One of the most remote parks in the Nevada system is also one of the most popular winter camper destinations in the Silver State. With its large lake and extensive Off-Highway Vehicle trails, Wild Horse State Recreation Area is a well-liked RV destination during the spring and summer as well.
Those warm-weather activities also include things like boating and fishing on sprawling Wild Horse Reservoir, which is one of the largest bodies of water in northern Nevada. The lake features a sandy beach that has a stunning view of the towering mountains which surround this high-altitude park, along with some truly excellent fishing spots.
Wild Horse State Recreation Area has over 30 RV sites. Many of them are super-size pull-through sites which are designed for very large motorhomes. The campground is open and clear 365 days a year, and most of the campground amenities are available 12 months a year as well.
When you visit Wild Horse State Recreation Area, bundle up. How cold is it here, you ask? The average August low temperature is 37 degrees, and the record August low is 16. Don’t even get us started about the winter temperatures. The good news is that this area does not receive an immense amount of snowfall, and about half of it is in December and January.
When we said this park was remote, we weren’t kidding. It’s just a few miles from the Nevada-Idaho border. The closest “town” is Mountain City, and it’s about 20 miles away, and it does not even have a gas station. At the same time, however, the park is surprisingly accessible. It is not too far north of winding Interstate 80, which is the main drag between Salt Lake City and Reno. This wide interstate is sparsely traveled, to say the least.
There’s basically only one road between Interstate 80 and the park. It’s open and clear most of the year, but if you plan to visit before or after a heavy snowfall, be sure and check for road closures. Wild Horse State Recreation Area is nice, but it’s not the kind of place where you want to be stranded.
This park has a lot of flat, open ground, so it’s tempting to park wherever. But stick to the designated parking areas, which are mostly near the Day Use Area.
There are 34 RV campsites divided into two loops. About half these sites are pull-through sites; the other half are extra large back-in sites. All these motorhome parking sites are very flat and, surprisingly, rather shady. Enjoy the outdoors by cooking and eating outside on the fire pit and picnic table. The south loop has a restroom and shower area that’s open 12 months a year; the north loop has a year-round restroom. Other campground amenities include an amphitheater and fish cleaning station. Drinking water spigots and an RV dump station are open during the summer. All campsites in the Nevada State Park System are first-come, first-served.
During the long, chilly, clear winter nights, the sky really does come alive. That’s especially true on a moonless night. Many people take their telescopes to the swimming beach, since there are several picnic tables there. With a drugstore model, you can see amazing features on nearby celestial bodies. With a stronger telescope, you can clearly see the rings of Saturn and some other one-of-a-kind sights. Have several wishes in mind before you head out, because you will probably see lots of shooting stars.
A number of animals thrive in the cold desert environment so don't forget to pack your binoculars in your campervan or camping trailer. On land, look for large mammals, like elk. There are also lots of whitetail deer in this park. In the winter, it’s fun to do a little detective work. Look for tracks in the snow and then follow them. Parts of Wild Horse Lake are rather marshy. So, there are lots of ducks and other waterfowl around, especially during the fall. Hunting is prohibited here, but lots of hunters use the RV camp as an operational base.
Don't be afraid to step out of the camper and onto the trail. Wild Horse State Recreation Area has three trails for three different types of hikers. First, there’s the aforementioned Beach Trail. It’s more like an outdoor walking track. However, there are some rather steep steps. Next, there’s the longer Wild Horse Loop Trail. It’s designed for hikers in warm weather and snowshoers in cold weather. As the name implies, this trail loops around the campgrounds, so hikers get a good view of the High Desert landscape. There’s a very nice scenic overlook that has a great view of the lake and mountains. Finally, the OHV Trail is for horseback riders and off-road vehicles during the summer and snowmobiles during the winter.
Talk about a great way to beat the summer heat. It could be close to 110 in Las Vegas and barely above freezing at Wild Horse State Recreation Area. There are two designated swimming beaches. One is near the boat launch; the other one is near the aptly-named Beach Trail. The latter beach is a little closer to a parking area and, since it’s far away from the boat launch, a little more remote. Lots of people enjoy swimming to the other side of the shore, because Wild Horse Lake is not very wide here. Thick winter ice makes the lake a great place for outdoor ice skating and perhaps a pickup ice hockey game.
In the summer, most anglers catch lots of perch, catfish, bass, and wipers. Most of these fish are pretty large. They average about 18 to 24 inches in length. During the summer, most people use lures and troll fish. Shore fishing is usually pretty successful as well. Fly fishing is popular in the fall and spring. During the winter, which is about seven or eight months out of the year, ice fishers usually catch lots of trout. Use salmon eggs, nightcrawlers, or corn. Keep an eye on the weather in winter. It gets really, really cold here. A fish cleaning station is located near the RV campground.
Although it’s one of the largest lakes in northern Nevada, Wild Horse Lake is still fairly small. So, this body of water is designed for paddleboards, canoes, kayaks, and other non-powered watercraft. There is a five mph speed limit, as well as a flat wake requirement. Various signs and buoys let boaters know about designated areas. The boat launch, which is next to the swimming beach, is designed for canoes and other such craft. It’s a concrete launch, but it does not have a very large parking area behind it. Many people enjoy paddling up to the northern part of the lake and going under the scenic highway bridge.