This is day two of a four-part guide to Nevada’s Route 50, otherwise known as ‘The Loneliest Road in America’. Today, you’ll get to experience historic Austin, hot springs, more sagebrush saloons, Kingston Canyon, and Eureka – a living ghost town. You can navigate around the rest of the days from this road trip below:
- Day 1: Carson City to Austin
- Day 3: Eureka to Baker
- Day 4: Exploring Great Basin National Park
- Overview: Route 50: Nevada’s Hidden Gem for Adventure Seekers – 4 Day Road Trip
See Nevada’s Route 50 in motion – bring Route 50 to life and watch how we experienced this iconic road trip:
Table of Contents
Day 2 – Austin to Eureka
On day 2 of your drive along Route 50 in Nevada, you’ll start off in Austin (which depending on where you stayed last night will be your first stop on the drive, or you’ll set off from there. Austin is incredibly small so you can expect to see everything there is to see pretty quickly. You’ll then head on to the fantastic Spencer Hot Springs for a true local’s wild west experience, where there is one natural spring and a couple of cowboy tubs set up for bathing. Once you’ve taken in the views and relaxing with nature’s finest, you’ll head to Kingston and the Lucky Spur Saloon as well as Kingston Canyon and Groves Lake for a tucked away oasis in the high desert mountains.
As you drive onto Eureka, your last stop for Day 2, you’ll take in even more high desert views and a sense of solitude. Day 2 is much more relaxed than Day 1, and there are plenty of places to detour or stop on the way to relax and enjoy or take some photographs too.
Things to do in Austin before Departure
Austin, set in central Nevada is a living ghost town – it may be small and when driving through on first impression you may think there isn’t a lot to explore. However, it makes a great starting point for Day 2 of Route 50 and has some unique offerings before you get on the road properly. Austin, not to be mistaken for the other Austin you’re likely aware of, is said to be named after Alvah Austin who was important to the silver rush experienced in the area.
Aside from that, it was also an important area on the Pony Express route and was founded in 1862. The town is almost preserved to its former years – a small amount of time here will have you feeling like you’ve been taken back in history. Here are some suggestions of places to check out in Austin before making your way to your next stop along Route 50.
Walking Around Austin’s Historic Old Town
Walking around Austin’s Historic Old Town will have you feeling like you’ve stepped right into a Western. There is no specific walking route as such – the town isn’t really that big, but you’ll want to make sure you take your camera out with you. You’ll come across the ‘city of churches’ – three 1800’s eta churches that sit in the landscape prominently. You’ll find old shop frontages, and various other historical structures that have been looked after lovingly by the some 200 or so people who live in the area today.
Just outside of Austin, you’ll find Stokes Castle, it’s not actually a castle in the traditional sense, but instead a residence designed for Anson Phelps Stokes who was a banker, magnate and mine developer. It was intended to be a summer residence and was completed in 1897. It is modelled on a tower similar to those seen in Italy at the time, and the family only stayed in the castle for a short time. Now, the castle is owned by a private local resident and is looked after by the Austin Historical Society. The castle mostly stands now as a reminder of the hard work and backbone that the area of Austin had within this important time of mining and the silver rush. It may have fallen into disrepair, but it is an interesting artifact of the area and the meaning behind it.
First Stop: Spencer Hot Springs
Your first stop after Austin for Day 2 of Nevada’s Route 50 is the iconic Spencer Hot Springs, which is a favorite of locals and passers-by just the same. What makes it interesting is Spencer Hot Springs is isolated – being set miles down a gravel road and with a slight sense of adventure (or good eyesight) needed to find the hot springs dotted amongst the desert landscape. When you reach them, they have such a serene atmosphere and stunning views of the Toiyabe Range – which sets the scene for most of the landscapes you’ll experience today. You can spend as little or as long as you like here – it really is a great experience and one you’ll likely remember for a long time after.
