U.S. Route 50 is a transcontinental highway in the United States, stretching from the Sacramento region of California in the west to Ocean City of Maryland in the east. The Nevada portion, which goes through the center of the state, was named The Loneliest Road in America by Life magazine in July 1986. While the name was intended as a pejorative, Nevada officials seized it as a marketing slogan, and U.S. 50 became a challenge for tourists of who could "survive the highway".
The name "Loneliest Road" originates from the remote areas which U.S. 50 goes through, with few or no signs of civilization along many parts of the route. The highway crosses several large, desertlike plateaus separated by numerous mountain ranges towering over the valley floors. Due to the fact that the little rain that falls does not drain to any ocean, the region of the United States that the Loneliest Road travels through is referred to as the Great Basin.
US 50 goes through the petroglyphs, alpine forests, desert valleys, ghost towns, and Great Basin National Park before splitting near the Nevada-Utah border. This itinerary covers the route from Fernley, Nevada, to Delta, Utah.
Due to the remoteness of the route, make sure your car is in good working order and has no issues; it's not going to be a pleasant experience if your vehicle breaks down in one of the many wilderness areas.
Also, you may want to bring some food and drinks that don't go bad too easily, since restaurants along the route are few and far between.
However, if you were thinking of bringing money, don't bring much with the intention of gambling. The lack of population along most of the Loneliest Road means that there are not as many casinos as there are in Reno, Carson, and Vegas; the only towns on the Loneliest Road with notable gambling opportunities are Fernley, Fallon, and Ely, and even these towns have nothing like the gambling scene that Las Vegas has due to their low population. There are of course no casinos once you go into Utah, which is closely related to the fact that Mormonism has a strong presence in that state.
If you begin the route in Fernley as this itinerary describes, and you are coming from Sacramento or the Bay Area, take I-80 across the Sierra Mountains past Reno and on to Fernley. Once you're at Fernley, you can take the Main Street westbound exit and you will soon be on the Loneliest Road.
The nearest notable civilian airport to the beginning of the Loneliest Road is in Reno. You can rent a vehicle there.
This route will go from Fernley west along the Loneliest Road over a period of two days. In other words, if you want to do the journey from east to west, you'll have to follow this itinerary backwards.
Day one: Fernley to Ely
This is the first part of the journey, and the part where you cross most of Nevada's Great Basin region.
You'll drive on Route 50 east from 1 Fernley, and within not too long you'll be in 2 Fallon. Fallon, the end of civilization on the highway. There are not any major points of interest in Fallon, so you will most likely be interested in driving on.
Shortly after the Fallon area, which is farming country, the countryside quickly turns to high-altitude desert and you'll reach the 1 Sand Mountain Recreation Area. While Sand Mountain is an enjoyable experience for those who have ATVs, it's otherwise not a very interesting place to visit, and most people will want to drive past this destination.
The part of the Loneliest Road from Sand Mountain to Austin, Nevada is one of the most remote parts of the route and is therefore one of the loneliest sections. While there are technically populated places like 3 Middlegate and 4 Eastgate, these are hardly even settlements from the traveler's point of view: they may consist of a few buildings, and if you're really lucky, a place to eat or drink. Once you pass Eastgate, you'll get into the authentic Great Basin country: great, towering mountain ranges on each side of the highway and large plateaus between the mountain ranges.
If you continue to drive along US 50, not too long after passing Middlegate and Eastgate you should come to a couple buildings, dirt tracks and building remains called 1 Cold Springs. This was once part of the Pony Express Route that existed for only a few months in the early 1860s but is now considered to be an extremely important time period in the history of the West. To the right of US 50 is the turn-off a short dirt road that leads to a tourist information center about this section of the Pony Express. It doesn't take much imagination to visualize the horses coming across the valley from the monstrous nearby mountain range and going towards their destination.
There's also a trail that leads from Sand Springs toward the mountain range, but it's far from being a popular hike.
A little farther along the highway is also the 1 Cold Springs Rest Stop, which is one of the few rest stop areas along this section of the road. The road goes northeast for several miles after Cold Springs, and eventually goes through a pass in the mountain range.
You'll then turn in a more southward direction for a while before going directly east and coming to the "town" of 5 Austin. However, anyone who has hopes of this being a bustling, charming little town is not imagining the place very well. The town has no real restaurants by city standards, although it has a couple of cafes where you can stop and have something to drink or maybe even a bite to eat before you face another long, weary drive.
The town of Austin itself is, however, an important point on the route because it marks the transition from the desert landscape on the route west of it to the higher-altitude, more juniper-covered region to the east. The section of Route 50 that goes east out of Austin, which you will be taking, is quite twisty until it reaches a mountain pass. The section of Route 50 east of Austin over the mountains is part of the 2 Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Once you pass through the National Forest, you will enter a consistent pattern of crossing a plateau, then going over a mountain range with beautiful juniper woodlands, then back down to a plateau, and so on.
Eventually, you will cross a very wide valley that seems to continue for eternity, except for what appears to be strangely low-set mountains in the distance. You may assume this is due to a lower elevation between you and the mountains, but it's actually due to Earth's rotation: the curvature of the earth turns an area with all the same elevation above sea level into a higher area and then what seems to be a ditch before some very high mountains come higher than the ditch.
After this seemingly endless valley, you will finally come to another "town" called 6 Eureka. While the road to the town, with a few buildings, quarries and even a supermarket, may give travelers some hope of a larger-scale settlement, they will be disappointed when they reach the town's practically empty Main Street area. There are practically no restaurants in Eureka, but at least there is a gas station and the 3 Eureka Sentinel Museum in the town.
