During the mass overland migration of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of settlers traveled on wagon trail routes to reach California and Oregon. The journey west was long and arduous, especially through Nevada’s rugged desert country. Many of those historic emigrant trails are still visible throughout the state today. In the remote northwest corner of Nevada is a great basecamp for equestrians to have a pioneer experience.
Steven’s Camp is a Bureau of Land Management camping area, located on the north side of the High Rock Canyon Wilderness area of the Black Rock Desert in northern Washoe County. It’s about 55 miles east of Cedarville, California and 180-240 miles north of Reno, depending on which route you take. Though Black Rock is best known for the dusty playa and Burning Man, there is much more to explore in this part of Nevada.
Steven’s Camp features five large corrals made from good, sturdy panels. A water spigot next to the corrals makes filling up water buckets a breeze (and means less water for you to haul in). It’s a really nice setup for horses, but underutilized (probably owing to its remote location). There are several areas around camp to park a rig or set up a tent, but what makes Steven’s Camp unique is its cabin, which is first-come first-serve and completely free to use.
Inside the cabin, you’ll find a large kitchen and two bedrooms with bunks! There is a wood stove, propane range, and a shower. You’ll need to hook up a generator and propane to power the cabin. You’ll also need to bring sleeping pads for the bunks, which are just metal springs. The cabin is always stocked with things left behind by previous visitors – canned goods, toilet paper, playing cards, bug spray, etc.
Outside the cabin, you’ll find a picnic table, grill, fire pits, and firewood. A wooden bridge crosses a spring-fed creek to the pit toilet. The entire campground is fenced off from livestock. The camp is next to a year-round spring and creek, making this a little oasis in the desert. There are thriving aspens and willows, lush grasses, wildflowers, sagebrush, Great Basin wild rye, and plenty of songbirds.
Though Steven’s Camp is remote, it’s generally well-visited during the spring, summer, and fall. There’s no guarantee you’ll get the cabin, so it’s best to have a back-up plan for camping. But, even when other people are in the camp, it’s not a raucous place. Those who make the trip out here come for the peace and quiet.
Pick a direction and ride right out of Steven’s Camp. There are plenty of old BLM roads that crisscross the open range and rolling hills of the high desert. It’s nice, easy country to explore with great views of distant ranges. There are several obsidian fields in the area, so rock hounds will want to stop to find some nice pieces to take home. Keep your eye open for pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. There are also wild horses in these parts – you’ll see plenty of stud piles – so keep alert.
For an extra challenge, just west of camp you can pick up the famed Applegate-Lassen Trail, which saw thousands of emigrants to California and Oregon in the mid-19th century. The trail is hikeable (but not rideable) north of Steven’s Camp because of thick brush and downed trees, but you can ride the Applegate-Lassen Trail south of camp. This trail hasn’t changed since the days of the wagon trains – you’ll ride the same tracks the pioneers did and see the same sights.
A highlight of the Applegate-Lassen Trail is High Rock Canyon, which is known for its
dramatic rock formations. The northern part of the canyon (just south of Steven’s
Camp) is very rocky so horseshoes or boots are a must. At certain times of the year,
water flows through the canyon so there is the potential for water crossings. It’s amazing to imagine the wagons clattering along the rocky trail. Evidence of those pioneers can be found in the southern end of High Rock Canyon, where names of travelers were carved in the rocks and or written in wagon axle grease.
Be sure to study some maps of the area before you set out. Once you leave camp it is pretty desolate and there is no cell service anywhere in this region.
Accessing Steven’s Camp isn’t exactly easy, but there are several options. We recommend coming in through Cedarville, California from US-395 or NV-447 and then heading east back into Nevada along County Road 8A. Those routes are paved until the Nevada state line and then it follows a good gravel road until the turnoff to Steven’s Camp. The turnoff to Steven’s Camp is marked with a BLM sign and then it’s 12 miles to camp along a dirt road,
which can be sloppy when wet. Google Maps shows a route via County Road 34, but that is a gravel road all the way up to Vya, Nevada and is slow-going. Do not attempt to drive in with a rig on High Rock Canyon Road.
Story and Photos by Samantha Szesciorka
Story and Photos by Samantha Szesciorka