Off Highway Vehicles in the Black Rock Desert



Black Rock Country has a myriad of opportunities for off-highway vehicle (OHV) and all terrain vehicle (ATV) touring and exploration. Over 900 miles of primitive roads provide access to even the most remote corners of the NCA.

Follow the Applegate National Historic Trail to experience the sights and terrains that challenged thousands of emigrants in the mid-1800’s.

Test your skills and equipment with a ride through High Rock Canyon, which requires 4WD and skilled driving.

Drive across the flat and barren Black Rock Desert Playa (dry lakebed), following the tracks of the land speed record holder.

Whatever your interest, there is an opportunity for you!

Know Before You Go

The NCA is a vast, undeveloped landscape.  Services are few and far between so you must be prepared to deal with emergency situations.

  • Water is scarce in the region; bring plenty with you (minimum 2 gallons per day, per person).
  • Fuel, food and supplies are only available in Gerlach, Wadsworth, Nixon, Empire, Cedarville, Lovelock, and Winnemucca. The Soldier Meadows Guest Ranch does provide food and lodging with advanced registration.
  • Cell phone service is not available and ham radios are not reliable in many areas.
  • Always travel with a full-size spare tire (at least 6-ply is recommended). High clearance and/or 4WD vehicles are also recommended.
  • Come prepared and leave happy!

Find out what else you need to know to prepare ».

Where Can You Ride?

The Black Rock Desert Playa is open for use by OHVs; visitors can drive anywhere on the flat and un-vegetated playa. The dunes and hummocks surrounding the playa are closed.

Off of the playa, vehicle travel is allowed only on the designated roads and trails shown on the transportation maps.

If you are interested in following the Applegate National Historic Trail, we recommend the Trails West Organization’s very informative self-guided tour book for the trail or  Chuck Dodd’s Guide to Traveling the Applegate-Lassen Trail both which are usually available in our online store.

BE AWARE: The ten official Wilderness Areas are closed to OHV use except on designated Wilderness Access Roads.

On the maps, it might appear as though some of the wilderness areas touch, but those that seem to touch are actually separated by roads that are not part of the wilderness areas. The same is true for several “cherry stem” roads that allow access to the interior of the wilderness areas.

Since these roads are not part of the wilderness areas they separate or penetrate, they are open for vehicle use. For example, the road through High Rock Canyon separates the High Rock Canyon Wilderness Area from the East Fork High Rock Canyon Wilderness Area.

Only designated routes (shown in green) are open. Wilderness Access routes are marked with signs.

Seasonal Road Closure

The road through High Rock Canyon is closed from the end of the Chukar hunting season (around February 1st) until the second weekend in May.

This closure is to prevent disturbance during the raptor breeding and bighorn sheep lambing seasons, and to prevent damage to the road and emigrant trail through the canyon.

The Black Rock Desert Playa is impassable when wet, but is generally passable during the summer season. However, beware when traveling on the Playa even when the surface appears to be dry, because it may be wet beneath the surface and become impassable to vehicles. Check our webpage for current conditions, or check in at our office or other local businesses in Gerlach prior to heading out.

Most roads and trails are not regularly maintained, are unsigned, and are seldom traveled. Avoid traveling solo in areas where help is not available; use the buddy system. Let someone know where you are going and when you will return. There is no cell phone service in the NCA.

Recreate Responsibly

Please remember your access to public lands depends on your ability to recreate responsibly. Honor the Tread Lightly! pledge and follow OHV regulations to ensure this land remains available for you and others.

While enjoying the 900+ miles of primitive roads in the NCA remember to follow the Tread Lightly tips for responsible OHV/ATV riding:

  • Travel and recreate with minimum impact
  • Respect the environment and the rights of others
  • Educate yourself, plan and prepare before you go
  • Allow for future use of the outdoors, leave it better than you found it
  • Discover the rewards of responsible recreation


NCA Trans Map 5 NCA Trans Map 5 NCA Trans Map 3 NCA Trans Map 2 NCA Trans Map 4 NCA Trans Map 1

Learn more about the Wilderness Areas and plan your adventure »