From Eureka onward, the Loneliest Road goes in a southeasterly direction. Quite a long way along the route is a turn-off to a ghost town called 4 Hamilton. It's quite a lot of extra driving off the route if you want to make the side trip, but if you're ahead of schedule you might choose to do it.
Finally, after many more miles of driving on US Route 50 from the Hamilton turn-off, you'll finally come to a small city called 7 Ely, where there are several hotels where you can stay for the night. Ely is the location of the 5 Nevada Northern Railroad Museum if you're interested in trains or Central Nevada's history. There are a couple restaurants in Ely's downtown as well.
Day two: Ely to Beaver, Utah or Delta, Utah
To stay on the Loneliest Road after Ely, you'll now need to turn right to stay on Route 50 and go south for a while before you will go over another mountain pass. You should then see a giant mountain range, which is the 6 Wheeler Peak range. The highway then turns north and goes around the highest part of the range and comes to a junction where there are two varying routes you can take to finish the Loneliest Road route.
If you turn right on Nevada State Route 487, you will take the part of the Loneliest Road that eventually leads to Beaver. However, if you go straight on, you will continue along U.S. Route 50 and go to Delta.
Route to Beaver
As stated above, you will leave U.S. Route 50 to take the Loneliest Road to Beaver and go on state highways instead of the United States Route 50. This will mean that you will go quite a lot south for the final part of your journey, and this will put you farther south in Utah, and therefore closer to Bryce National Park, Zion National Park, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Also, the route to Beaver will go past the eastern entrance Great Basin National Park, which is one of America's lesser-known national parks but still with excellent scenery.
If you turn right on State Route 487 for the route to Beaver, after a few miles of southward travel you will come to the small settlement of 8 Baker. Although Baker is small, it at least has a grocery store, a couple of restaurants, and a few places to sleep.
But the more notable aspect in the Baker area is that it provides access to 2 Great Basin National Park. If possible on your route, visit the park; the mountain range that covers most of Great Basin National Park is the same towering mountain range you saw earlier the same day when you were still on U.S. Route 50 (see the first paragraph of #Day two). To get to Great Basin National Park, just turn right on Lehman Caves Road when you get to Baker and follow Lehman Caves Road to the visitor center.
You can do some hikes in Great Basin National Park, which go into the mountains. There's also a couple picnic areas in case you wanted something to eat, and the visitor center does tours of Lehman Caves, which are inside the park. To get back to Baker, take Lehman Caves Road back again.
Once you've done the Great Basin National Park excursion, continue to drive on State Route 487 south from Baker. Soon after you drive out of Baker, you will come to the 7 Nevada-Utah Border, where there are welcome signs for the states and you can pull off to the side of the road and take a picture of the signs. Once you cross the state line, you will be on State Route 21 instead of Route 487.
You'll then go through another "town", except that this one is even smaller and has less to offer than Baker, called 9 Garrison. However, after Garrison you'll be back in remote terrain, although this terrain will be very desertlike again and you may notice the curvature of the earth once more in the mountain ranges.
After many miles of traveling, you will eventually come to some very rocky mountain peaks, which you'll go around. But if you thought you'd escaped the juniper trees, you didn't: the range after the rocky mountain peaks has some more juniper trees, but it also has something else: the ghost town of 8 Frisco. After you've gone past Frisco, you will then descend the range and come to civilization and away from true loneliness for the first time since Fernley and Fallon: you'll reach the small town of 10 Milford. The town is nothing spectacular, but it's a return to the connected world once more: you will even see farming country again as you come out of the settlement.
Navigating through the Milford should not be too hard: you will drive along Route 21 into the town until you reach Main Street, where you will turn right. Then you can just stay on that road out of Milford.
From Milford, you will then go south for a few miles to 11 Minersville before going east to a fairly substantial lake, 9 Minersville Reservoir. You will go past the reservoir's dam and then go northeast for a couple miles, and then go east for the final stretch of a couple miles to 12 Beaver. Beaver is close to I-15 so from Beaver you can easily get around many of the populated areas of Utah.
Route to Delta
The route to Delta is really quite simple: instead of turning off on State Route 487, just continue along U.S. Route 50. After a little while, you'll reach the state line, where there is the 13 Border Inn, which has a gas station.
You will then go through some desert and mountains and pass 10 Sevier "Lake", a salt flat region. Several miles later you will come to farming country, pass the settlement of 14 Hinckley and soon will be at 15 Delta, the end of this route. The road splits in Delta: you can either stay in Delta, take U.S. Route 50 and intersect with Interstate 15 near 16 Holden, or drive along U.S. Route 6, which leads north in the direction of Salt Lake City.
There are of course dangers associated with being out in these deserts, pretty much all alone. The roads will be extremely quiet (with at most a car every few minutes on U.S. Route 50 east of Fallon), so if something happens to your car you can expect a long wait at best, and die of thirst at the worst.
Don't take the Loneliest Road in winter. California's milder climate may fool you that Nevada, which is approximately the same latitude, does not have cold weather. You could hardly be more wrong. For example, here is the record temperature reached for each month in Ely:
Obviously, these are records, so temperatures are not normally this extreme. But if your car broke down and it was even close to the record lowest temperature for February, you will probably die within a very short period of time, especially if you left your vehicle.
The same is true if it was close to the record hottest day in July and your car broke down: your life could be at risk.
The added danger with these areas is that, if something goes wrong, the chances of easily getting a connection are low, so emergency calls may not be a possibility along remote portions of the route.
East of Beaver are many national parks and scenic areas, which are part of the National Parks Grand Circle. The Grand Circle includes Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Zion Parks, and all of the Grand Circle is in Utah or a state that neighbors Utah. The closest of these parks to Beaver are Bryce and Zion.