Most folks don't think of Nevada as a prime hiking destination. Few hikers set out here, with practically no trails to follow, no information on water sources and and in many cases, not even a picture of the area can be found online. But, for many, this lack of information is intriguing. It sparks our curiosity. What's out there?
The Basin And Range Trail was created to satisfy these curiosities. The goal of this route is to explore Nevada's unsung mountain ranges and desert vastness. Much of this region see little to zero traffic from hikers, so there is extensive cross-country hiking and bushwhacking involved. The real adventure begins when you leave the trail behind, and make your own path.
The Basin and Range Trail provides a framework for the ambitious hiker to create their own Nevada thru hike adventure. Sections of the route remain untested and unverified, and many alternates exist. If the opportunity to fill in the gaps sounds exciting, the BRT may be the thru hike adventure for you!
Basin and Range Trail Sections Overview
While a standard route is provided for the Basin and Range Trail, the reality is that most BRT hikers will use this as a blueprint for their own adventure, and hike a similar but slightly different route. There are countless alternate routes available, and no two thru hikes of the BRT will be the same. Many sections are still being rerouted in search of the optimal line, and will continue to be improved upon many years from now as more and more hikers take on the BRT.
The standard route of the Basin and Range Trail is 1090 miles. A more realistic number for most hikers would be in the 1000 mile range. It could range from 900-1100+ miles, depending on your route choices. The BRT is typically broken up into 10 sections, for resupply purposes.
From Ely, the route heads south through the Egan Range, and quickly reaches 10,000ft. Striking limestone cliffs on the west side and a more gentler, rolling east side provide a prompt introduction to the Basin and Range topography that make up much of the state. From the ridgeline of the Egans, sweeping views of Steptoe Valley and White River Valley. This area is surprisingly green and lush, with pockets of pines, aspens and ample water. To stay on the crest and walk the ridge, much bushwhacking is involved. Cave Valley offers a low route alternative to the ridgeline if needed. The section ends at HWY 318 near Sunnyside. From here, it's a 30 mile hitch north to Preston to Resupply.
The first section is mild compared to this epic leg of the BRT. From Sunnyside, the route heads west, stopping at a stunning deep blue hot spring oasis. There are many caves in the lower canyons of the Grant Range, and wildlife abound. The crest of the Grant Range offers many miles of challenging ridgewalking with hundred mile views. The canyons are rugged and untouched, no signs of human use here. The lush Quinn Canyon Range has several flowing creeks with trout, old mines to explore and even small waterfalls. The walk across Railroad valley and into the Lunar Crater Volcanic Field is an unforgettable desert trek, and represents the southernmost point along the BRT. After Lunar Crater, a 3400ft wide 430ft deep crater, the section ends at HWY 6, where it's an 80 mile hitch to Tonopah, the nearest town.
This section continues west across the Hot Creek, Monitor and Toquima ranges, and the route bags the highpoint of all three. The mountains become progressively higher and wetter as the route heads west, reaching elevations as high as 11,900+ ft. The Hot Creek Range features many near-vertical jagged rock formations, outstanding views from the high country, colorful wildflowers and wild horses at lower elevations. Project Faultless, a nuclear test site, old cabins and mining operations offer interesting explorations of historical interest. Next, the route traverses the crest of the Monitor Range through the Table Mountain Wilderness. This area is home to a strong population of Elk, so keep your eyes open for some big bulls. In the Toquima Range, you may come across your first legitimate hiking trail. Don't get used to it! After bagging Mt Jefferson, the route passes by Jefferson, an old ghost town, past an active gold mine, through Big Smoky Valley and walk into the small town of Carvers.
Now the route heads north through the Toiyabe Range, the longest in Nevada. The route takes South Twin River to get up to the crest, and it's stunning. Countless creek fords, huge sheer cliffs, and many caves. The Toiyabe Crest Trail offers a pretty solid track to follow up on the crest. The Toiyabes rise 6000ft above Big Smoky Valley, which means plenty of prominence and excellent views. This is one of only 3 places along the BRT where you might run across another human, although this trail is very lightly trafficked. The views are superb, the sunsets and dried lake beds provide an array of colors that are truly magical. North of Groves Lake, you have high and low route options. Near Austin, many mining operations, new and old, are everywhere. Austin is another walk-in town, and make sure to stop at Stokes Castle on your way in.
From Austin, the route heads east, crossing the northern portion of the Toquima and Monitor ranges again. The route passes by Spencer Hot Springs, which makes a great spot to camp for the night, where you can soak under the stars! Make sure to allot time to explore the nearby Linka Mine. The northern portion of the Toquima Range, at 7000ft, is much smaller than Mt Jefferson at 7000ft, and is a quick traverse. However, the northern Monitor Range is more formidable at over 10,000ft. Heading east, the route crosses Antelope Valley, Mahogany Hills and the Fish Creek Range before walking into the town of Eureka.
The BRT continues north from Eureka, heading up to the crest of the Diamond Range. This range has no hiking trails and no roads that cross the top. This range sees practically no traffic, yet offers excellent views from its crest for many miles. The biggest obstacle to a continuous ridgewalk of the Diamonds is the lack of water, but low routes exist if needed. Walk the Pony Express Trail across Huntington Valley and into the Ruby Mountains. The view of the Ruby Marsh wetlands to the east is unreal, the reflection the setting sun on the braided waterways will be forever burned into your mind. After a challenging traverse of Pearl Peak, it's time to walk the crown Jewel of Nevada, the Ruby Crest Trail, to Roads End Trailhead in Lamoille Canyon. From here, continue along the crest of the Ruby Range to Sietz Lake, or end in Lamoille Canyon. The Ruby Mountains are Nevada's wettest range, with several alpine lakes, streams and beaver ponds. Elko is your best best for a full resupply, about a 25 minute hitch from Lamoille Canyon.
