10 Quaint Places to Take a Boat

by Paul Sebesta

Boats? In the nation's driest state? Water is a valuable and welcomed commodity in Nevada, making it all the more reason why this is one fine place to launch a boat! Compiling this list was no easy task, but after careful evaluation we bring you ten quaint places that are the absolute best in the state.

Don't be upset if you don't find Nevada's more well-known waters on this list! Our apologies to Lake Mead, Wild Horse Res, Lahontan Res, Walker Lake, Pyramid Lake, and Lake Tahoe. There's no denying that these are stellar places to launch a boat, but they are not quaint and in fact half the time don't always provide the most ideal or safest conditions for watercraft. Entries on this list were chosen strictly for their small, intimate settings, their scenic beauty, neighboring things to do, easy launching access ... and a few other surprises we won't reveal here. Enjoy!

   Eagle Valley Reservoir
   (Lincoln County)

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Out of the three main "lake parks" of Lincoln, we ultimately decided on Eagle Valley Reservoir, the most intimate and scenic of the three parks to start our top ten list! Although Echo Canyon and Spring Valley would fit the bill just fine, this gem is fit for small watercraft. Eagle Valley State Park has a visitor center, a myriad of hiking trails, scenic canyons, and shaded campgrounds that are more intimate than the other two immediate parks.

You just don't hear very much about these parts which is precisely why Eagle Valely is such a surprise for newcomers. At first glance the lake looks spacious enough, but once launching a boat the peace and quiet bites hold and leaves you surrounded by the blue water. Eagle is also special in its ice fishing when other places in the region are locked deep in hibernation. Find the lake at the very end of the Spring Valley Road (SR 322), 29 miles north of Pioche.

   Catnip Reservoir
   (Washoe County)

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The unparalleled peace and quiet at Catnip Reservoir

Sometimes peace and quiet is all you need and few places do this better than Catnip Reservoir on the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. This 22-acre impoundment is one of the few lakes in Nevada with a broodstock population of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and given its remote setting and short growing season, fishing is often better than average. Expect to find the average fish around 12 to 18 inches. Even you aren't toting a pole, Catnip fits the bill with a 5mph speed limit. Camping is primitive, and it can get very windy out here, but given its quiet setting, nobody really gives two hoots about either.

Set just ten miles south of the Oregon border, you have to want find yourself at this remote lake, which is why it comes in at a solid 9 on our list. Welcome to Nevada's "northwest corner." Here you won't find casinos or any type of typical Nevada attractions for two hundred miles in any direction. What you get out here is pure and simple wild Nevada - open spaces and starry nights. Catnip is the quintessential oasis in the desert and proof that the Silver State holds many fascinating surprises.

   Blue Lakes
   (Humboldt County)

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These beautiful gems are set at 8,300 feet in their own Wilderness Study Area overlooking three desert valleys. Need we say more? These pretty lakes were formed by a process known as glaciation in which they were left behind in a large cirque and then filled by springs from the surrounding hillside. The steep topography surrounding the lakes averages a slope of sixty percent here in the Pine Forest Range making them accessible only by a 1-mile hike and rough four-wheel-drive roads that are blocked until early summer.

Aside from its rough access road, Blue Lakes are best known for their stunning scenery of broad meadows, aspen groves, snow-capped peaks, and rich blue water. Cold clear water brought in from Blue Creek provides excellent habitat for a self-sustaining population of wild Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout and remains a favorite destination of great fly fishing lakes in Nevada. You won't find any campgrounds here, so any overnight use will be primitive. Motors aren't permitted here and you won't find a boat launch either, but most people make do and bring in float tubes because it's so easy to fall in love with its pretty surroundings. Blue Lakes deserve a higher spot on this list, but the rough 4WD access going in, lack of facilities, and long distance from major servicesearn it a respectable #8 on our list.

   Ruby Lake
   (Elko County)

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Ruby Lake is the largest body of water on our list, but its size is deceptive. Launch here once ... preferably during sunrise and you'll see why Ruby truly is a ... *wait for it* ... gem. Ruby Lake is completely surrounded by thick tules so watercraft is the only way to go here. The Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge covers over 38,000 acres and mandates a 5mph speed limit on the water and ideal for float tubes and kayaks. Most people who come to Ruby Lake come here for two things: isolation and big fish, and Ruby Lake rarely disappoints.

The sweetness doesn't end there. The steep eastern face of the Ruby Mountains provide one of the more eyepopping backdrops in the state. Camping is plentiful along Ruby Valley Road at several maintained sites. The only thing holding this place from a higher mark on our list is its seasonality. Ruby Lake is closed to all watercraft for three months out of the year to protect nesting waterfowl, but considering what's here this is a minor setback for most people. At first glance Ruby is intimidating but once on the water, you can escape into any of its many tule coves with of course, that beautiful Ruby Mountain backdrop at every paddle!

