“Nevada’s Alps” is one name locals have given the spectacular Ruby Mountains, and for good reason. They are majestic and unlike any other place in the state. Here you will find alpine lakes, waterfalls, cascades, avalanche chutes and running streams; this time of year there is also a plethora of wildflowers.
The Ruby Mountains are in the 450,000-acre Ruby Mountain Ranger District in Northern Nevada, where elevations range from about 6,000 feet to 11,387 feet at Ruby Dome. This district includes the East Humboldt Range as well.
Visitors can easily access the Ruby Mountains via the 12-mile Lamoille Canyon National Scenic Byway, starting 18 miles southwest of Elko. The drive up the canyon is only open in summer because of heavy snow the rest of the year. The Rubys typically receive six to 10 feet of snow yearly. Even in summer you will most likely find surviving patches of snow, especially at Road’s End.
Along the Scenic Byway there are many places to stop and take photographs and maybe even enjoy a hike or two. A one-and-a-half-mile nature trail begins at Terraces Campground. The 4-mile Thomas Canyon Trail leaves from the Thomas Canyon Campground. Once you reach the parking area at Road’s End at an elevation of 8,800 feet, you’ll find other trailheads. Lamoille Lake makes a great destination for the day. It will be a moderately steep 3.4 miles round-trip hike with an elevation gain of 990 feet.
If you’re looking for one of the best backpacking trips in our state, you might think about tackling the 34-mile Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail. This is quite a strenuous hike with its undulating terrain and, at this elevation, can seem more tiring but the rewards are great as it’s very remote and travels through some of the country’s most stunning scenery. It’s usually done as a three to four day point-to-point backpack from Road’s End south to Harrison Pass.
The Ruby Mountains are home to a wide variety of wildlife, many of which you wouldn’t expect to find in Nevada. There are Rocky Mountain goats, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pronghorns, beavers, porcupines and even the Himalayan snowcock, an exotic bird that was introduced here between 1963 and 1979. There are no bears in the Rubys.
The weather in these mountains can be unpredictable and, in late summer, thunderstorms are common in the afternoons. Average daily high temperatures in summer are in the 80s. Wear appropriate shoes for rocky and possibly muddy conditions. A hat and sunscreen are essential for sunny days at such high altitude; warm fleece, waterproof shell and gloves come in handy, especially when hiking in the cool mornings.
Bring all your own food and water for day trips and don’t count on cell service.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.
Directions to Elko:
Take U.S. Highway 93 north to Nevada State Route 318. Continue traveling north until it merges with U.S. Highway 6. In Ely, it merges with U.S. Highway 93. Continue north until you get to State Route 229, then head west. You will have traveled about 375 miles. At Interstate 80, head west for 50 miles into Elko.