Route 50: How to Road Trip the Loneliest Road in America

When embarking on a journey across the entire country, many people immediately think about taking a road trip on Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. But what about a road trip on US Route 50: the Loneliest Road in America? Yes, you read that right. The loneliest route in the US was granted its moniker by Life Magazine back in 1986 for its desolate 300-mile stretch across Nevada. The entirety of the remote road actually runs for 3,073 miles from West Sacramento, California, to Ocean City, Maryland.

After being given its forlorn name, Route 50 was also noted for the dangers that come with its desert attributes. Although the scenic drive isn't actually as deadly as it sounds, you might want to fill up your tank at every gas station you find, maybe even storing a few extra cans in the trunk just in case. A AAA representative once warned, "We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they're confident of their survival skills."

But like most American transcontinental highways, there's plenty to behold along the way. Following a survival guide, after the first 300 miles of barren land consisting of only fresh air and the dusty road, you'll hit some of the most scenic and historic areas in the US while passing through a dozen states, our nation's capital, and some of the most magnificent mountain landscapes.

And of course, researching and planning how you approach a trip like this one will be key to enjoying chasing the horizon. So depending on whether you want to spend only a few days traveling or dedicate a lengthy week, we've provided a personal Route 50 road trip itinerary for you to follow so that you don't become overwhelmed by all the things you could see and do.

Route 50 Road Trip: Your Guide to Taking on the Loneliest Road in America

Below are two options on how you can tackle this route, depending on how long your trip will be. Both options will follow the first half of the itinerary, which should take anywhere between three to five days. If you plan to continue your journey, the following will take you coast to coast, doubling your time on the open road. But if you choose the former, you can dip out after completing the more western part of US Highway 50. Each leg of the trip will feature stops and things to do in between cities and places you can rest your head for the night once you arrive.

Option 1

There are a few places where you can start your adventure. Our itinerary starts in Nevada, but if you choose to start more near the Pacific, you'll be able to check out San Francisco in California, drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, and experience Lake Tahoe near Reno.

1. Carson City-Austin, Nevada

Length: 172 miles
Duration: 2 hours 51 minutes

Follow the Pony Express as you'll be passing the cities of Dayton, Fernley, and Fallon respectively. You'll get a fill of historic petroglyphs, sand dunes, state parks, the Wild West, and ghost towns.

Along the Way:

Hidden Cave & Grimes Point Archaeological Site
Sand Mountain Recreation Area
Middlegate Station
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Frey Ranch Distillery

2. Austin-Baker, Nevada

Length: 209 miles
Duration: 3 hours 26 minutes

This leg of the trip is where you'll pass the cities of Eureka and Ely. Along the way, you'll find more historic sites, turquoise jewelry, hot springs, classic saloons, and a gorgeous national park.

Along the Way:

Jason's Art Gallery
Spencer Hot Springs
Sagebrush Saloons
Toquima Cave
Eureka Sentinel Museum
Eureka Opera House
Lehman Caves
Great Basin National Park

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Option 2

Most road trip itineraries for Route 50 cover traveling around Nevada only, but there's much more on the highway to discover once you exit the state. You can end your trip here, not missing out on too much if you're pressed for time. But if you're privileged enough to keep exploring, there's much more for you to see. You should expect to be driving on the road for much longer periods of time as you travel through the midwest to the east.

3. Baker, Nevada-Pueblo, Colorado

As you start to enter the central US, you'll be able to hit some of the Big 5 national parks in Utah before hitting red rock country in Colorado. If you're big on hiking, this leg of the trip is probably where you'll spend most of your time.

Length: 657 miles
Duration: 11 hours 4 minutes

Along the Way:

Canyonlands National Park
Arches National Park
Monarch Pass
Royal Gorge Bridge
Pike's Peak
Million Dollar Highway

5. Pueblo, Colorado-Jefferson City, Missouri

As you cross the Great Plains, you'll drive along the Arkansas River through Dodge City and Emporia in Kansas, and Kansas City and Jefferson City in Missouri. You'll find random attractions worth checking out during this leg of the trip but will probably spend most of your time driving while embracing the scenic openness of the midwest.

Length: 750 miles
Duration: 11 hours 10 minutes

Along the Way:

Midway USA
Cosmosphere International Science Education and Space Museum
Cheyenne Bottoms
Garden of Eden
Kansas City
Arris' Pizza Palace

6. Jefferson City, Missouri-Athens, Ohio

As you exit the Great Plains, you'll start making a faster journey across multiple states, moving through Illinois and Indiana, into Ohio. You'll find more settled areas while diving into the history and culture of small towns across the spread of these states.

Length: 617 miles
Duration: 9 hours 16 minutes

Along the Way:

In Illinois:

In Indiana:
Clifty Falls State Park

In Ohio:
North Bend

7. Athens, Ohio-Washington, DC

Nearing the end of your trip, you'll be crossing West Virginia and Virginia, finishing your journey at Washington, DC. Making your way over the Allegheny Mountains, you'll hit a couple of state parks and a few more historically significant cities before arriving at our nation's capital.

Length: 354 miles
Duration: 5 hours 40 minutes

Along the Way:

Cathedral State Park
Davis History House
Iwo Jima Memorial
Lincoln Memorial

Although our itinerary ends in Washington, DC, there's quite a bit left to see in Maryland before you hit the end of Route 50. Stop by Annapolis before following the Eastern Shore full of piney woods, cornfield, and fishing fleets, and ending at the massively popular beach town, Ocean City. And if you put in the hours on the road from West Sacramento to Ocean City (the equivalent of almost two to three full days worth of driving!), then you can proudly claim that you took on the Loneliest Road in America.

Have you taken a cross-country road trip across Route 50 or a similar one like it? Share your adventure with us on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

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