Surrounded by high desert sagebrush and in view of the Ruby Mountains’ dramatic, snow-capped peaks, the South Fork Reservoir is a fantastic stopover site for those traveling through northern Nevada. The park’s main draw is its 1,600-acre reservoir, which provides ample opportunities for boating and trophy-class trout and bass fishing. Several day use areas and lovely picnic sites can be found around the lake shore, as can two boat launches.
There’s plenty to do on terra firma, too. Over eight miles of trails, which can be used by hikers, bikers and trail riders, hug the shoreline and skirt the south fork of the Humboldt River, which flows into and out of the reservoir. The park’s flora and fauna is surprisingly rich and diverse, contrasting greatly with the arid landscape beyond the park’s bounds. Adventures await in the nearby Ruby Mountains, too. Most of the range is under management by Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and there are dozens of miles of beautiful montane trails to explore.
South Fork is just a short drive south of Elko, Nevada, a full-service town offering plenty of amenities. The campsite at South Fork is humble, offering 25 primitive campsites suitable for RVs (a second campsite allows for primitive tent camping, but not RVs/trailers). Spots are first-come first-served, so if you’re traveling in the busy season, try to swing by early in the afternoon!
South Fork State Recreation Area is located just half an hour south of Elko, Nevada, through which I-80 passes. Travelers taking I-80 can turn off into Elko and make their way to NV-227, then NV-228, and finally to Lower South Fork Road, which cuts along the western edge of the park. Though some of the surrounding terrain is mountainous, all roads to and within the park are flat, paved and easily drivable. There are no sharp turns or bridges to worry about either.
Most of the reservoir is encircled by paved roads (with hiking trails and 4WD roads filling in the gaps). Day use areas, trailheads, boat launches and more are scattered around the water’s edge, with ample parking available at just about every site. The setup at the RV campground is quite simple: all 25 sites are back-in and are located along a loop. Space between sites is ample and parking shouldn’t pose much of a challenge.
South Fork has two camping areas, one of which is suitable for RVs. The small campground, which sports 25 primitive sites, is located just past the park’s entrance station. Sites are located on the western shore of the reservoir, just a stone’s throw from the water. Though there isn’t much shade, the sites are far from barren - sagebrush and other high desert plants grow thickly in every direction.
There are no electric, water or sewage hookups available at South Fork. There is, however, water spigot and dumping station located right at the park entrance building. The small campground also has a modern restroom with showers, as well as an amphitheater where interpretive programs are occasionally hosted. All sites have tables and grills.
Picnic and day use facilities are located in at nearby Tomera Cove, as well as at several other locations along the lakeshore. The nearest boat launch, at Hastings Cove, is just a short drive up the road.
All sites here are first-come first-served. For supplies, the full-service town of Elko, Nevada is about a half-hour’s drive to the north.
Perhaps the biggest draw to South Fork State Recreation Area is the park’s trophy-class fishing opportunities. Anglers will find the waters well-populated with trout, bass, and catfish, with many individuals reaching monstrous sizes. Roads and hiking trails offer access to just about every inch of the reservoir shoreline, and you can also fish along the Humboldt River (or its south fork, from which the park gets its name) as well as a quarter-mile section of spillway past the reservoir dam. And, of course, you can head out onto the water as well! Regardless of your eventual fishing spot, you’ll have magnificent views of the towering Ruby Mountains to the east as you cast your line.
There’s over 1,600 acres of surface to explore on the South Fork Reservoir, and the best way to do it is by boat. The park sports two boat launches - one at Coyote Cove and one at Hamilton Cove - which can accommodate rigs up to 15 feet in length. Motorboats, canoes, kayaks and rafts are all welcome, though boaters should note that about half the lake is covered by “no-wake zones”. Mid-summer in northern Nevada gets plenty hot, in spite of the elevation; temperatures routinely head into the 90s. Cool off by heading out onto the water, whether you’re aim is to fish, paddle or just have a relaxing float with a spectacular view.
South Fork maintains about eight miles of trails, most of which can be used for biking. Several trails let you peddle along the shoreline, while others take you along the south fork of the Humboldt River, skirting scenic meadows and marshes which hum with activity in spring and summer. South Fork’s website also gives fantastic, detailed information on the trails’ grade, slope, firmness and surface material. And if South Fork doesn’t provide you with enough mileage, nearby mountain ranges, like the Ruby Mountains, offer even more scenic biking opportunities.
The cool waters of the South Fork Reservoir draw in animals from miles around. Though there are miles of arid land and sagebrush in every direction, the areas immediately around the reservoir and the Humboldt become busy and lush come springtime. Mule deer, badgers, coyotes, kit foxes and beavers are all common sites around the water. Marsh wrens and yellow-headed blackbirds call from reeds along the water’s edge, while waterfowl such as canvasbacks, gadwalls, northern pintails, buffleheads, common goldeneye and many, many more congregate (sometimes in huge numbers) in the reservoir.
Hikers can enjoy all of the park’s trails, which let visitors explore the banks of the reservoir and the richly vegetated margins of the Humboldt's south fork. Trail goers can enjoy sweeping vistas of the imposing Ruby Mountains, which scrape the Nevada sky to the east. Of course, they can also venture into those mountains themselves. Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest, which encompasses most of the range, is right nearby. The Ruby Mountain Wilderness Area, a hiker’s paradise filled with alpine lakes and whitebark pine forests, is a Nevada gem.
South Fork is a boon to both landscape and wildlife photographers. A diverse array of birds flock to the reservoir’s waters, as do deer, foxes and more. The surrounding landscape is dramatic and quintessentially western. Dry sagebrush plains stretch for miles in every direction, while the imposing, snow-capped Ruby Mountains stretch skyward in the distance. In the evening, as the sun sets to the west, photographers can capture the ephemeral orange alpenglow which colors the rocks just before dusk.