While eastern Nevada isn’t exactly crowded, there is a lightly-traveled route just east of Ely that offers a truly memorable, and generally vehicle-free, experience—a journey on Success Loop Road.
The 65-mile passage winds through the Schell Creek Range and offers lush scenery, occasional wildlife and a tranquil, peaceful drive.
The best access point is through Cave Lake State Park, located about 15 miles southeast of Ely via U.S. 93. To reach the park, head south of Ely for about eight miles, turn right on a marked, paved road (this is the start of Success Loop Road) and continue for another seven miles into the park.
The road gradually begins to rise above the surrounding sagebrush carpeted landscape. Ahead are expressive limestone formations that stand like elegant sentinels at the entrance to the lake that gives the park its name.
Continue through a narrow canyon that leads to the lake, which is actually a 32-acre reservoir. The dark emerald lake is situated in a scenic niche in the mountains, surrounded by groves of pinon and juniper.
Above the lake is a small yawning cave — hence the name — and ridges of rough, crumbling granite peaks weathered by countless centuries of icy winters and hot summers.
The recreation area offers a variety of activities with two developed campgrounds (Elk Flat Campground and Lake View Campground) offering showers, restrooms, a dump station, picnic areas and a dock for small fishing boats.
The lake is extremely popular for fishing and regularly stocked with brown and rainbow trout. In fact, the state record brown trout was caught in the lake several years ago.
A five-mile hiking trail begins near the entrance to the recreation area and affords a pleasant opportunity to wander through the trees, enjoying the beautiful scenery and peaceful surroundings.
Success Loop Road heads above the lake and plunges deeper into the surrounding mountain range. The road in not paved past the campground area but it is a seasonally maintained gravel road that is accessible by most high clearance vehicles. The route is best to travel in the summer and fall months.
Back in here, you will also find a number of undeveloped but usable campsites along several small creeks. The sites are part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, so there is an overnight fee.
Continuing on the drive, you climb through forests of fir and pine trees as well as groves of white-barked quaking aspen. Above, you can see marvelous carved, bowl-shaped cirques carved into the Schell Range.
In the spring and summer the surrounding mountains become filled with colorful wildflowers (mostly lupine and mule-ears) and, occasionally, your vehicle will disturb what appear to be clouds of butterflies that take flight as you pass by. The area is also home to herds of deer and elk, so keep your eyes open during the drive.
Success Loop continues for about another 30 miles, with the best part being the first 15 miles or so. If you follow it all the way, the road winds through the mountains and across a few hidden valleys before dropping back to U.S. Highway 93, a few miles north of the tiny community of McGill or about 17 miles north of Ely.
For more information about Cave Lake and Success Loop Road, go to http://parks.nv.gov/parks/cave-lake. Another good source of information is: http://www.exploringnevada.com/scenic-drives/success-loop-scenic-drive.php.
Rich Moreno is taking a break from Nevada and takes his Silver State readers to Wyoming this week.