Cave Lake State Park covers more than 4,000 acres of wilderness in the Schell Creek mountain range in the eastern part of Nevada. It is just five miles from the nearest town, Ely, and includes a vibrant and well-stocked reservoir lake of 32 acres that is full of trout and crawdads. The road to this campground can be a bit challenging and should be navigated carefully in a big rig, but the beautiful surroundings are well worth the trouble.
It is a popular destination for locals as well as for visitors to the area, both in the summer and the winter months. In the summer it is a prime spot for fishing, crawdad hunting, hiking, and kayaking, while in the winter months activities like ice skating, snowshoeing, and skiing are more popular. So no matter what season there is always plenty to do if you visit Cave Lake State Park in your campervan or camping trailer.
There are two campgrounds available at this park, one on the northeast corner of the lake and the other a little further southwest. Both have primitive sites without electric, water, or sewer, but generators are allowed anytime except during quiet hours. All campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and include a firepit and grill as well as a picnic table.
Cave Lake State Park is in eastern Nevada, just under 300 miles north of Las Vegas. The closest town to the park is Ely, NV, a small town just 14 miles to the west that was originally founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express.
The campgrounds can be reached by turning west on to State Highway 486 from US 93, also known as the Great Basin Highway. State Highway 486 has a fair number of twists and turns and it will take a little bit of concentration in order to traverse this road in a larger campervan or if towing a trailer. The turns can be difficult to see at night, so it may be easier to approach during daylight hours. If you are traveling to the campground in the winter, be aware of snow and of icy conditions while driving and take it slow. The roads are generally plowed, but if there has been a recent snowstorm it can sometimes take a day or two before the plows make it through again.
The roads in the campgrounds themselves are fairly narrow dirt roads. In the summer, you will have your pick of two separate campground areas in the park, Elk Flat Campground and Lake View Campground. The loop at the Elk Flat Campground is somewhat looser and easier to traverse than the loop on Lake View, but it is a litte further from the lake. In the winter, only the Lake View Campground is open.
Almost all of the camp sites at both campgrounds are first-come, first-served and saving sites is prohibited. The only exception to this is one group site at each campground which can be reserved through the rangers office. The sites are level and each include a fire pit with a sturdy grill over it, a picnic table, and ample parking. These well-maintained but primitive sites do not provide electric, water, or sewer hookups, but there are sanitary dump stations at the entrance of each campground. Well-behaved pets are welcome at both campgrounds but they must be kept on a six-foot or shorter lead at all times or be contained in the camper or in a crate.
Lake View Campground is right near the lake at the northeast corner. It has slightly smaller campsites which tend to be closer together, and slightly narrower internal roads, but has the advantage of being open year-round. It is also more advantageous for those who have come to Cave Lake State Park primarily for the trout fishing. There are also flushing toilets and showers at this site which are available except during extremely cold conditions when the pipes would otherwise freeze.
All of the campsites at both campgrounds are first-come, first-served and saving sites is prohibited. The only exception to this is one group site at each campground which can be reserved through the rangers office. Both campgrounds are primitive, with no electric, water, or sewer hookups, but there is a sanitary dumping station near the entrance of both. The sites are level and each include a fire pit with a sturdy grill over it, a picnic table, and ample parking. Well-behaved pets are welcome at both campgrounds but they must be kept on a six-foot or shorter lead at all times or be contained in the camper or in a crate.
Elk Flat Campground is situated a little bit southwest of the lake itself and is the first campground that visitors are likely to see as they approach from the highway. The campsites at this campground tend to be a little larger than those at the Lake View Campground with more room in between, and the roads are also somewhat easier to navigate. There are showers and flushing toilets on this side of the park but they are only available when this campground is open in the summer months. While Lake View Campground is open year-round, the Elk Flat Campground closes down during the summer months.
The Fire and Ice Festival has been held in January at Cave Lake State Park and surrounding areas for more than a decade. This festival celebrates the county that the park and the nearby town of Ely reside in, White Pine County. It includes varied activities from year to year such as ice sculptures, live music, ice bowling, bonfires, and volleyball, all of which are topped off by breathtaking fireworks displays over the lake.
Cave Lake State Park is no less beautiful in the winter than in the summer. A covering of snow doesn’t stop RVers from enjoying the trails around the lake. When snow covers the trails, visitors and locals alike take off the hiking boots and strap on snowshoes or crosscountry skis. The woods are often much quieter in the snow and wildlife such as elk, lynx, sage grouse, and rabbits may be easier to spot in the winter than in the summer.
Cave Lake is not only a fun place to commune with nature in the summer. In the winter the lake freezes and during the coldest parts of winter it can reach 24” thick. If you bring your ice skates along in your camper you can indulge in some outdoor ice skating near the boat launch. Sledding on the surrounding hills is a popular pastime, and die-hard anglers with ice saws can often be seen ice fishing during the winter months.
The small freshwater crustacean that can be found in Cave Lake is known by many names, including crawfish, crayfish, mountain lobsters, mudbugs, and, of course, crawdads. Hunting and catching the small animals can be achieved in many ways, including just catching them with your hands, although if you are bare handed, watch your fingers as their claws are capable of a fairly strong pinch. They tend to be easier to catch in warmer months starting in late spring, but with diligence they can be found here year round. There are no limits on how many crawdads you can catch for personal use, but it is illegal to hunt them for commercial purposes or to transport them out of the state once they are captured.
There are several wonderful hiking trails with various difficulty levels that can be found in Cave Lake State Park. The easiest of the four developed trails is the three-mile Steptoe Creek Trail loop that starts at the lower parking lot, while the most difficult is the Cave Lake Overlook Trail, which is a much more strenuous 4.5-mile loop. The four-mile Cave Springs Trail and the five-mile long Twisted Pines Trail are both somewhere between the other two in difficulty, and are one-direction paths rather than loops.
Cave Lake and the surrounding park streams are a popular destination for anglers so make sure to pack your rod and reel in the trailer and grab a fishing license and trout stamp in Ely if you haven’t already purchased one. Fishing is excellent from either the shore or a boat, and both native German brown trout and stocked rainbow trout are plentiful in this lake. If you are driving a motorized boat for fishing be sure to keep the speed under 5 MPH as only flat wake boating is allowed on Cave Lake.