The drive from Austin to Spencer Hot Springs takes roughly 30 minutes and is just under 19 miles/30km. There are plenty of stunning spots along the way to get out and take photographs, especially as you turn onto the gravel road, NF-001 to get to the springs. This road is quiet, so you have plenty of places to enjoy the scenic points all around you. The road stays paved until you turn off, and then it becomes gravel. This is easy to drive on, but always go slower as to avoid any potential problems. When you get to the entrance for the Springs, you’ll notice the road becomes more uneven, if you feel confident, you can drive around until you find the tubs, but if not, you could park the car and walk around (the area isn’t huge).
How to get to Spencer Hot Springs: You’ll take Route 50 for the first section before taking a turn onto NF-001 for the last section of the journey. When you get to the site, you’ll see a couple of small hills/sand dunes, and you’ll notice a number of small roads/trails have become obvious in the area. You can take these to find the various tubs. They aren’t that hard to find, and you’ll likely come to the natural spring first. You can park up right next to it. If not, or if this one is already in use, you can drive around until you find the three other cowboy tubs. Half of the fun is finding them, so enjoy the experience and the views.
Enjoying the Springs
All four are natural, very hot geothermal springs set amongst the wilds on public land (the last, smallest tub is a lot cooler though). They all have their unique features – one, and perhaps the biggest, is a natural tub, which has been created by being dug out of the ground. Whereas the remaining three are cowboy tubs – stock watering tubs that have been set up above ground. With these, you have a little more control over the temperature as a pipe containing hot water can either be placed in or out of the tub.
If you want something a little ‘wilder’ then the natural tub would be best for you – it’s also set into the mud so is naturally a lot muddier (but it’s great for the skin). The others are a little more like a traditional bath. You can fit a few people into the natural tub, and the cowboy tubs would fit around 2-4 people. The fourth tub is often a lot cooler, but the other three sit generally at 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54c) down to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37c).
The hot springs are of course hot, and in fact, they’re some of the hottest in the area. So here are some tips and safety precautions for using them:
- If you’re not used to hot springs or bathing in temperatures like this, you should limit the time you spend in them at first. There is no set time limit but go on how you feel. If you start to feel sick or unwell in any way, be sure to get out straight away.
- Be mindful of the outside temperatures too – if it is really hot outside, you will likely find it harder to cool down after using the springs.
- Wear head protection. If it’s a full sunshine day and hot, make sure to cover your head to avoid sunburn.
- Clothing is optional but read the situation. If you have the place to yourself, and it looks like it may stay that way, then, but if there are other people there, be sure to wear clothes.
- Always try to find another spring before joining others – there are others to explore, so have a look at those first. You can always head back to the one you really want later. If there are none available, always ask a group if they mind you entering before you get in. Likewise, if the springs seem busy, don’t stay in and hog the tubs for a long time, be courteous to other visitors.
- Lower yourself in gently, especially in the natural tub to avoid slipping on the mud.
Best Times for Bathing
The best seasons and times of day for a peaceful, scenic soak will really vary through the year. When we visited in late September mid-week, there were not that many people there, however, a couple of people had set up camp and were making some of the tubs their own. That said, there was still plenty available and loads of space. So going mid-week in the middle of the day is likely to be a lot quieter than going at the weekend. Any time of year and season is good for visiting Spencer Hot Springs except for full on summer season, where you may struggle to cool down from your soak in the hot day time temperatures.
Spencer Hot Springs is also a great place to visit to bathe under the stars, as it is ‘open’ 24 hours a day. You can typically expect it to be very dark, as there is little light pollution in the area, so it’s advised to bring a torch or headlamp to find your way, you could also bring some battery-operated fairy lights to illuminate the springs. However, after time your eyes will adjust, and you will have more opportunity to see the starry night sky if you keep things as dark as possible once you get into the tub. Be mindful that if bathing at night, you could have some potential wildlife encounters. Wild burro (donkeys) uses the tubs to drink from in the evening and eat the grass, as well as pronghorn too (though they’ll likely keep to themselves).