   Schroeder Reservoir
   (Lincoln County)

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Here's one you probably didn't expect. If you haven't heard of this place you're one of many in Nevada. Schroeder Reservoir is an obscure impoundment reservoir at the very eastern edge of Nevada at the center of Nevada's most remote state park. The lake was constructed by an earthen dam in 1961 by Nevada State Parks as an answer for ranches in Panaca. The new dam backed up the waters of several creeks and spring-fed Meadow Valley Wash through a very pretty rhyolite canyon. What we have today is an idyllic ravine with oak trees, conifers, big skies, and native Rainbow Trout in a setting far removed from the norms of Nevada. Nobody just stumbles onto Schroeder Reservoir or Beaver Dam State Park so smile and dive right into this beautiful area.

Beaver Dam State Park is well-equipped with over fifteen campgrounds, RV hookups, a newly-installed boat ramp on the edge of the reservoir, and some of the prettiest settings in Nevada. If you've had your fill of the reservoir, there are plenty of streams and even a few waterfalls worth checking out in the neighboring canyons! The only thing holding this place back from a higher mark on our list has to do with it's isolation and lack of services. The towns of Panaca and Caliente are about forty minutes away, so don't forget to bring everything with you! If you venture into this remote corner of the state, don't forget to check out Lincoln County's neighboring state parks.

   Groves Lake
   (Lander County)

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How about a lake right in the middle of a mountain range? This is what you get at Groves Lake - created specifically for recreational use. Groves sits in a narrow canyon of the Toiyabe Range and covers 16 surface acres. At less a half a mile long, this is one place where you can feel like you're a part of the mountains.

Groves has grown in popularity as a fishing destination and NDOW does a great job making sure people come back. Rainbow Trout are planted here and average 8 to 12 inches to supplement a native Brown Trout population from Kingston Creek. Boating on Groves brings views of broad canyon walls closing in on spring wildflowers, and verdant green meadows with plenty of streamside campgrounds, and primitive surroundings. Its combination of easy access, lovely settings, and facilities make it a popular place to be. The nearest towns of Austin and Kingston provide only basic services so be sure to bring everything you need.

   Angel Lake
   (Elko County)

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(c) Travel Nevada

Do yourself a favor and drive up the mountains from Wells. Trip the odometer to 19 miles and you'll find yourself at a 13-acre glacial tarn located at the base of a steep cirque, surrounded by high cliffs and waterfalls. You've arrived at the textbook "mountain lake" of Nevada. Welcome to Angel Lake.

This little beauty is located at 8,375 feet, the highest drive-to lake in Nevada! Once you arrive here, you'll be greeted with exotic views and plenty of things to do. In fact the only reason Angel Lake does not place higher on our list is for its short visiting season ... roughly four months out of the year and its sometimes abundant crowds during the summer. Angel is by no means remote. People always find their way here so expect company and well-used facilities. The USFS services one of the most popular recreation sites in the area with a 26-site campground, an 11-site picnic area, boat ramps, and plenty of fish to catch.

Want something a little more? Escaping the crowds is a breeze and almost instantaneous the minute you head up into the surrounding mountains. Use the paved trailhead to find your way into the lonely East Humboldt Wilderness and access to four nearby backcountry lakes all within one to two hours of the parking lot!

   Cave Lake
   (White Pine County)

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Few would argue that Cave Lake is one fine place to be no matter what time of year and a well deserving #3 on our list. The only downside to this place would be the fees. To cater to its popularity, Cave Lake State Park charges some of the most expensive fees in the State Park System, so be aware of this if you plan to visit. This is the premier place in eastern Nevada for all types of watercraft and although it's by no means compact, it still somehow manages an intimate setting. This is the lake's best characteristic and why it's rated so high on our list.

The 32-acre lake is the centerpiece of 4,500-acre Cave Lake State Park. At an elevation of 7,300 feet in the Schell Creek Range, you can bet this place is popular and stays cool year-round. All of this combined and you bet people will be there. Expect plenty of company. In fact, this is one of the few places in Nevada that continues to draw crowds during the winter primarily for its phenomenal ice fishing and cross-country skiing. Add in its boat launches, 25 campgrounds, several RV hookups and picnic sites, a year-round visitor center, several year-round streams, hiking trails, and a short 14 miles south of Ely, you've got the recipe for a great watery destination!

   Hobart Reservoir
   (Washoe County)

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Placing this lovely reservoir so high on our list was a tough call for several reasons. Even from its nearest parking, walk-in access is usually the only way to get here, and even if you can get here in a vehicle, it is not easy. At 7,650 feet in the Carson Range, Hobart is even shut off from the rest of the world seven months out of the year due to deep winter snows. So why is it so high on our list? Hobart is the closest thing to a "Sierra" lake as you can get in Nevada. If you thought that was the only reason, we're just getting started.

First and foremost, Hobart is the primary water source for Carson City and only started catering to recreationists in the 1990s. Since then, Hobart has become something of a locals' secret not to be shared. The lake's 10 surface acres and 15 foot depth is quintessential quaintness and completely surrounded by dense forest unlike anything in Nevada. Hobart sits deep in the backcountry of Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park, so even though it's protected by the state, the State Park System purposefully manages Hobart as a "no impact primitive area." There are campgrounds but be prepared to share them with bears and mountain lions. The park even has a backcountry cabin here that's available for use via reservation, but you must bring all supplies with you. For those of you toting fly poles, few places can top Hobart. You'll find four species of trout in its waters, so many fish that NDOW records an average of twelve fish per day. Any question why anglers keep this place a secret? It's amazing that there are no special boating regulations here and it doesn't deter anybody from walking a kayak, float tube, or motorless boat into this beautiful reservoir. Wait ... walking in a boat?

