the same Stephen Mather who would go on to become the first director of the National Park System.

RELATED: Meet The Real Life Batman & Robin Of The National Parks

You’ll Never Guess Who Hosted Death Valley Days

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A future President of the United States was one of the hosts on Death Valley Days | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Death Valley Days stories were introduced by the show’s host. During its long run, the series had several hosts including: Stanley Andrews (1952-64), Ronald Reagan (1964-65), Rosemary DeCamp (1965), Robert Taylor (1966-69) and Dale Robertson (1969-70).

That’s right! The series was hosted by a future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

RELATED: Look Familiar? 10+ Television Shows Filmed In The National Parks

great basin national park nevada
Great Basin National Park | Nevada National Parks

3. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

A trip to the Great Basin National Park is a wonderful way to sample the stunning diversity of the larger Great Basin region. Great Basin is a park which offers a variety of different outdoor (and indoor) activities.

Let’s start with the great indoors. The Lehman Caves were discovered by a miner and rancher from Ohio named Absalom Lehman. He settled in the area in the 1860s. Lehman discovered the caves in 1885 (ergo the name).

These caves are part of a cavern system containing many beautiful limestone formations. The caves are visited on guided tours, for which tickets need to be purchased, preferably in advance, but the park as a whole is free to enter.

“The earth forces were experimenting when the caves discovered by Ab Lehman, the Nevada pioneer homesteader, were in course of construction.

No two rooms in these caverns are alike. Strange stone faces, animals, and figurines line the paths of the easy trails.

A rippled curtain of stone here, gracefully tapered stalactites there; and high-arched, multicolored ceilings over all.

The great artist tried almost every device that was later to bewilder the human eye.”

-Freeman Tilden, The National Parks

Camping At Great Basin

Great Basin has five campgrounds available for visitors although some campgrounds are closed seasonally due to weather. And this is one park where you will want to stay overnight.

great basin national park nevada
Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Why you might ask? On a clear, moonless night in Great Basin National Park, thousands of stars, numerous planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. Imagine that!

Lake Mead, Nevada
Lake Mead National Recreation Area | Nevada National Parks

4. Lake Mead National Recreation Area | Nevada National Parks

Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States in maximum water capacity. It is located on the Colorado River about 24 mi (39 km) from the Strip southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the states of Nevada and Arizona.

Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is an impressive place: 112 miles long when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at greatest depth, 247 square miles of surface, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water.

What can you do at Lake Mead? Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp and fish. This geologic wonderland includes 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes.

Outdoor Activities At Lake Mead

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Boating is just one of the many outdoor activities at Lake Mead | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Boating is one popular activity. On Lake Mead there’s more than 290 square miles of waterway to navigate. Boaters can enjoy the thrill of open water or relax in a private cove. Before you go, however, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations.

Fishing is another popular activity.  Fish include rainbow trout, catfish, sunfish, largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass and crappie.

If you love aquatic activities, swimming is also available. There are many places to swim in the waters of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.

Hiking Trails At Lake Mead

Hiker descends into valley with red sandstone
Hiking is another popular activity at Lake Mead | Courtesy of the National Park Service

There are many hiking trails in Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. The best season for hiking is November through March when temperatures are cooler.

Some of my favorite hiking trails include:

  1. The Historic Railroad Trail which is a wide and flat gravel trail consisting of five tunnels that lead to Hoover Dam. 
  2. The Rivers Mountain Loop which is a 12-foot-wide paved path that surrounds the River Mountains, connecting Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Hoover Dam, Henderson, Boulder City and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley and is 34 miles in total length.
  3. Redstone where hikers can wind through large, red sandstone rocks and learn about the geology of the area. Interpretive signs are provided at the trailhead and picnic area.
  4. Lake View which provides opportunities to take in the beautiful, mountainous landscape with views of the harbor, Lake Mohave and Telephone Cove.

If you prefer biking to hiking bicyclists are welcome to ride at Lake Mead National Recreation Area on park roads and on routes designated for bicycle use.

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Old Spanish National Historic Trail | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

5. Old Spanish National Historic Trail

The Old Spanish National Historic Trail goes through Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. It opened a land route across 19th century Mexico between the Tierra Adentro, the fabled, yet isolated place that would become New Mexico, and California’s missions and burgeoning settlements.

