The Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area is a Bureau of Land Management property with a campground and boat launch located on the Illipah Reservoir in Nevada, among the foothills at the base of the White Pine Mountain Range.
This high desert terrain is situated at 6840 feet above sea level, adjacent to the Illipah Reservoir. Because of its altitude, summers here are cooler than in some of the surrounding desert areas, making it possible to enjoy outdoor summer activities here. The area is known for having high warm winds, however, so be prepared for warm weather in the summer, and the lake freezes in the winter making it suitable for ice fishing.
The reservoir has 70 acres of water surface and a maximum depth of 50 feet and was created in 1953 for irrigation purposes. Fishing is a popular pastime on the reservoir which is stocked with rainbow trout by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and also has a population of brown trout. A BLM managed campground and day-use area is situated at the Illipah Reservoir and is open year-round. The recreation area and attractions in the region, such as wild horse bands and ghost towns, make this location an interesting place to explore. The campground has limited amenities, but large roomy sites that can accommodate RVs.
While in the Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area region you can also visit the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Cave Lake State Park and Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park which are only a short drive away.
The Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area is located 37 miles west of the town of Ely, Nevada, where amenities and services can be accessed by travelers in the region. To reach the BLM recreation area from Highway 50, turn south at the sign for the Illipah Reservoir and proceed for .1 miles to the crossroads. Turn left and continue for 1.3 miles to the Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area Campground.
The 1.5-mile gravel road to access the area is generally well-graded and maintained, but can be muddy and have ruts when wet weather occurs in the spring, which may make it difficult to navigate for large RVs and tow-vehicles. Check conditions before proceeding down the road. There is some dust in the area from OHV activity in dry weather.
Highway 50 was once described as “The Loneliest Road in America” with few settlements and services along it. Be prepared with topped up fluid levels and fuel, carry extra coolant fluid, and have tools and supplies for your vehicle in case of a mechanical breakdown. Extremely hot temperatures when traveling in the region in the summer mean you should also have extra water and supplies for yourself and your passengers when traveling in the region in case you need them.
During the winter, sub-freezing temperatures occur in the area, and when coupled with moisture can result in icy conditions on roadways at higher elevations. Use caution when traveling in inclement winter weather; you will need more time to execute turns and for stopping, especially if you are hauling a trailer or in a larger RV.
The Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area has an overnight campground with 17 roomy sites that can accommodate large RVs, and is located on the Illipah Reservoir. The dirt access road may limit accessibility of some larger, low clearance RV units, and tow-vehicles.
There are no RV hookups, water supply, or dump stations at the site. There are vault toilets and trash receptacles available on site. Campsites have picnic tables with shelters and fire rings. The campground is open year-round and is cooler in the summer than many other regions due to its high elevation and proximity to the lake. High winds in the region can be an issue for campers, but the shelters provide some protection from the wind. The campground has two loops, a smaller loop for cars and tents, and a larger loop with wide gravel pullouts for larger RVs.
A boat launch at the recreation area facilitates watercraft on the lake, and hiking and OHV trails can be accessed from the campground area. There is no fee for camping, the maximum stay is 14 days, and sites are available on a first-come first-serve basis.
From Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area, you can enjoy the Hamilton Ghost Town Scenic Drive. The drive provides views of the nearby Mokomoko Mountains and the White Pine Range. It beings at Highway 50, 39 miles west of Ely. The route traverses high desert terrain and curves around the mountain ranges.
The ghost town of Hamilton is located on the scenic drive, about 10 miles from the starting point. This town was developed in 1867 after the discovery of silver in the area and subsequently abandoned. Fires have destroyed much of the old settlement structures, but the foundation of buildings remain standing.
The scenic drive has a gravel and dirt surface and can be rutted, so use caution, and ensure you have an appropriate vehicle. Usually, the road is passable for two-wheel-drive passenger vehicles; however, in the spring, muddy conditions may require a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle, and the road is closed during the winter. Fall is the best time to take the drive.
Due to the high elevation at the Illipah Recreation Area, cold winter temperatures result in the lake freezing solid enough to permit ice fishing. Trout are available for catch in the reservoir through augured holes in the ice between December and February, and the BLM area is open year-round to accommodate winter ice fishing.
Check with the local BLM office to ensure the ice surface is thick enough to allow activities on the lake before venturing out. You will require a valid Nevada State fishing license for ice fishing.
The Illipah Reservoir Recreation area campground is frequently used as a staging spot for OHV fun. OHV trails extend south and southeast from the BLM site. There are multiple loops departing from USFS Road 59199. There are a few fence crossings, but most routes will accommodate full-size four-wheel-drive vehicles. Mining activities once took place in the area and OHVs should keep an eye out for open mine shafts. This activity is popular in the offseason when the weather is cool and less hard on mechanical systems which can overheat in hot summer weather.
Fishing in the Illipah Reservoir, which has a 70-acre surface, and is up to 50 feet deep in spots, is the most popular activity at the BLM site. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout twice annually and has a self-sustaining brown trout population.
You will need a Nevada State fishing license to fish at the lake. Fishing from the shore is possible, and many anglers enjoy the fishing around the lake available here. There is also an undeveloped boat ramp where you can launch electric motorized and non-motorized watercraft to fish from the lake surface.
The Illipah Reservoir Trail is a loop trail around the reservoir that is appropriate for all skill and ability levels. The trail is 1.3 miles in length and has only 88 feet of elevation gain.
More challenging hikes can be found in the region such as the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail to the east. This 8.6-mile hike has 2900 feet of elevation gain and should be started early in the day as afternoon storms are common in the area.
Wear appropriate hiking boots to negotiate rough desert terrain and protect yourself from cactus vegetation and hazards like loose rocks when hiking in the region. Keep an eye out for wild horses that roam free in the region. Keep your distance from these large animals, which can be dangerous if startled or cornered.
An undeveloped boat ramp exists at the Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area for visitors to launch watercraft. The reservoir is restricted to electric motors and non-motorized boats. You must keep your speed under five nautical miles per hour, and leave only a flat wake. Kayaking, canoeing, and tubing are also popular activities at the reservoir. Cool off in the hot summer by heading out on the lake which provides 70 acres of lake surface to enjoy.