Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area
Located in northwest Nevada is the vast Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA) managed by the Black Rock Field Office. Congress established the NCA in 2000 to conserve, protect, and enhance resources associated with the California National Historic Trail and surrounding areas including the 10 designated wilderness areas. Not only does the NCA contain fascinating cultural, archaeological, and paleontological traces of the past, but it also offers a rugged brand of recreation activities for today's adventurers. What these million-plus acres lack in developed amenities, they offer in unique and challenging backcountry and wilderness opportunities. The longest intact segments (totaling 175 miles) of the historic Emigrant Trails to California and Oregon is located within the NCA.
The NCA's geologic features tell a tale of astounding natural forces. The Black Rock Desert playa—a flat expanse of about 200 square miles—once formed the bed of Lake Lahontan, an ancient lake that covered much of northwestern Nevada 15,000 years ago. Today the playa is favored by off-roaders, land sailers, and amateur rocketry groups, and it provides a dramatic venue for large, outdoor events. The area's namesake, a distinctive formation of black rock, is an impressive outcropping of volcanic rocks and limestone.
American Indians inhabited Black Rock - High Rock country for at least 10,000 years before Euro-American emigrants passed through on their way to California and Oregon in the 19th century. Black Rock Point was a welcome landmark for these settlers. In 1843—44 the famous explorer John C. Frémont traversed what is now the Applegate Trail, pioneering a throughway from which many wagon routes would form. Visitors today can walk along the Applegate and Nobles trails and read signs depicting diary entries from the early emigrants.
Variety of recreational opportunities are present within the NCA suitable for visitors of all experience levels, such as:
- Off-Roading and Land-Sailing on the Black Rock Desert Playa.
- Historic and wildlife sightseeing along the Emigrant Trail.
- Camping dispersedly or at Soldier Meadows Campground.
- Camping and star-gazing at one of the cowboy cabins at Steven's Camp, Massacre Ranch, or Soldier Meadows.
- Commercial, competitive, and organized events and activities occur in the NCA through the Special Recreation Permit (SRP) Program. For more information on SRPs, please visit the Nevada SRP Page.
Please remember this area is rugged and remote, and visitors need to be prepared for backcountry travel with no cell phone signal and few, if any, other people nearby. Black Rock country is a land of extremes—the weather can be hot and sunny one day and cold and snowy the next. Visitors should be prepared for changing weather conditions and carry additional water, food, and clothing.
High-clearance vehicles with off-road tires (at least 6-ply) are recommended, as is a second spare tire for visitors who plan to travel the dirt roads in and around the NCA. Motorized use is limited to designated routes only, except for the unvegetated, flat surface of the Black Rock Desert Playa.
Contact the Black Rock Field Office for current road and Playa conditions. For more information, visit the main page for the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area here.
For the most current wildland fire restrictions and advisories, please visit Nevada Fire Info here.