When he left Abiquiu, New Mexico for California in 1829 with 40 men and 200 pack mules, Antonio Armijo blazed a trail between the two colonies that had frustrated explorers for over a century.

The Abiquiu Party discovered that their woolen blankets and tanned hides were welcomed in textile-starved California. What began as a commercial venture would grow into so much more.

Journey The Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Santa Fe Plaza
View of Santa Fe Plaza in the 1850’s by Gerald Cassidy | Nevada National Parks

Today this historic trail extends 2,700 miles across New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

Along the way there are museums, historic sites, landmarks, and trail markers.

RELATED: 18 SURPRISING New Mexico National Parks

6. Pony Express National Historic Trail | Nevada National Parks

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Remains of the old hotel and Pony rider station at Pacific Springs in southwestern Wyoming | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The United States Postal Service has announced that we will be paying more money for slower mail. Ugh! Perhaps it’s time to dust off an old idea.

From April 3, 1860 until October 26, 1861, the Pony Express delivered messages, newspapers, and mail using relays of horse-mounted riders. While it was only in operation for 18 months, it reduced the time for messages to travel between the east and west coasts to about 10 days.

Ten days may sound like a lot, but I suppose that depends on how good the postal service is where you live. No comment.

“I, ___, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God.”

— Oath sworn by Pony Express Riders

The Pony Express Founders

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With the advent of the telegraph, demand for the Pony Express plummeted. It would last only eighteen months. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The three founders of the Pony Express were William Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell.

These three entrepreneurs used a shorted route with riders at relay stations. These stations were about ten miles apart.

The rider coming in could expect a fresh mount [horse] waiting for him and his mail pouch. It was like a relay race only with four legged runners.

Pony Express Peak Operations

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Pony Express Recruitment Poster

At the peak of their operations, Russell, Majors and Waddell employed 6,000 men, owned 75,000 oxen, thousands of wagons, and warehouses, plus a sawmill, a meatpacking plant, a bank, and an insurance company.

Of course, technology waits for no one. The Pony Express could not compete with the faster telegraph. It went bankrupt after 18 months. From T-mails to emails. Isn’t progress wonderful!

Jim DeFelice has written a wonderfully entertaining account of the history of the Pony Express. It’s titled West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. I love stories about the Old American West. This is one book I simply could not put down.

RELATED: 30+ Best National Parks Books (Great Gifts For Park Lovers)

Retracing The Pony Express

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You can retrace the historic trail of the Pony Express using interactive technologies | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One hundred and fifty years later, you can visit trail traces, visitor centers, museums, hiking trails, historic structures and forts related to the Pony Express National Historic Trail.

The trail crosses eight states following the journey taken by dozens of young riders and hundreds of horses between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California.

The best news of all, however, is that you won’t have to change horses every ten miles. There are auto tour routes, GIS interactive maps and a Back-Country Byway.

Or, you can simply use your cellphone (there’s an app for every thing these days!) to chart a course across the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Isn’t progress wonderful! [Did I say that already?]

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument | Nevada National Parks
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument | Courtesy of the National Park Service

7. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument | Nevada National Parks

As a former World History teacher, I realized that there’s old and then there’s old.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument preserves thousands of Pleistocene (Ice Age) fossils that help tell the story of an ever-changing ecosystem. These fossils were preserved within expanding and contracting wetlands between 100,000-12,500 years ago.

Many of the Pleistocene animals of Tule Springs are still alive today, including the coyote (Canis latrans), jackrabbit (Lepus sp.), and aquatic snails. Some animals went extinct, disappearing from North America entirely. (Source: NPS)

Tule Springs is a relatively new park so the trails are a work in progress. That having been said I would recommend taking the Aliante Loop Trail which offers year-round scenic views of Mojave Desert scrub habitat and the Las Vegas Range. There are also wildflower blooms in spring and summer.

Map Of Nevada National Park Sites

List Of Nevada National Park Sites

  1. California National Historic Trail
  2. Death Valley National Park
  3. Great Basin National Park
  4. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
  5. Old Spanish National Historic Trail
  6. Pony Express National Historic Trail
  7. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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