Lucky Spur Saloon
Once you’ve finished up, you’ll be ready to sit down and enjoy a cold drink, and there really couldn’t be anywhere better than the intriguing Lucky Spur Saloon on the edge of Kingston Canyon. The saloon is like a scene fresh out of a Western and has stunning views out to the canyon – this day really is about soaking things in. What’s more, it was named ‘the best bar in the middle of nowhere’ by Men’s Health. It’s a spot popular with locals too, so enjoy the ambience and scenery. The staff are exceptionally friendly and welcoming – a real gem. It’s worth noting that Lucky Spur Saloon isn’t open on Tuesday’s, so plan your journey accordingly. Every other day, it’s open from 2pm until between 8 and 10pm. Apart from Sunday, when it’s open from 10am – 2pm.
The drive from Spencer Hot Springs to Lucky Spur Saloon is pretty straight forward – you need to travel back along the gravel road you came in on to get to the Springs and take a right to get down to Kingston. It takes roughly 30 minutes and is 24.4miles/39km from the Springs. You’ll see more of the spectacular mountains you’ve already had as your backdrop so far today, and the roads are quiet, so be sure to take advantage of any pull in spots you come across to take photographs. The roads vary between paved and gravel, but they are all well surfaced, and are perfectly accessible.
How to get to Lucky Spur Saloon: The route is really easy to follow from your maps, but if you find they aren’t working or you don’t have service, follow the road down to Kingston, and once you’re in Kingston, you won’t miss it – Kingston is small and Lucky Spur Saloon is really obvious as you’ll see the antenna marking its location almost in the center of the small community.
Food and Drink
The Lucky Spur Saloon has a wide selection of whisky and is well known as having some of the best, coldest beers in the area. It’s the charm of the owners that keep the cheer here though, but the drinks are great and reasonably priced. They are especially well known for their bloody Mary. Whilst the Lucky Spur Saloon doesn’t offer food, they have a range of different entertainment on particular dates – and there is always a community spirit. You can check out their Facebook page for more information on up-and-coming events to get involved in or special offers.
Arriving in Kingston for the Lucky Spur Saloon may have you feeling like this is a place where time forgot. In many ways, you’d be right. Kingston itself has had a number of popularity moments (though on a small scale). In the 1860’s, for the mining that was happening in the local area and again is 1906, when a new wave of mining was set up that shut down again in 1911. Now, Kingston is a very small community that has a few businesses – these mainly serve people visiting Kingston Canyon as the road to Groves Lake and Big Creek was put in place in the 1930’s. Of course, for visitors, Lucky Spur Saloon is the main draw of Kingston, but be sure to spend a few minutes walking around the town for a true sense of quiet and solitude in the high desert before heading up to Kingston Canyon and Groves Lake for your next stop.
As you drive up to the canyon from Kingston itself, you will get an incredible introduction to Kingston Canyon’s serene landscapes. In fact, this may be one of the best hidden gem backcountry areas on the whole of Route 50 in Nevada. It isn’t really on the way to anywhere and it’s off the main road so when people come here, they’re coming here because of a want to for solitude and time in nature rather than just a stop off. It has a real off the beaten path charm in central Nevada. Set in the Toiyabe Mountains, Kingston Canyon’s shape and form is a prime example of the wealth of geological activity in the area.
A few miles up the road, you’ll come to Groves Lake. The water bodies that wind their way through the canyon do a lot to carve out the shape of the meandering rocks you’ll encounter on the journey. They also do a lot to keep a wealth of animal and insect life going in the area. The lake is accessible for fishing, but it is also possible to swim here too – be mindful that the banks of the lake are quite slick mud, and its best advised to wear swimming shoes to do so. There is a very good chance you’ll have the lake to yourself when you visit, so you could very well take a picnic and make an afternoon of things, enjoying the peace and quiet all around you in this spectacular setting.
