Destinations: US Highway 50 - The Loneliest Road in America

US Highway 50 in Nevada exemplifies beauty and solitude unlike any other route in motorcycle touring.

| November/December 2011

  • US-Highway-50
    An expansive shot of U.S. Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America.
    Joe Berk
  • austin-nevada-vintage-sign
    The sign on Highway 50 as you enter Austin, Nev. Worn by time, it’s somehow just perfect.
    Joe Berk

  • US-Highway-50
  • austin-nevada-vintage-sign

U.S. Highway 50 in Nevada - "The Loneliest Road in America"
How to Get There:
From Northern California, just grab Highway 50 and point your front wheel east. From Southern California or Las Vegas, grab Interstate Highway 15 north to U.S. Highway 93, and take 93 to Ely. Alternatively, take U.S. Highway 395 north (from Southern California), spend the night in Nevada’s Carson Valley, and grab Highway 50 east in Carson City. From Salt Lake City and the rest of the eastern United States, grab Highway 50 and point your front wheel west.
Best Kept Secrets: The photo ops. You’ll kick yourself for years if you ride this road without a camera!
Avoid: Not checking weather conditions before you leave. It gets very cold in the winter, and the summers can be brutally hot. If you ride this road in the summer, stay hydrated!
More Info:
More Photos: 

I first rode U.S. Highway 50 in Nevada nearly 20 years ago on a Harley-Davidson Softail with my good friend Dick Scott. We had just re-entered the wonderful world of two wheels when the Harley craze took off in the early 1990s, and our first big adventure ride was a trip through the Southwest. We covered a lot of ground on that run, but the part I remember best is Nevada’s Highway 50. I liked it so much, if I’m riding east from Northern California these days, I always grab it instead of Interstate 80.

Highway 50 stretches all the way from California to Maryland, but the part we’re interested in runs through Nevada, from Carson City to Ely (pronounced “e-lee”). Life magazine wrote about this superb stretch of road in 1986, but in an Eastern put down, they condemned it as “the Loneliest Road in America.” The smart folks in Nevada recognized a good thing when they read it, and they grabbed Life magazine’s descriptor as the perfect prescription for promoting what is arguably one of the best rides in the world.

The road is magnificent. Picture stunning, brilliant blue skies, chalky deserts, majestic mountains and pine forests bisected by a deep black ribbon of road stretching as far as the eye can see. Throw in small towns like Austin, Eureka and Ely that retain the flavor of the American West, then sprinkle in a stretch through the Toiyabe National Forest, the scent of fresh pine and motionless deer watching you through the twisties, and you’ll pretty much have a feel for the richness of the Loneliest Road in America.

The adventure starts right after Fallon, the town anchoring the west end of the Loneliest Road. The first hint of this road’s unique personality is the Shoe Tree. If you blink, you’ll miss Middlegate (a tiny, one-building town) and its Shoe Tree. The first time we saw the tree, we thought it was covered with bats or cocoons of some sort. A quick stop revealed the tree to be adorned with thousands of shoes. The rumor is that it started with a guy whose fiancée wanted out of the deal, so he threw her shoes into the tree to force her hand in marriage. I can’t make up stuff this good.

Continuing east, Highway 50 runs right alongside the U.S. Navy’s TOPGUN bombing range. As a special treat on our most recent ride, we watched F-18s deliver 2,000-pound munitions. “BOOM” doesn’t begin to describe what we observed.

12/1/2011 9:51:54 AM

Greatly written, Joe. Several yeras ago my son, my brother, and I did Highway 50 from Fallon. We stopped and stared at the Shoe Tree......kind of a strange sensation after riding in 108 degree heat through what truly is, "the loneliest road in America". And yes, I bought the T-Shirt and still wear it! Glad you didn't mention that this stretch of road is one of the few places left where a guy can "check" his bike's rev-limiter........oops. THe K-Bike loved the road more thsn I did, but I would ride it again in a instant. This is something everyone needs to experience once in their life-time. Maybe even twice. Keep the articles coming. Good stuff! David in Burbank.

12/1/2011 9:01:47 AM

Having camped, done some dual sport exploring and enjoyed all that was said about this stretch of I-50, I was saddened after reading that "shoe tree" @ middlegate was cut down by some knucklehead. There are lots of things to do and see along this lonely road. One thing that should be on the must see list is a stop at Stokes Castle. If you're on a bike that can tackle some fire roads continue on around past the castle and circle the mountain above Austin. Best camping is just up the road (headed east) where you enter the pines and close enough to pick up provisions in town. It's a very unique place indeed!

James DeGregoria
12/1/2011 8:07:32 AM

I have ridden all of RT US 50; not at once but in parts over my 50 years on two wheel Guzzi's. y far the worst part is the WV portion west of MD , then east of MD. It is a pure hazard for Motorcycles. July 2011 was my last experience on this portion and it was frightening with the curves, pot holes , vertical tar patchs and rain.Guzzi Jim

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