A 400-mile, six-hour long road trip on an interstate as a Wide Open Ride?! Sure! That’s because I-80 through northern Nevada is an exhilarating, high-octane drive. A high speed limit, lighter traffic than most American freeways and changing terrain and elevation make it fascinating and enjoyable from the Utah State Line to Reno. This part of Nevada is remarkable for its isolation, desolation and stark beauty. I-80 travels through a vast section of the Great Basin, a 200,000 square mile area encompassing a large portion of the western U.S., including almost all of Nevada. And since none of its rivers connect to the ocean, the Great Basin drains internally. All snow and rain evaporates, sinks underground or flows into lakes. Summer drives sometimes run smack dab into massive thunderstorms, rolling across the desert. In the winter, snowy conditions can be hazardous but also beautiful if there’s freezing fog, as captured in this video essay. It forms when the surface temperature is at or below
32 °F (0 °C). So even though the speed limit on much of this route is 80 mph, matching the highest speed on any federal highway, some days it takes a little longer if Mother Nature is busy with her artistry.
Keep in Mind
Obviously, monitoring road conditions is key, particularly in the winter. And keep an eye on the gas tank, too. There are plenty of places to fill up but distances are great and it’s easy to zone out to podcasts or music.
Routes & Maps
The route begins and ends with casinos. West Wendover, Nevada, just across the Utah border, has many slot machines, hotels and restaurants. The next major community is Elko, the largest town in the region. Another 125 miles and you reach Winnemuca. Reno is 165 miles further west. Nicknamed “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno is Nevada’s second largest city and the gateway to the Lake Tahoe area.
For road conditions, visit Nevadadot, run by the state’s transportation department.