Pilot Peak is the highest point and the predominant mountain of the Pilot Range in far eastern Elko County. It rises over 6,400 feet above the Great Salt Lake Desert to the east, making it one of the largest mountains in terms of local relief in the contiguous United States.
Although Pilot Peak is not a designated trail, it offers grand views and a chance to relive a piece of history. Pilot Peak was named in 1845 for its use as an easily recognized landmark. John C. Fremont saw the peak from the east during his third expedition, mapping the Great Basin. Wondering whether his entire party could cross the desert he sent Kit Carson ahead to scout for water sources. Finding a perennial spring just east of the peak, Carson lit a large bonfire, the smoke from which signalled Fremont that the crossing was possible.
In 1846 the Donner Party also used the peak as a landmark for their crossing of the Great Salt Lake Desert, part of the Hastings Cutoff emigrant route. Running out of water, they had to temporarily abandon their wagons and oxen in order to reach the springs (now called Donner Springs) at the base of the peak. They eventually recovered most of their stock animals and wagons, and continued their journey to the California Trail and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Pilot Peak Maps