After spotting a few lonely RVs parked in campsites along the service road below Nevada state Highway 95 near Hawthorne, we made a spontaneous decision to postpone visiting the Extraterrestrial Highway for a few days in order to take advantage of this beautiful lakeside camping opportunity. We sure are glad we did.
The 30,000-acre, 12-mile-long by 5-mile-wide Walker Lake features a shoreline that varies from steep and rocky on the west side to sandy beaches on the east side, where we camped at Sportsman’s Beach.
The panoramic views of the glassy lake nestled between rugged mountains were so gorgeous, it took me by surprise each and every time I walked out the RV door during the five days we spent there.
Even in early November, the tallest peaks were already capped in a sparkling blanket of snow. At lakeside, however, days were balmy enough for T-shirts. Night temperatures dropped enough for sweaters, campfires, and the occasional running of the furnace.
What’s great about camping at Walker Lake
In addition to the incredible views, there are lovely lakeside walks along the shore, or more strenuous hiking in the nearby mountains for those wanting to be more active. Either way, it will inspire you to leave the RV and get out into nature.
An important rest stop for migratory birds, bird watchers will find lots to keep them busy at Walker Lake. Common loons with their mournful cries, snow geese, white pelicans, and harlequin ducks, can all be spotted at various times of the year. Along the shoreline, look for snowy plovers, American avocets, and black-necked stilts.
Desert Bighorn sheep are often seen on the cliffs overlooking the lake. A group of hunters at one of the neighboring camps were in the process of cleaning one of the huge animals as we were leaving camp early one morning.
The campsites are not so close together that neighbors are an issue. Even noisy neighbors are far enough away. Yes, we could see other RVers and tent campers in the distance, but campsite placement does provide a decent degree of privacy.
Most of all, for a digital nomad like me, Walker Lake provided a quiet, scenic place to get some work done while living in the middle of a picture postcard.
The shaded picnic table was a nice place to set up shop during the day and write while gazing at the lake. At night the nearby fire ring was the perfect place to grill dinner, roast marshmallows, and look up at the stars.
What’s wrong with Walker Lake?
On the downside, “Sportsman’s Beach” is not quite what it advertises.
If you are expecting fishing, boating, water skiing, and swimming, prepare to be disappointed. Yes, the Bureau of Land Management still lists all of these activities as available at Walker Lake. But it is simply not true.
It wasn’t always this way. There used to be fishing, and jet skiing, and boating. Sportsman’s Beach even has a boat ramp. But it now sits empty and unused.
The scene at Walker Lake is indeed physically beautiful, but the lake itself is pretty much dead.
What happened to Walker Lake?
For decades, the lake’s waters helped sustain a thriving agricultural economy in the area. But too much damming and water diversion took their toll. Satellite photos over time show a shocking shrinking of Walker Lake’s water mass.
Now, because water levels have declined so dramatically, the total dissolved solid (TDS) levels in Walker Lake have increased to the point where it can no longer support its native fish and wildlife populations.
A thick coat of algae covers much of the shoreline around the sandy Sportsman’s Beach. Invisible from the serenity of the campsite, the pungent algae makes Walker Lake look and smell far less appealing up close than it does from a distance.
It’s difficult to look upon the silent lake now and imagine what it once was.
Truck driver Cody Luther of Phelan, CA, has fond memories of fishing at the lake with his father back in the ’60s.
“It was nice. Lots of military folks back then,” he says. “It’s sad it has all but faded into history now.”
There is hope for the future, however, thanks to the Walker Basin Conservancy, a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 with the goal to restore Walker Lake. As of 2021, they had acquired 53 percent of the water necessary to reach their primary goal. Here’s hoping their good work continues.
Walker Lake/Sportsman’s Beach RVing tips and practicalities
- Sportsman’s Beach provides thirty-one individual campsites plus two undeveloped camping areas that accommodate RV and tent campers. Facilities include vault toilets, covered picnic tables, grills, pull-through and back-in campsites, and paved access.
- There is no potable water or showers available at Sportsman’s Beach.
- There is minor highway noise in the distance; however, you’ll find campsites at various levels. The closer you park to the lake, the less road noise you will hear.
- Verizon signal was strong and reliable. As usual, AT&T was spotty at best.
- Prices as of November 2021 were a mere $6 a night for developed campsites, $4 a night for dispersed camping with discounted weekly rates. However, it does not appear anyone checks on the campground often. We tried to pay for our last two nights but the box was so full it was impossible to jam another envelope in it. Dumpsters were filling up, as well, but not quite overflowing. From the looks of things, I would guess someone only comes by weekly, if that, at this time of year.
- Nearby Tamarack Beach and Twenty Mile Beach provide additional opportunities for dispersed tent and RV camping along the Walker Lake shoreline.
- A lot of reviews of Walker Lake report extreme wind conditions. We experienced no wind issues at all during our stay, but be aware it can get seriously gusty here at times.
- For more information about the history of Walker Lake visit the Walker Basin Conservancy’s website. The BLM website also has info about the Walker Lake Recreation Area, but be aware, not all of it is accurate.