Mountain Bike Road Trip Across Nevada

US Route 50 will become a focal point for backcountry mountain biking

By Kurt Gensheimer

Descending the forgotten Pony Canyon Downhill Trail near Austin, NV (Kurt Gensheimer).

It may be considered “The Loneliest Road in America,” but for anyone who has ever experienced US Route 50 through Nevada, one thing is for certain – there are a lot of mountain bikes strapped to vehicles crossing the state on their way to either Utah, the Colorado Rockies or Lake Tahoe and coastal California. Despite Nevada’s status as the most mountainous state behind Alaska, many mountain bikers zoom through interior Nevada without ever taking their bikes off the rack. But thanks to the efforts of the Carson City Culture & Tourism Authority, all that is about to change.

Created in 1926 as a part of the original US Highway system, the historic US Route 50 runs more than 3,000 miles from Sacramento, California to Ocean City, Maryland. After passing through South Lake Tahoe, US 50 crosses through the Nevada state capital of Carson City and the agricultural community of Fallon. After Fallon, US 50 becomes “The Loneliest Road in America,” with only three small communities in more than 300 miles of driving.

Although the “Loneliest Road” moniker has worked well for Nevada tourism over the years, the highway needs to appeal to a younger generation of adventurous outdoor enthusiasts, encouraging them to get out of their cars and explore. Therefore, the Carson City Culture & Tourism Authority is reaching out to the rural communities of Austin, Eureka and Ely, focusing on US Route 50 as the preferred through route for mountain bikers, establishing the Nevada MTB Road Trip Experience.

“We want to give mountain bikers traveling through the state a reason to stop and spend a night or even a few days riding in Nevada,” said Joel Dunn, Carson City Culture & Tourism Authority. “In addition to some great trails in historically rich communities, interior Nevada also offers numerous hot springs, ghost towns and some of the most expansive alpine terrain in North America.”

The communities of Austin, Eureka and Ely are similarly situated, each sitting beneath mountain passes reaching 7,500 feet elevation, making for very easy shuttle service access using US Route 50. And with surrounding peaks as high as 10,000 feet elevation, there’s enormous potential for singletrack descents in each town exceeding 3,000 vertical feet. The only element missing is purpose-built singletrack, but at least one community is already on its way.

Towards the eastern end of the state along US Route 50, Ely is already making a name for itself as an under-the-radar mountain bike destination. Those who’ve explored Ely know how good the riding is, especially if they’ve ever participated in the Fears, Tears and Beers Enduro, arguably the oldest mountain bike enduro in North America established in 2004. Starting and finishing right in downtown Ely, riders can pedal to dozens of miles of technically challenging, high-speed singletrack in the shadow of Ward Mountain, rising nearly 11,000 feet above sea level. Ely is also close to Cave Lake State Park, featuring nearly a dozen miles of singletrack with commanding views, rocky technical challenges and fast, flowing descents.

Looking down on Austin, NV (Kurt Gensheimer).

Mountain bikers might recognize the name Austin, a town of barely 100 residents, home to several Nevada mountain bike state championship events more than a decade ago. Some passing through Austin might even see the giant billboards advertising mountain biking as “A Challenge!” Unfortunately, Austin never made it as a mountain bike community despite its ideal location at the foot of the mighty Toiyabe Range, rich with beautiful alpine terrain featuring year round streams, aspen groves, juniper and pine trees. But Austin has enormous potential provided a network of purpose-built singletrack trails can be constructed surrounding town.

Austin is relatively close to the Toiyabe Crest Trail, a historic singletrack 75 miles in total length running as high as 11,000 feet elevation along the shoulder of the Toiyabe Range. Although the southern 35 miles is in Arc Dome Wilderness, the northern 35 miles is outside Wilderness and legal for mountain bike access. Despite it being a National Recreation Trail constructed in the 1930s, the mighty Toiyabe Crest Trail suffers from lack of use and is quickly disappearing.

In an effort to bring more folks to Austin and the nearby community of Kingston where the Toiyabe Crest Trail ends, a federal trail work grant is being applied for, and if funded, will employ a crew to brush out the entire length of the trail from Ophir Summit north to Kingston Canyon. Upon completion, the Toiyabe Crest Trail will once again become one of the West’s great mountain bike epics, running between 8,000 and 10,500 feet elevation for 35 miles, finishing with an incredible 5,000 vertical foot descent into the community of Kingston.

The Toiyabe Crest Trail near Kingston, NV (Kurt Gensheimer).

In between Austin and Ely is Eureka, a vibrant and very historically rich mining town of 1,200 residents. Although Eureka currently does not have any multi-use singletrack near town, it has much potential and community leaders who understand the importance of trails both for residents’ quality of life and the economic boost from tourism. The city is currently applying for a number of grants to begin the process of building multi-use singletrack, one of which may come off the top of Prospect Peak at 9,573 feet elevation.

Although not on US Route 50, another Nevada community that’s experiencing a trails renaissance is the city of Caliente in southeast Nevada, located right between Las Vegas and St. George, Utah. Through the cooperation of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), Nevada State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management and city government, nearly $1.5 million dollars in grant funds were secured to construct nearly 40 miles of multi-use singletrack. And since this spring, nearly ten miles have already been constructed. To help get the word out, the Carson City Culture & Tourism Authority has offered to help train local officials on using social media to promote the trails with travelers.

“Ever since our bureau’s rebranding four years ago, we’ve seen an enormous increase in tourism and community pride because of our focus on outdoor recreation,” said Kyle Horvath, Carson City Culture & Tourism Authority Marketing & Social Media Director. “In Carson City we are blessed with award-winning trails, and we want to share what we’ve learned as a community with our friends in rural Nevada.”

By helping one another, the entire state of Nevada is working towards becoming a premier destination for outdoor recreation. And although a lot of trail work still needs to be done, the Carson City Culture & Tourism Authority is driving this Nevada MTB Road Trip Experience in the hopes that mountain bikers will spend more time exploring the wild, historic and uncrowded backcountry communities of Nevada.

Hike a bike up a steep section of the iconic Toiyabe Crest Trail (Kurt Gensheimer).

Riders can find solitude on the trails systems along Hwy 50 in Nevada (Courtesy of Visit Carson City).

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1 Comment

  1. Carlo Luri

    Thank you Kurt for a great article exploring the potential for trails development along US50 “The Loneliest Road”. Hopefully the communities along this route will recognize the true economic potential of a new generation of young affluent travelers and the potential for them to support rural economies with tourism dollars. I did want to point out that you completely skipped over the western terminus of the Loneliest Road. Starting in Stateline, the first 25 miles of US50 through Douglas County (while not so lonely) has some of the best mountain biking terrain in Nevada as evidenced by the excellent trails in the Tahoe Basin recently completed by TAMBA, the always challenging TRT which parallels US 50 between Kingsbury and Spooner, and the over 50 miles of singletrack built and maintained by the Carson Valley Trails Association. We are proud to serve as an example for other communities to model their trail programs after but would remind the adventure community that most of these projects do not get $1.5 mil in public funding (like Caliente). The trails already completed in our communities have been built on the backs of many volunteers and generous private donations. If you use the trails, SUPPORT the trails.

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