The mega buzzkill for Hobart is its difficult access and the primary reason why it doesn't place #1 on our list. Amazingly, Hobart sits only four air miles west of the Capitol Dome, yet it takes at least two hours to get here from Carson City. The southern approach is the shortest way to reach Hobart, but it requires a 4WD to navigate the grueling road up Ash Canyon. At the road's end, you'll find a small parking area where you must hike a 1/4-mile to the lake. The northern approach is longer and can only be done on foot or bicycle. From I-580, find your way to Lakeview and follow Hobart Road to a locked gate and parking area. By foot or bicycle, continue for five miles up this forest service road to the lake.

Honorable Mentions
Before we reveal our Number 1, let's take a few moments to honor the few watery places that fell just short of the list!

Lahontan Reservoir  (Lyon/Churchill Counties)
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Any oasis in the desert is a refreshing sight, but being on its waters cleanses the soul. Whether you prefer houseboating, waterskiing, or just a day on the lake with a rod and reel, Nevada State Parks makes sure visitors to this recreation area come back time and time again. Lahontan Reservoir is associated with stark desert views, balmy nights and beach camping. Need we say more? It's size and constant water flunctuations throughout the year make this watery haven a bit intimidating, but once you learn its nuances, it rarely disappoints.

Squaw Creek (Valley) Reservoir  
(Washoe County)

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This little beauty offers plenty of peace and quiet and stark desert scenery in the hills overlooking the Black Rock Desert. This is an excellent place to launch a float tube and if you have a boat, a 5 mph speed limit keeps the pond quiet. Squaw also sports a healthy fish population for all you fly pole toters. Ready to get here? Find Squaw approximately 12 miles north of Gerlach (92 miles northwest of Reno) on County Route 447.

(c) Malcolm Harris, Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge (Pahranagat Lakes)
(Lincoln County)

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This 8,406 square-mile oasis in the desert practically beckons toe dipping amidst its harsh surroundings of the Mojave Desert. Pahranagat comprises three spring-fed lakes and has several fine boat launches, shaded picnic sites and campgrounds, and year-round visitor facilities, including running water. Find this beautiful place along US 93, 7 miles south of Alamo.

Knott Creek & Onion Valley Reservoirs  (Humboldt County)
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These hidden reservoirs are almost identical in size and location and both are equally great places to be! In fact, you pass right on by these two on the way up to Blue Lakes! There's proof in the isolation upon arriving here so all you get here are the bare bones ... a campground, a boat launch, and pit toilet. Just be sure to have a spare tire on your way up this butt-kicking road!

One of the many treasures that await you in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River (c) Steve Sieren

   Black Canyon of the Colorado River
   (Clark County)

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Wait? The Colorado? We thought long and hard about this one so before debate begins about the lower river near Laughlin, keep in mind we are only counting the portion of the Colorado immediately below Hoover Dam to Lake Mohave. This is the Black Canyon - one of the last unaltered and pristine stretches of the Colorado River in America. Here, canyon walls tower up to six hundred feet high on both banks of the river interrupted by smatterings of hidden coves, small sandy beaches, hot springs, and river caves. And, that's just the beginning.

This watery paradise is #1 on our list for other reasons and make no mistake - this place is dedicated to watercraft. This run of the Colorado is protected by the National Park Service within Lake Mead N.R.A., and patrolled daily by rangers to ensure the canyon remains shangri-la. You can get to the pristine river bank from steep hiking trails and rough jeep roads from Boulder City and El Dorado Canyon, but to truly appreciate this place one must boat in, typically from the south at Lake Mohave. From here, the lake transitions back into the river, the crowds disappear, leaving just you and the canyon. There are no services in here, no campgrounds, no facilities, nothing at all except pure river wilderness.

Within Black Canyon you'll find less than ten sandy coves in which you can land your boat. From shore, the other half of the magic begins. Exploring the canyon will reveal several of the most remote hot springs in the state. The northern end of the canyon reveals waterfalls, fern-covered side canyons of ferns, seeps, natural arches, and miniature slot and box canyons. Of all Black Canyon's surprises, it's the Colorado's river caves (photo above) that remain a highlight most wouldn't expect in Nevada. Some of these caves open back up into narrow canyons, but most of them must be explored on the water because they do not lead onto land. Most are barely tall enough to accommodate a kayak so bring along a buddy. Emerald Cove (photo above) with its heavenly Tahoe-like appearance is the most popular and extends a quarter mile into the walls of Black Canyon. It's hard to believe all of this sits less than thirty air miles from Las Vegas.

Given Black Canyon's beauty and seclusion, surprises a plenty, and proximity to tons of other things to do in the area, we believe this little-known paradise at the southern tip of Nevada earns its #1 spot on this list. