If you’re looking to squeeze in a mountain getaway before it gets too cold then look to White Pine County. Sacramento Pass Recreation Area is a Bureau of Land Management equestrian campground just off Highway 50 that offers scenic views, nice accommodations, amazing night skies, and a variety of trails to explore. Best of all,
Sacramento Pass crosses through the middle of the Snake Range. It sits just outside the northern border of Great Basin National Park. The only horse camp inside the national park is closed indefinitely, so for now, this is the next best thing. Equestrian travelers will love the easy access of the campground and the riding options.
The Sacramento Pass equestrian camp is set back from the main campground. It has four individual campsites, each with a fire ring, picnic table, and BBQ grill. Each site is large enough to pull in a truck and trailer. There are two pit toilets in the horse camp. There is no potable water available so you’ll need to bring water for you and your horse. One large wooden corral is available for equine guests. If the corral is not available, there is space to set up your own pen. The campground also has several hitching posts.
The campground is very nice – clean and well maintained. It is well-used (not necessarily by equestrians) and BLM rangers check in frequently. Given its proximity to the road, the campground can be busy so don’t be surprised if it is full of vehicles, especially on a weekend. This happened to me when I arrived on a Sunday – all the campsites in the equestrian area were taken. But, you can park and camp outside of a designated campsite. I did just that and set my tent up right next to the corral!
The campground sits at 6,851 feet. To the south, you can see some of the dramatic peaks of Great Basin National Park, including Wheeler Peak, Nevada’s second tallest summit (13,065 feet). There are occasional traffic sounds from nearby Highway 50, but otherwise, the camp feels pretty secluded.
Stargazers will love this part of Nevada, which boasts some of the darkest night skies in the country. Thanks to minimal light pollution, on clear nights you can see thousands of stars, planets, star clusters, meteors, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way with the naked eye.
There is a small pond for fishing at the main campground. It is stocked with trout from the nearby Spring Creek Fish Hatchery. The main campground has several campsites, bathrooms, shade structures, and trash cans, but no equestrian facilities.
What makes Sacramento Pass such a great equestrian destination are the nearly
unlimited trails that skirt the northern edge of Great Basin National Park. You can ride right out of camp into a huge network of single and two-track roads that will take you through diverse country. In the foothills, you’ll find dense groves of pinyon pine and juniper.
As elevation increases, the terrain opens up and turns to mountain mahogany, fir, spruce, aspen, and more. It’s easy to get up to 8,000 feet in a day, so horses and riders should be in shape, but you can also stay in the low country for easier riding. Just about every elevation offers scenic views!
There is one equestrian marked trail that starts in camp. The Weaver Creek Trail is six miles one way and leads into Weaver Creek basin and the northern boundary of the National Park. But, the rest of the roads and trails are largely unmarked.
You’ll want to look at maps before you head out or carry a GPS with you. It would be easy to get lost, especially with some fence lines that criss-cross the area. There are seasonal creeks, streams, and stock ponds, but don’t count on them to be flowing year-round. Footing on most roads varies from gravel to dirt, so shoes or boots are recommended.
Also accessible in camp are three short designated trail loops (from 2 – 6 miles) that are closed to motorized use. They meander through unique quartzite rock formations and old mines. Some of these trails are a bit technical, so riders should use caution exploring them on horseback. You can expect lots of large boulders, narrow passages, tight switchbacks, and some slippery spots. But, these short trails offer a fun challenge for more experienced horses and riders.
There is enough variety in trail options from Sacramento Pass that you can spend several days here and never ride the same place twice. Despite the busy campground, you are not likely to run into other people on the trails. Instead, keep your eye open for an abundance of wildlife that call this range home, including elk, antelope, and bighorn sheep.
Other Things to Do
Great Basin National Park is approximately 30 miles away and is absolutely worth a visit. This underrated park is never crowded and offers stunning views of ancient bristlecone pines, a glacier (yes, Nevada has a glacier!), and even an underground cave tour.
The tiny community of Baker (population approximately 65) is 15 miles away on the Utah border. The town has a couple of stores and restaurants. There is a lot of quirky desert art throughout town, along with an archaeological site, and ranches.
Sacramento Pass is also surrounded by some historic mining ruins. Across the highway to the north is the Blackhorse Mining District, a ghost town which has ruins to explore. To the west, the Historic Osceola Town Site, a still-active mining community with a handful of residents, has old buildings and a cemetery.
If You Go
Sacramento Pass Recreation Area is located on Highway 50 about 40 miles east of Ely or 15 miles west of the Utah border. The entrance is on the south side of the highway. Once in the main campground, follow the signs for the equestrian campground. Sacramento Pass is open year-round, but winters are pretty tough in these parts. Dogs are welcome. Weed-free hay is not necessary. Cell service is spotty at best.
Story and Photos by Samantha Szesciorka