It may be mostly desert and 80% of the land owned by the feds, but Nevada has some hidden golden nuggets tucked away. So saddle up, head for the Silver State, and enjoy some of the best motorcycle roads Nevada has to offer.
Nevada’s rise to fame has been a roller coaster ride for sure. An empty desert-like wilderness, the Spanish attempted to establish a colony and gave the state its name (Nevada means snow-capped).
At one time, the state belonged to both Mexico and Utah. However, it was the discovery of silver in 1859 at the Comstock Lode and the subsequent population boom, that led to the establishment of the Nevada Territory.
You can’t look at Nevada without mentioning gambling, which generates over $24 billion a year. The state is famous for its liberal stance towards life in general. It permits legal gay marriages, 24hr alcohol sales, marijuana for personal use, and prostitution across 14 counties.
If you’re riding around the state, both you and your passenger will have to wear a lid, as well as protective glasses, face shield or goggles. Incidentally, your helmet has to weigh at least 3 lbs, have safety stickers, and if you're thinking of covering it in spikes, make sure they are no more than 2/10ths of an inch long.
Lane splitting is illegal but you can ride side by side. Vehicles rapidly changing lanes is a state sport, and even though it's the driest state in the US, when it does rain the blacktop goes super slimy.
1. Valley of Fire State Park
Ok, let’s kick off with an easy one; it starts in Lost Wages and covers a loop that takes in the Valley of Fire State Park. So, drag yourself away from the crap tables, and head out to the burbs in North Vegas.
You’re looking for E. Lake Mead Blvd, also known as Highway 147, and we’re going to follow it east for around 10 miles. At that point, the 147 heads south but instead, let's continue northeast along Pabco Road.
This road, in turn, runs into the Old Spanish Trail Road, which will lead right on to the Valley of Fire Hwy. A lot of the route so far is good quality blacktop that’s as flat as a blackjack table. You will though run across sections that have quite literally been left out to dry. These are cracked and worn and on the hottest days, the tar snakes are well chewy, but it’s no biggy.
As for the landscape, as mentioned earlier, there’s an awful lot of desert scrub in Nevada, and the mountains always seem to be on the horizon. It doesn’t offer much in the way of peg-scraping bends but it is pleasant enough, and the total distance involved for the entire route means you’re not going to get bored.
That is of course until you hit the Valley of Fire. The road through the park is just super cool, its rises and falls, swings and bends through some of nature's amazing sandstone architecture.
Once through the VoF, head for the 167; this will take you through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Take your time through this section as there are plenty of turn-offs with cool places to chill.
Be aware that the park service is probably the largest employer in the area, so there's a lot of rangers hanging around waiting to justify their existence. Watch out for the tolls, too.
Here’s the thing, the round trip is approximately 140 miles and you'll be passing through two national parks. There’s plenty of gas stops at the start and end of the route, but zilch in-between.
If you are on a bagger or a big Adv with a 25-gallon tank, you’re home and dry, but watch out if you’re on a Sporty. This warning may seem obvious but is easy to overlook, so if size is an issue, take the I-15 to the VoF turn off and juice-up at the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza.
A final word on the route, two-thirds of the way around you can hang a right on the 93 and head for the Hoover Dam, for an extended tour.
2. Laughlin River Run
Located on the banks of the Colorado River, the town of Laughlin lies in the far south of the state on the Nevada/Arizona border. The Laughlin River Run show runs on the end of April every year and draws around 70,000 bikers. It has been around since 1983, and apart from a now-famous ruckus between the HA and Mongols in 2002, the event has passed without a hitch.
Obviously, due to its location, you get a lot of bikers rolling over from Arizona and California, but seeing as our last tour was a loop, here’s the route from Vegas. You aren’t overly blessed with a lot of back roads in this neck of the woods. Hence you’re kind of stuck with heading southeast out of town towards boulder city, to pick up the 95 due south.
Wander Around a Ghost Town
Before you hit autopilot on your snooze-glide though, keep an eye out for a left turn to the 165 heading towards Nelson. This area was at the heart of gold fever back in the day and you can wander around the old cars in the ghost town or take a tour of the Techatticup Gold Mine.
Back on the 95, around 30 miles later, look out for a left turn on the 164 for another ghost town, Searchlight. Nope, it’s not Groundhog Day, just another cool place to break-up an otherwise dull ride.
