From cobalt-blue lake scenes to dusty ghost towns, and from mountain-bordered ranchland to waves of fiery rock, Nevada’s state parks deliver not just on spectacular settings, but on remarkable variety as well.
Nevada is perhaps known best for the neon-lit city of Las Vegas, but it is also home to the soaring peaks of Great Basin National Park, the splendid waters of Lake Tahoe, and the vast mountain ranges near Reno.
Scattered amidst it all are nearly 30 state parks that capitalize on the Silver State’s natural beauty, fascinating history, and wide-open spaces.
I have a few favorites from my travels through Nevada, and Travel Nevada suggested several other less-known state parks.
Based on those resources, here are 10 of Nevada’s most beautiful state parks.
1. Valley Of Fire State Park
Located less than an hour northeast of Las Vegas, colorful Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest, largest, and arguably most photogenic state park.
The park’s name really does say it all, because Valley of Fire is ablaze with swirling reds, oranges, and pinks, and hikers can take trails that lead to spots like Rainbow Vista and Fire Wave. And for lovers of unusual rock formations, there are Elephant Rock and Beehive Valley -- both looking amazingly like their namesakes.
Many of the park’s rocky features can be reached by taking the 11-mile scenic route and wandering off on various side roads and trails.
Valley of Fire is easy to access from Las Vegas by following Interstate 15 northeast and then heading southwest on the Valley of Fire Highway.
Pro Tip: Temperatures soar to average highs of 106 degrees in July, and just a few degrees cooler in June and August. So it’s best to time your trip to Valley of Fire for fall, when you can expect highs in the low 80s in October; winter, when highs are in the high 50s; and early spring, when average highs are in the 70-degree range in March and April.
2. Cathedral Gorge
Chalky-white hoodoos, jagged cliffs, and narrow slot canyons await at Cathedral Gorge State Park, a natural wonder that began to form eons ago with explosive volcanic activity that deposited layers of ash hundreds of feet thick.
Today, the gorge’s spires, buff-colored cliffs, and moon cave formations are accessible on a network of trails, including the 3.3-mile Cathedral Gorge Trail, one of Nevada’s most spectacular hikes.
The park is located near the small town of Panaca, about two and a half hours northeast of Las Vegas via Highway 93.
Pro Tip: Cathedral Gorge is a great mid-way stop along the Highway 93 route from Las Vegas to Great Basin National Park. There are plenty of other amazing stops on this epic Nevada road trip.
3. Spring Mountain Ranch
Located adjacent to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park shares many of the natural features of its magnificent neighbor.
At just a half hour southwest of Las Vegas, Spring Mountain Ranch makes for a convenient day trip from the city and can easily be combined with a visit to Red Rock Canyon.
As the first working ranch of the Las Vegas Valley and a one-time retreat for millionaire Howard Hughes, Spring Mountain Ranch offers a captivating mix of history and scenery.
Visitors can explore some of the oldest buildings in Nevada, such as an 1860s blacksmith shop and the sandstone cabin that was home to the founding family.
Hiking, picnicking, and living-history programs are also available. Note that park hours vary by season.
4. Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
Along the eastern shores of Lake Tahoe -- the largest alpine lake in North America -- lies the lovely beaches and cobalt blue water of the Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.
The park, which features gently sloping beaches and interesting rock formations, is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and boating.
The Nevada State Parks website notes that the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park’s abundant natural features include high alpine peaks, lush meadows, forestland, granite rock outcroppings, and sandy beaches. The multi-site state park is popular for winter or summer get-aways.
Pro Tip: Along with its countless outdoor recreational opportunities, the state park also hosts the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in the summer.
5. Washoe Lake State Park
For sweeping views of nearby mountain ranges in a peaceful setting, Washoe Lake State Park between Reno and Carson City is hard to beat.
The park, located about 30 minutes south of Reno and 15 minutes north of Carson City, features vistas of the nearby Sierra Nevada, Carson, and Virginia mountain ranges.
Portions of Washoe Lake are marshy wetlands, and the area provides critical forage and nesting habitat for populations of migratory birds and waterfowl, making it a stellar spot for birding. Pelicans, great blue and night herons, and white-faced ibis frequent the shore.
The park is also known as a laid-back spot for campers, fishermen, hikers, picnickers, and RV-ers.
6. Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park
Right in the midst of classic Great Basin terrain, visitors will find a unique piece of the state’s history in the row of six beehive-shaped rock ovens of the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park.
The ovens were used from 1876 through 1879 to help process the area’s silver ore. After mining ended, the structures were used to shelter travelers and even had a reputation as a hideout for stagecoach bandits, says the state park’s website.
Today, park visitors can explore the 30-foot-tall, 27-foot-wide kilns, as well as camp, hike, or stargaze.
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park is located about four hours north of Las Vegas.
7. Spring Valley State Park
As one of six Nevada state parks within 70 miles of each other, Spring Valley State Park offers a combination of views and history in southeastern Nevada, about three hours northeast of Las Vegas.
With volcanic rock providing a light-gray, pink, and white backdrop, the park showcases some of Nevada’s earliest pioneer history. The valley was originally settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s, and some of their original homesteads still exist today.
Travel Nevada notes that the old homesteads offer “an unfiltered glimpse of their exceptional workmanship while showing visitors what life in this area would’ve been like for some of the first people to rediscover it.”
8. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Another remote park with a fascinating history is available at the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, located about 160 miles southeast of Reno and about 300 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The park is named in part after Berlin, an 1890s mining town that is now a true Nevada ghost town. Many of Berlin’s original buildings remain, and some of the original residents were buried in the town’s cemetery. Trails throughout the townsite tell the story of Berlin and its mining history.
The other part of the state park’s name comes from Ichthyosaurs, ancient marine reptiles that swam in a warm ocean that covered central Nevada 225 million years ago. The park is home to the most abundant concentration (and largest known remains) of the reptiles, and their fossils are protected and displayed at the park.
Pro Tip: The nearest town is Tonopah, located about an hour and a half southeast of Berlin-Ichthyosaur.
9. Walker River State Recreation Area
One of Nevada’s newest state parks, Walker River State Recreation Area offers a remote ranch setting about 85 miles southeast of Reno and 385 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The park, which spans more than 12,000 acres along 28 miles of the scenic East Walker River, was created when the state acquired several large ranch properties that had been largely closed off to public access for more than 100 years. The new park includes four units: Pitchfork Ranch, Rafter 7 Ranch, Flying M Ranch, and Nine Mile Ranch.
While more units are expected to open to the public over time, the Elbow section of Nine Mile Ranch is currently open for exploration, offering an unspoiled section of the East Walker River.
In addition, the century-old Pitchfork Ranch, located near the small town of Yerington, offers exploration of seven miles of the river. “Visitors are invited to experience camping, hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, kayaking, fishing, or simply relaxing in an idyllic country setting,” says the park’s website.
10. Beaver Dam State Park
Known as Nevada’s most remote state park, Beaver Dam State Park is described by Travel Nevada as a spot that “beckons solace-seekers with deep canyons, trout-packed streams, waterfalls, and thickly wooded forests.”
The park’s website adds that visitors are likely to see turkeys, jackrabbits, and porcupines. Deer, coyotes, fox, bobcats, and great blue herons also call the area home.
Beaver Dam is located about three and a half hours northeast of Las Vegas, near the Nevada/Utah border. Camping, fishing, hiking, and picnicking are available.
Nevada State Parks all require an entry fee, which varies depending on the park. The state also offers a variety of year-long passes, including All Access Permits, Annual Entrance Permits, Senior Citizen Permits, and Disabled Veteran Permits.