This is a challenging section. Untested high routes remain in the northern Rubies, while a verified low route to Solider Creek exists as well. North of Solider Creek, regain the crest briefly before dropping down into northern Ruby Valley, near Secret Valley. From here, the route enters the East Humboldt Range, an extremely thick and lush range that will test your bushwhacking skills (and patience). Unverified high routes exist that offer an option with potentially less bushwhacking, and more scrambling. The map marks the East Humboldt Highline Trail here, but it's mostly a bushwhack. You are rewarded handsomely for your hard work though, with beautiful alpine landscapes featuring small lakes, flowing creeks, wildflowers, steep and rocky cirques. Cross the divide at Gray's Peak, head down to Angel Lake and walk or hitch into Wells.
This is the northernmost section of the BRT. Heading east from Wells, the route turns south into the Precoup Range and follows the crest, providing sweeping views of Independence and Goshute Valleys. The wreckage of an F-111 fighter jet can be found in the hills if you are lucky enough to stumble across it. The route turns east and crosses Goshute Valley, perhaps one of the driest sections of the BRT. Head up to Morgan Pass and walk the crest of the Goshute Range south, until you give up and head down to walk around! The seas of golden grass in Goshute Valley offer a different kind of beauty. This is a tough range, with prolonged and intense bushwhacking. The views are among the best of the whole route, with the massive (30,000 acre) Bonneville Salt Flats to the east looking into Utah, the vastness of Goshute Valley to the west, and imposing limestone cliffs and ridges beneath your feet, stretching to the horizon north and south. After reaching US 93 ALT, it's a 35 mile hitch into Wendover.
Continuing south from US 93 ALT through Antelope Valley, the route leaves the Goshute Range behind and heads up into the Kinsley Range. Walk through a huge open pit gold mine your way up to the crest, and follow that south to Antelope Peak, highpoint of the range. Next comes the Antelope Range, home to not only many pronghorn but also large herds of wild horses. The route then follows the Schell Creek Range south, second longest in Nevada. Summit Becky Peak to gain access to the crest, which offers excellent views. The Schell Creek Range has a decent route that runs along, or parallel to, the crest. It's a mixture of single track trail, and bushwhacking, and a 4x4 trail called the Ranger Trail. Take the high route along the 11,000+ft ridgeline in the High Schells Wilderness to bag some ultra prominent peaks, or a lower route below the crest. This section ends at Cave Lake State Park, where it's a 15 mile hitch into Ely to resupply.
This section saves some of the best of the BRT for last. From Cave Lake State Park, continue east across the Schell Creek Range over to the Snake Range and the Mt Moriah Wilderness. Multiple routes exist here. Some bushwhacking is involved, but the canyons are impressive, with some very interesting rock formations. Water is not an issue in the canyons. "The Table" is a flat plateau at 11,000ft that makes an excellent camp, with views of Mt. Moriah. The Summit of Mt. Moriah is the first 12,000ft peak along the BRT, and provides massive views. Hendry's Creek is the preferred route down off Mt Moriah. Excellent trail, flowing water, and one of the most impressive canyons of the entire BRT. Set your own course for Great Basin National Park, home to the 2nd tallest peak in Nevada, Wheeler Peak at 13,064ft. Take Baker Creek up to the ridgeline (or choose a canyon farther south to extend the ridgewalk) and walk the crest to Wheeler Peak. This off-trail traverse is the culmination of your BRT journey, and the symbolic end is Wheeler Peak. It's all downhill from here, 18 miles to Baker, endpoint of the BRT. Woo-hoo, you've done it!
Basin and Range Trail Name Origins
Most of Nevada sits within the geographical area known as the Great Basin, and so the route was originally going to be named the Great Basin Trail. However, the Great Basin describes a hydrological feature, where any precipitation that falls within this area does not drain to the sea. Instead, it drains internally, seeping into the ground, evaporating, or at best, settling into a saline lake. That’s what the great basin actually is, a big drainage pond that water never escapes from. Most of Nevada also sits within the northern Basin and Range Province, which is a term used to describe the unique topography here… a parallel series of tall, narrow faulted mountain ranges separated by vast flat, arid valleys, or basins. This topography can easily be observed from any satellite or terrain map, and is highly representative of the hiker’s view along the entire route. And so, the name Basin and Range Trail was chosen, for the stunning topography of central Nevada.
How Did Basin and Range Topography Form?
The basins, or valleys, and ranges (the mountains) have been, and continue to be, created by an ongoing tension in the region, which pulls the land apart in an east-west direction. Over the last 30 million years, movement of hot mantle beneath the region caused the surface to bulge upwards and then partially collapse under its own weight, as it is pulled apart. The plate stretches, fractures and thins. This causes Mountains to rise, and valleys to drop during faulting. If the land continues to pull apart here, a spreading ridge with an intervening ocean could be created. There is very little actual stretching going on though currently, and the stretches now is mostly concentrated on the eastern and western edges of the Basin and Range boundaries.