Besides, apart from several significant gold strikes (and 300 claims) here, the half-ghost town (50 percent of it the town is still inhabited) has some cool claims to fame. At one time bigger than Vegas, and thanks to the workers on the Hoover Dam, Searchlight was home to one of the most famous brothels, and guess what? They had searchlights guiding punters to the establishment, who’d a thunk it!
Back on the 95 and there's no need to stop until you roll right into Laughlin. Incidentally, had the event been staged a hundred yards east, it would have been called the Bullhead City Run (the town lies on the far bank of the Colorado).
Next, we're going to look at the Reno/Tahoe area, which I was going to map from Vegas, but seeing as its one road, here are the directions. Leave Vegas, get on the US-95 North, turn left 440 miles later, and you're in Reno.
Reno lies in the northwest of the state, and although it has a lot in common with Vegas, the topography of the area is vastly different. For a start, you've got the three major forested regions that straddle the California/Nevada border and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Plus, the Truckee River runs from Lake Tahoe right through downtown Reno on the way to Pyramid Lake. So what does all this mean for the exploring rider? It means great and varied countryside, altering elevations, and great roads.
3. Tahoe and the Mt Rose Highway
The following are therefore all scenic rides in and around the Reno/Tahoe area. The first is a nice short ride that you can add to very easily. Head south out of Reno and pick up the Mt Rose Highway NV-431 going southwest.
You’ll find nicely kept bendy roads and stunning scenery here, especially as you reach an elevation of almost 9,000 ft. The view of the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe is stunning, but be aware, this road is famous for its speeders, so stay frosty.
Once at the lake, the world is your oyster, either do a tour of the shoreline (just over 70 miles) or keep to the 28 as it hugs the craggy eastern shore and pick up the 50.
This highway may sound familiar as it’s designated America’s loneliest highway. Look out for the 395 north, which will take you past Washoe Lake and back towards Reno.
Next, we're heading out to the Black Rock Desert. Now depending on the time of year, this place is either crazy alive or dead, but at least the journey is interesting.
4. Pyramid Lake and the Black Rock Desert
Head north out of Reno on the 445 all the way to Pyramid Lake where you hit the 446 around its southern edge. The 447 heads due north at Nixon until it eventually hits Empire. Thanks to US Gypsum, the town is deserted, the company owns all the properties and when they closed they kicked the residents out and shut the town down.
A little further up the road and you reach Gerlach, gateway to the Black Rock Desert. This area is fascinating in terms of history, both ancient and modern, as well as featuring stunning geology.
Covering a staggering 1.2 million acres of wilderness, the area witnessed the busting of the world land speed record in 1997 by British team ThrustSSC. The twin-turbofan jet car went supersonic, recording 763.035 mph across the desert floor.
The area is also home to private rocket launches, insane golf tournaments across the desert, and a little old festival called Burning Man. Unless you’ve been living in a commune on Mars for a few decades, you’ll have heard of the Burning Man festival. Right here in Gerlach is the staging point where the majority of the 70,000 festival-goers head for each year.
Talking of festivals, unless you’re building your own temporary town in the middle of the desert, you’re pretty much restricted to the events in the more populated areas. This fact is no biggie when you’ve got gigs like the Street Vibrations Rally.
The event, which attracts around 50,000 bikers, is spread over a huge area. The area includes downtown Reno and 15 miles southeast along the 341 to Virginia City. The party keeps on rockin’ at Carson City too, which is an enjoyable ride south on the 395 taking in Washoe Park and lake.
This event is huge, and apart from the obvious poker runs and scavenger hunts, there’s a big name custom bike show, Miss Vibrations contest, Tattoo Expo, and over 250 vendors.
If you needed a further nudge in that direction, you'd also be able to catch Arnold Schwarzenegger's stunt double riding the globe of death. Add to this two of the best all-female tribute bands around, Hell's Belles and Zepparella, and you've got a gig worth checking out.
There are some great roads and destinations in Nevada, despite its harsh climate and geography, but it’s one of those places you can’t take for granted. If you’re going to clock-up any decent mileage, always make sure you’re carrying water and know your gas stops. So with that in mind, why not head for the Silver State and enjoy some of the best motorcycle roads Nevada has to offer?
(Maps and photo links courtesy of Google, Thumpertalk, ParksNV, PickClick, Casinopedia, Wikimedia, Reno Gazette, Daily Mail, Travel Nevada).