Know Before You Go
Please read this section thoroughly, even if you’ve been here before, and contact us if you have other questions at 775-557-2900.
Camping During COVID-19
Please follow current CDC guidelines when passing through small communities and when recreating on public lands. Don’t gather in groups, pack out your trash, practice good sanitation, stay 6 feet apart, stay home if you feel sick. Be safe, have fun!
General Safety Information
Bring what you need to survive. Self-sufficiency is as important today as it was for the Native Americans, emigrants, and early pioneers.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
- Pack all necessary water (1.5 gallons of water per person, per day), food, and supplies. Surface water is unreliable and must be treated.
- Pack extra supplies in case you get stranded such as water, warm blankets and food. Use good judgment if you do get stranded. It’s often best to stay at your vehicle.
- Pack a camp toilet or bring a rented port-a-potty with you. The playa is a lake bed which is dry for part of the year. While camping and driving on playa is allowed, be sure to have a plan to keep all grey and black water from impacting the playa. Camping off playa must be at least 300 feet from open water. Pack out all waste (including TP) to your curbside pickup. Only use dumpsters with permission.
- Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Daytime temps can reach over 100 degrees in the summer. Year-round temperatures can fluctuate more than 50 degrees in a single day. Even in summer, nights can dip into the 30s and 40s. Dust storms on the playa are not uncommon in dry months.
- Rain anytime of year will make areas off-pavement wet and impassible. Be prepared to shelter in place if you’re caught in a rainstorm. Wait for the ground to be dry before attempting to pass. The playa can become wet and impassible, even during a short rainstorm. Know what to look for, as it can often be wet just under the surface. Some areas are wet year-round. Use caution!
- High clearance vehicles with off-road tires (at least 6-ply) are recommended, as is a second spare and a tire repair kit, if you plan to travel on remote roads.
- There is no cell service in most of the NCA.
- 911 in an Emergency. From Gerlach, the nearest full-service medical facility is over 70 miles away in Fernley. An emergency phone is located at the Washoe County Sheriff’s office in Gerlach, and they can call for an ambulance or life flight. Know your location and determine if you’re closest to Cedarville (CA), or Gerlach (NV).
- Be wildlife aware. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, mountain lions and coyotes are in the area.
- Dogs on leash at hot-springs, on trails, in campgrounds and around other people and animals. Keep your pets safe. Yield to other trail users. Carry dogie bags and be prepared to pack out all pet waste.
- Limit noise from generators.
- Keep speeds slow through camping areas.
- Respect private property. Leave gates as you find them.
- Be considerate of other campers – other campers in the NCA may wish to be socially distant from you. Wear a mask. Ask politely if they mind a visitor. Switch your headlamp to a red light so you preserve night vision for viewing dark skies.
- Protect Archaeological sites. Sites are protected on federal land by public law. Removing or vandalizing artifacts is not only illegal, it limits their scientific value and the experience of future visitors.
- Bring your own firewood and use burn pans on the playa. Fires on the playa and surrounding dunes must be contained and elevated to protect the surface from scarring. Extinguish all fires before you leave.
- LEAVE NO TRACE. Pack it in. Pack it out. Leave the area cleaner than you found it.
Driving in the NCA
Irresponsible driving or use of Off Highway Vehicles can cause thousands of acres to be closed to all visitors. Be sure you’re informed and prepared before you head out. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in Wilderness Areas. Do not drive in the dunes and hummocks surrounding the playa, it is prohibited. Stay on designated routes. Make sure your tires are in good condition and always carry a spare, even two, along with a tire repair kit.
Do not get stuck between 3-mile and Gerlach. Tributaries run through this area year-round making it wet and impassible. Exit the playa at 12-mile or 8-mile and proceed to Gerlach on the paved Route 34.
Weather changes dramatically in the Black Rock Desert area – sometimes as much in one day as it can in the whole year. Checking the latest forecast can help you plan better. gerlachweather.com
Mines and Hot Springs
To fully enjoy a wild place, you must also respect it. Abandoned mines and Hot Springs pose threats if you are unaware.
Use these maps of the entire NCA and all 10 Wilderness Areas to plan your journey. Always travel with a printed map – don’t rely on GPS or other navigation devices. Remember, driving within Wilderness Areas is not allowed.
Communicating in Remote Areas
“Wilderness” means your mobile phone won’t work here. Even ham radio isn’t always reliable. Knowing how you will communicate, especially in an emergency, is an absolute must.
Groups and Permits
Some activities always require a permit in the NCA, others require a permit in certain areas. Make sure you’re in the clear and give yourself plenty of time to arrange the necessary permits.
The NCA is a vast wilderness. The towns of Gerlach and Winnemucca in Nevada, and Cedarville in California offer you gateways to the land.
Small communities surround the NCA. See what services are available.