Final Stop of the Day: Eureka
Your last stop of the day is Eureka, which is roughly 74 miles/119km from Kingston Canyon and Groves Lake. This should take you about 1 hour and 15 minutes driving, without any stops. On the way, you’ll go past a whole range of different locations, such as Summit Mountain, Antelope Peak and Bald Mountain which will be on your right, and these incredible mountain views set the backdrop as you make your way to one of the friendliest towns on the loneliest highway. Eureka itself is pretty small, but is full of charm and you’ll spend more time checking out Eureka and its historical nature tomorrow on Day 3 of your Route 50 road trip. Tonight, you’ll get to check into your accommodation and refresh and refuel at one of the friendly neighborhood options available.
Places to Stay in Eureka, Nevada
There are a range of options for places to stay in Eureka along Route 50, and it’s a great location to stop off, refuel and also to freshen up and take in all that this historic living ghost town has to offer in the morning. Eureka offers motels, hotels and even a haunted hotel (though we didn’t see any ghosts unfortunately when staying!). Here are some of the best places to stay in Eureka, Nevada.
Jackson House Hotel is a real step back in time, and it’s maintained its 1800s charm in its renovation. It is said to be haunted and is a real must see. It’s actually one of the stops on the Eureka Ghost Walk, but if you stay there, you’ll have even more chances to get up close and personal with some of those ghost stories! As soon as you walk through the door and head up the stairs to your room, you’ll be well aware of how many interesting pictures there are lining the walls and how many of the period features, such as stained glass in the upper section of each room’s door, have remained intact. It’s said that The Lady in Red wisps through the halls of the hotel. However, we didn’t get to experience her on our stay, only a comfortable bed a short walk from the local food options.
Address: 11 S. Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316.
Hotels in Eureka, Nevada
If you don’t fancy a potentially ghostly experience at the Jackson House Hotel, or find that it’s already booked, there are numerous other accommodation options for your stay in Eureka, ranging from more traditional hotels to motels and something in-between. Here are some of the best:
- SureStay Hotel by Best Western Eureka: 251 N. Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316.
- The Historic Parsonage Bed and Breakfast: 11 Spring Street, Eureka, NV 89316.
- Sundown Lodge: 60 N. Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316
- Eureka Gold Country Inn: 701 N. Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316
Where to Eat in Eureka, Nevada
Eureka, Nevada doesn’t have a massive range of places to eat, but what it does offer, is really great quality. Eureka gets that American wild west charm down to a tee and you’ll find that in the style of cooking here too. A word of warning, some of these local restaurants have select opening hours, so it’s best to check out their social media in advance for your visit. Expect large portions – so go in hungry! Here are some of your best options for where to eat in Eureka:
- Urban Cowboy Bar and Grill: 121 N. Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316. Serving steaks, seafood, burgers, baskets and more.
- Owl Club Bar and Steakhouse: 61 N. Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316. Serving steaks, chilli, soup, clam chowder, baskets and more in a relaxed setting. Has a restaurant one side and more casual bar and pool hall on the other. Has some vegetarian options.
- Sacha’s Pizza and Sugar Shack: 21 S. Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316. Serves handmade pizza of various varieties and has a vegetarian option that can be made vegan by omitting the cheese. Also has various flavors of ice cream, boozie shakes and cocktails.
- El Tapatio at Jackson House: 701 N. Main St, Eureka, NV 89316. Open in Jackson House Hotel, is this Mexican spot serving a basic, but tasty menu. Can make vegetarian and vegan options.
Day 2 of driving route 50 through Nevada takes in some real treats, with one of the absolute highlights being Spencer Hot Springs. Allow yourself enough time there – as you will really want to soak in the views and the unique experience and will find yourself not wanting to leave. Generally, the roads are really manageable, even though some of them are classed as off road, but be careful when you get to the springs themselves with driving around. We have a decent amount of off road experience and used a 4×4, so if you feel unsure, it’s best to park up and walk around the springs.
Day 2 will feel more relaxed than day 1, which was pretty full on, and is more about soaking in the views and relaxing in the high desert. In many ways, we wish we could have had more time than we did at the hot springs, and if you are short on time, you could skip Austin and looking around at the start of the day altogether to focus on the nature based activities available. Day 2’s rest and recoup will put you in great stead for another full day of exploring on day 3, so make the most of it!