Escape Las Vegas crowds on this day trip to a ghost town
The ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada was briefly a thriving mining community, but all that’s left today are its ruins. Located about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Rhyolite is situated on the edge of Death Valley National Park in a remote area that appears uninhabitable, but in 1904 the discovery of gold was enough to convince many people to try and build a life there.
By 1917, the gold was gone and the town was all but empty. Today, it’s an excellent destination for a day trip from Las Vegas.
To reach Rhyolite, travel north on US-95 from Las Vegas to Beatty, then take State Route 374 to Rhyolite Road. The trip is best undertaken during the cooler months of the year to avoid the scorching summer temperatures. You’ll travel deep into the Mojave Desert, a landscape of vast open desert and rugged mountains.
Places to eat are pretty far apart in this area of Nevada, so plan on grabbing a good breakfast before you head out of Las Vegas (and don’t forget to fuel up your vehicle). Just off US-95 and Ann Road in the northwest area of Las Vegas, you’ll find one of the city’s favorite breakfast spots, The Cracked Egg, which serves good old-fashioned diner-style food.
You might also want to stop in at a grocery or convenience store to grab some drinks and snacks for your day trip since you’ll be traveling through large stretches of unpopulated desert.
Ghostly figures at the Goldwell Open Air Museum — Photo courtesy of iStock / Perseomed
When you get to the small town of Beatty, you’ve nearly reached your destination; Rhyolite is just a few miles west of town. Beatty has a small selection of motels and hotels, the Beatty Museum, a few restaurants (including some authentic mom-and-pop places), and the very popular Death Valley Nut & Candy Company.
After you leave Beatty, it’s a short drive to Rhyolite. Right before the ghost town, you’ll see the Goldwell Open Air Museum, which holds a collection of eccentric art pieces including ghostly figures representing “The Last Supper,” a naked cinder block woman and a sculpture of a sofa. Admission is free.
Things to do in Rhyolite
Once you’re in Rhyolite, one of the first buildings you’ll see is the historic Tom Kelly Bottle House, which was constructed in 1905 out of bottles and adobe. The exterior of the house is open occasionally, but visitors can’t go inside the rare home.
Bottle house on the outskirts of Rhyolite — Photo courtesy of iStock / elgol
As you continue into Rhyolite, the remnants of the town appear. The remains of the two-story schoolhouse and three-story bank are some of the most striking ruins. Estimates of the town’s peak residency vary widely, but the generally accepted numbers are 3,500-5,000 people. In 1907, the town had a train station, a hospital, a stock exchange, an opera house and an estimated 50 saloons.
Many of the crumbling buildings are fenced off, both to protect the structures and to ward off any intrepid explorers, but you can walk through the fallen blocks of some buildings, many of which are covered in decades-old graffiti.
Although it’s possible to drive through Rhyolite and never leave your vehicle, do yourself a favor: park the car and walk around to really see the ghost town. From your car, you’ll see the impressive ruins along the main road, but you’ll miss the scattered piles of rusty old cans and the wooden shacks on the outskirts of town.
Note: Be sure to heed the rattlesnake warnings, especially in spring when the weather is warming up. Watch where you’re stepping and never put your hands or feet into any place you can’t fully see.
After you’re done visiting Rhyolite, you have a choice on your route back to Las Vegas. You can certainly go back the way you came, down US-95 to Las Vegas. Alternatively, you can take a scenic route back to Vegas through Death Valley, which will add a little less than 60 miles to your trip, but if you like panoramic, other-worldly landscapes, it’s well worth the detour.
To return to Las Vegas through Death Valley, when you leave Rhyolite, continue on 374 West, toward Death Valley. Stop at Hell’s Gate to pay the entrance fee and to get an amazing view of the largest national park in the continental United States.
Inside Death Valley, the fastest route back to Las Vegas will be to stay on 374 until you reach State Route 190, which you’ll take south through the park to State Route 373. Turn north on 373 to make a loop up to US-95 for the ride back to Vegas.
Possible detours along this route include Salt Creek (home to the rare pupfish), the historic Harmony Borax Works and Zabriskie Point, which offers a stunning sunset view of the valley. Be forewarned: Death Valley is full of interesting things to see. You can easily spend a day or more exploring the huge park.
If you’re lucky enough to be driving back to Las Vegas after dark, enjoy the incredible night sky. As you get closer to Las Vegas, the stars will fade, you’ll see the lights of the city coming into view and you’ll know your day trip into the desert is done.