Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip: Ely and Cave Lake Trails

A week ago, I embarked on a journey across Highway 50 in Nevada, seeking out mountain bike trails. We’ve come to call this trip the “Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip.” This is the third installment.

Previously: Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip: Carson Valley’s Clear Creek Trail, and Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip: Kingston and the Toiyabe Crest Trail.

Recreation as a Resource

In an age of boom or bust, towns in Nevada are looking for the next big thing to bring revenue to their city streets. It doesn’t have to be gold, either. Many places are counting on recreation as that magical resource to revitalize their economies. With due diligence, it’s possible. Hell, look at what Moab became, or Fruita, and countless other western cities where mountain biking, off-roading, climbing, trail running, base jumping, and hiking became the new gilded rush. The thing is, it isn’t easy. Not at all. You can’t just make maps, pointing cyclists to fire roads. It takes effort, local know-how, and a community to support the growth. That’s the thing about mountain bike trails. Mountain bikers have to be a part of the process, or it’ll show. Big time.

Highway 50 is a great example of such potential. The boom has boomed and the bust is here to stay for a lot of these mining outposts turned cities. Unfortunately, when a mine shuts down, all that remains are the network of roads, mine shafts, and hillsides marred with ziggurat-like slopes where the minerals were extracted. While Highway 50 is mostly void of such unnatural formations, Highway 80 is a great example of what happens when public lands are privatized and stripped of their riches.

Contrarily, the total revenue raised by the outdoor recreation industry usually outweighs the revenue raised by the extraction of oil and gas. In 2016, the outdoor recreation industry in the US brought in $370 BILLION dollars, more than twice the value of the oil and gas industry. Chew on that the next time a Senator says we need to chop up the desert in the search for oil.

Don’t Fence Me In

“Don’t Fence Me In” is a slogan of Nevada and rightfully so. I was amazed to find that Nevada’s land is 84.9% public, whereas California’s public land percentage is only 52.1%. Nevada has a lot of potential!

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in
Bing Crosby

What a damn catchy phrase, which really evokes that adventurous spirit, beckoning tourists to get out and discover something special. Since launching the “Don’t Fence Me In” campaign, the Nevada tourism board has seen compelling results. For every dollar spent on paid tourism advertising, $33 is returned to the state through travel and tourism activities which is an insane ROI!

Hitting the Trails of Ely, Nevada

At the onset of this trip, I had my perceptions of the jeweled necklace that is Highway 50, with each town representing a gemstone. Having spent a good amount of time driving through this corridor, I’d stop in these special places to refuel my tank, grab a bite to eat, explore the dirt roads for a place to stay, and in the mornings, I’d meander around to find the strongest Wifi signal, matched by only the finest diner coffee. Ely has long been a favorite of mine and while I was aware of a myriad of dirt roads around this quaint little town, I had no idea of the MTB treasures that awaited us.

We linked up with some locals, Brian, Suzy, and Kent, who organized an impromptu shuttle and guide service. Now, I must admit, all of these routes could be pedaled, but in the interest of time, we opted to shuttle them. We took our time to arrive to town from Kingston, so we barely had enough time to hit one trail that evening, Powderberry. Just imagine biting into something called a “powder berry.” Yeah, it’s dusty out there!

Around Ward Mountain, just southwest of town is a dense trail network, all built by our local guides. After Powderberry, we rode Slalom, and the unfortunately named “Whore House Hill,” a downhill run that ends at a brothel or two. We got a taste of a little bit of everything Ely had to offer in terms of trails. We all know a photo is worth a thousand words!

Part of these experiences are as much about riding ripping singletrack as it is about soaking in the local cuisine, sights, and sounds. Ely is full of them too. A walk down the main drag is filled with lights, beautiful signs, and bars a plenty. We stayed at the Jailhouse Inn, right in the middle of it all, which made it easy for a staging area for shuttles, and a convenient finishing spot from our rides, which were all downhill to the hotel.

Before we knew it, our time in Ely had subsided, but we had one more gem left…

Riding Cave Lake – An IMBA Trail Network

I’ll be honest. At this point in our journey, I was cooked. It’d been non-stop photo time for me and while our crew was super accommodating to the daunting task of documenting this insane road trip, it was taking a toll on me. When Kurt told us we were going to ride at a state park called Cave Lake, all I wanted to do was take a dip in said lake and relax on the beach with a cold La Croix. He assured all of us this trail was going to be worth it and since he’d delivered thus far, I swallowed my exhaustion and geared up to ride.

Boy was I glad! Cave Lake was everything I didn’t expect, in a relatively small area. Turns out IMBA built the trail with grant money and it was amazing. The views, the terrain, the climb, and the descent, most importantly, were all worth it. I think I speak for everyone when I say we all loaded up the van that night with an all-time high stoke meter. Which is saying a lot after our Toiyabe experience!

That doesn’t mean we weren’t all pretty toast at this point. I think Teal’s expression sums it up perfectly here!

Tune in next week for the conclusion of this trip, as we dip into Caliente’s unique MTB experience!

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Follow James, Sarah, Teal, Kurt, Kyle, Yuri, and Mark on Instagram!

Get a sneak peek of our journey by following the #RideHWY50NV Hashtag on Instagram!

  • Craig Northway

    What’s the practical riding season for the region along highway 50? It looks like it’s high enough to be too cold and possibly snowy in winter months.

    • It all depends. Places like the Toiyabe and the mountains surrounding Ely will be snowed in come Jan / Feb but with the weather being all wonky, who knows.

  • mark rothschild

    Do they still have the 60ft,”Waving Cowboy”…at the Edge of Town???

    • I remember one in Wendover, but not Ely, unless I’m mistaken.

      • mark rothschild

        Right…been a while

  • Lewy

    Some of those blokes have some epic moes :-)

  • Tim Noyce
  • Thomas Yeates

    Where did James get that Rainier bottle?!?!

    • His friend left it at his house so now he carries it everywhere and sends him photos of it.

  • Forrest Guy

    Super rad photos! So motivating!