One of the finest backroad trips central Nevada offers to outdoor lovers is Kingston Canyon, lying about 27 miles south of Austin. It offers the multiple joys of hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping and sightseeing. September is an ideal time to go there in terms of weather.
The road through the canyon is gravel, so you will need a high-clearance vehicle with good off-road tires. There is one very steep mountain section, and after a rain you might even have to ford some streams.
I usually take the drive as a 60-mile loop, which could be done as quickly as half a day, but it is much more enjoyable to camp one or two nights along the way. If you have spent the night in Austin and are starting from there, you drive east on U.S. Highway 50 for about 12 miles and then head south on state Route 376 for 15 miles. Go right to on Kingston Canyon Road (Forest Service Road 002).
This road is about as scenic as you can get, and you will find historic mining ruins, the historic Kingston Guard Station (old forest station), creeks, ponds, a lake and plenty of places to pull off and enjoy the scenery. About 8 miles in, you will also find the trailhead at the north end of the Toiyabe Crest Trail. More than 70 miles in length, it is the longest maintained trail in Nevada.
There are plenty of places to camp in the area, depending on your preferences. Dispersed camping is allowed on most forest service land, but check for restrictions beforehand. I have found excellent and wonderful sites with incredible solitude, off of forest service roads flanking the east side of the Reese River Valley, but there are also two official campgrounds for tent or car camping.
Along the Kingston Canyon Road, about 5 miles in, you will find Kingston Canyon Campground. It is at an elevation of 6,500 feet and has 24 single sites and two group sites. About 8.2 miles farther, there is the more remote Big Creek Campground, where you will find six sites, located at an elevation of about 6,600 feet. This campground can also be easily accessed from the Reese River Valley, on the western side of the Toiyabe Range via Forest Service Road 002. It lies about 13 miles southwest of Austin by this route. Both campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
For more information on the condition of Kingston Canyon Road and the other forest service roads you may take, as well as camping and possible fire restrictions, it’s prudent before leaving home to contact the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest: Austin Ranger District at 775-964-2671 or fs.fed.us.
If you can break yourself away from the solitude of the Kingston Canyon area, Austin is a great place to spend at least a few hours. Founded in an 1862 silver rush, Austin is one of the best-preserved, yet one of the oldest survivors, of Nevada’s mining boomtowns. Nowadays, only a few hundred people live here, but that’s enough to provide travelers with the basic services of gasoline, food, and lodging. It lies at an elevation of 6,600 feet, almost dead center of Nevada, along U.S. Highway 50. The rugged surroundings and temperate climate have made it a popular playground among mountain bicyclists.
Eleven historic sites and buildings, in and nearby the town, are on the National Registry of Historic Places, and among them are three of the oldest churches in the state.
Also on the National Register of Historic Places, just a short drive west of town, you can see Stokes Castle, towering over the Reese River Valley below. A prominent business man from the east, Anson Phelps Stokes, had the three-story structure built in the late 19th century, from hand-hewn native granite, patterned after a medieval watch tower he had seen in Italy. It was supposed to become a private home, but sadly, it was only used for about a month.
If you can arrange to be in Austin Sept. 10, the town is holding the Prospectors Dream Wine Walk and Sunset Dinner. The wine walk begins at 2 p.m. on Main Street, and the sunset dinner at Stokes Castle begins at 5 p.m. Tickets are available at the Chamber of Commerce in advance for $25 or on the day of for $30. For tickets or information on lodging, restaurants or other services contact the Austin Chamber of Commerce at 775-964-2200 or austinnevada.com.
Deborah Wall is the author of “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide” and “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States,” published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.