If one is the loneliest number, well, 50 probably takes second place—at least when it comes to roadways. Highway 50, a barren, humble route that slices through the center of Nevada, was named “The Loneliest Road in America” by Life Magazine in July 1986.
While the article wasn’t exactly flattering, the publicity certainly worked. The magazine’s negative opinion—which warned readers not to drive the route unless they were confident in their survival skills —became a magnetic draw for tourists from all over the country. As it turned out, a little loneliness was just what many road-trippers wanted.
Today, Highway 50’s tongue-in-cheek moniker lives on, with tourists not just surviving the lone Nevada desert, but thriving along the way. If you’re looking for a road trip adventure a little off the beaten path, there are many compelling reasons to visit The Loneliest Road.
Like Aretha Franklin, you want the confidence of knowing you can survive—especially when you’re afraid (or petrified, for that matter). After Life Magazine published its foreboding article, Nevada tourism officials didn’t argue the opinion—they embraced it, publishing “The Loneliest Road in America, Official Highway 50 Survival Guide,” which is still available free of charge at Nevada Chambers of Commerce, plus many museums, restaurants, motels and gas stations along Highway 50.
After acquiring stamps in seven Highway 50 towns—Fernley, Dayton, Fallon, Austin, Ely, Eureka and Great Basin—you can mail the guide back to Travel Nevada and receive a Loneliest Road survival certificate signed by the Nevada governor, along with a Loneliest Road lapel pin and Loneliest Road bumper sticker, making it easy to brag about your survival skills. To get started before you even turn the key in the ignition, request the official survival guide online.
Historically speaking, The Loneliest Road in America has been anything but. According to Nevada Magazine, American Indians trod across the path that would later become Highway 50, while early explorers like Jedediah Smith and John C. Fremont, also trekked through the barren desert.
Later, the Pony Express and Overland Stage followed a similar route. In 1913, Carl G. Fisher, an entrepreneur, attempted to build a roadway from New York City to San Francisco in honor of President Abraham Lincoln., which bisected the state of Nevada. When a national highway system was born in the mid-1920s, Highway 50 closely mimicked the old Lincoln Highway.
With all that in mind, a trip across the 287 miles from Fernley to Ely is a history lesson in itself—if you’re willing to hear it.
As the song goes, there’s nothing quite as American as purple mountains’ majesty. And if you feel at home in nature, Highway 50 isn’t lonely at all—thanks to the company of about 17 mountain ranges, extensive salt flats, sand dunes, rocky canyons and rolling hills.
In its most deserted stretch—from Fallon to Ely—you’ll encounter only three towns, separated by 111, 70 and 77 miles. While the road is generally deserted in terms of travelers and facilities, what it lacks in civilization it makes up for in landscape.
If you need a stretch, stop for a hike in Toiyabe National Forest, which also provides camping facilities for those who dare to spend a night in the barren Nevada loneliness.
Time Magazine certainly wasn’t thinking outside the box when it claimed Highway 50 held no points of interest. With only six towns settled within its 287 miles, you’ll want to make the most of your stops along the way.
Fill up at Historic Middlegate Station, a humble stop providing gas, monstrously-sized burgers and a bit of historical significance—the station is located on the original Pony Express Trail.
If history is your thing, make a point to stop at Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, where a quick hike will take you to see 10,000-year-old petroglyphs.
In Eureka, you’ll want to check out the Eureka Sentinel Museum, which highlights historical small-town life with a printing press and mining exhibits.
If you’ve packed some outdoor gear, be sure to stop at Great Basin National Park, where fantastic scenery, breathtaking starry skies and intriguing caves beg to be viewed and explored.
It might be the loneliest 287 miles in the country, but Highway 50 certainly isn’t a road to nowhere—far from it, in fact. According to DangerousRoads.org, Highway 50 spans the entire United States, stretching more than 3,000 miles, linking the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic.
Whether you start on Nevada’s Loneliest Road or embark from further west, Highway 50 will take you places. The route cuts through 12 different states—California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. See the highway through and you’ll pass four state capitals, not to mention the nation’s capital.
However—and whenever—you experience The Loneliest Road in America, Highway 50 is sure to convince you that loneliness truly is just a state of mind.