We pulled into Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge to set up camp in the late afternoon. It took an hour or so to set up house. When I finally emerged from the RV’s front door at about sunset, the idyllic view took my breath away.
Golden rays reflected off a glassy lake surrounded by trees filled with brilliant gold transitioning fall foliage. Jumping fish regularly disrupted the still water, and from the looks and sounds of things, they were whoppers. A flock of quacking ducks skimmed the water’s surface in the distance.
The scene was far more reminiscent of the movie “On Golden Pond” than it was rural Nevada. In fact, it’s difficult to believe this lush forested wildlife-filled wetland exists near the south end of Nevada’s remote and arid Extraterrestrial Highway (more on that here) and just 95 miles from glittering Las Vegas.
Camping at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Fifteen primitive lakeside campsites are available along Upper Pahranagat Lake on a first-come, first-served basis. Each campsite houses two camping parties, either RVers and/or tent campers.
When you look at the view and all the things there are to do here, it is hard to believe that you can stay up to two weeks at the refuge completely free! (There is a donation box for those who choose to contribute.)
We spent about a week and a half during early November and there were available sites every morning and early afternoon, but they all filled up by nightfall.
Arrive early in the day for your best chance at the best site. Some are larger than others. Some are pull-throughs, some require backing in. Rest easy. You can drive through the entire camp to check out the available sites and find a large turnaround at the end of the road to get back.
You might have a close neighbor if someone else is parked in the same site as you, although you won’t feel as though you are on top of each other. Aside from that, the sites are spaced far enough apart to offer a respectable amount of privacy.
In some places, you might be able to spot another RV through the trees. Other views are totally devoid of humans in any form.
A knowledgeable and helpful campground host checked in with us once a day to make sure everything was OK. She also ensured the campsites and vault toilets stayed clean and campers followed the park rules.
Otherwise, we enjoyed quiet solitude.
Hiking, wildlife viewing, and birding
You’d be hard-pressed to find more diverse landscapes than the ones contained within the refuge’s 5,382 acres.
Within a single afternoon, you can explore meadows, marshes, lakes, streams, and desert on the 7 miles of trails that cross through the park.
An essential stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route, the refuge serves as a regular stop for migrating birds to rest and refuel during their long journeys.
Spring and fall bring hundreds of unique species here. Many more breed and winter here too. In fact, 264 bird species have been recorded on the refuge, which is more than half of all the birds recorded in the entire state of Nevada!
You can find a full listing of all of Pahranagat birds at this link.
Bird watchers will find the best opportunities on Upper Pahranagat Lake or in the Middle Marsh. But even from the comfort of the lakeside campsites, the bird watching is pretty darn spectacular.
The rich landscape, nourished by the waters of Crystal and Ash Springs, also provides a habitat for birds of prey, reptiles, rodents, kit foxes, coyotes, mule deer, mountain lions and more.
Hunting and fishing at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
I was surprised to learn that both hunting and fishing are permitted at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, subject to regular seasons and licensing.
The Upper Pahranagat Lake and Middle Marsh can be fished year-round. The most common fish are carp, largemouth bass, green sunfish, and catfish.
While I am not an angler, a neighbor seemed to be doing well in the catfish department, which was no surprise. There were so many large fish jumping in the lake outside my campsite, it sounded like small children splashing in the water all day and most of the night.
The hunting of big game, coyotes, crows and swans is always prohibited. Otherwise, in certain areas of the refuge and on certain days and times, you can hunt geese, ducks, coots, moorhens, quail, doves, snipes and rabbits.
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge Practicalities
- For information about the refuge, including details and restrictions on fishing, hunting, and boating, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website.
- Directions from Las Vegas: Travel north on I-15 for 26 miles. Take exit 64 for US-93 (Great Basin Hwy). Continue north for 64 miles.
- While the refuge is right off the highway, its campground sits well below the road, so noise is minor to nonexistent.
- If you don’t get a campsite when you arrive, you will find a large scenic, tree-filled rest area a few miles south of the entrance to the refuge campground. Spend the night there and try again the next day. Most of the other campers I observed only stayed one or two nights. If you don’t score a spot one day, chances are you will the next.
- The Verizon signal here was strong. AT&T was spotty to nonexistent.
- While there are no hookups or dump stations at the refuge, you’ll find Pickets RV Park in Alamo, NV, just a few miles away. Fill your water tanks, dump your gray and black water tanks, take a long hot shower—the campground offers these without requiring a stay, on any day EXCEPT Sunday.
- There’s a small but well-stocked grocery store next door to the campground in Alamo.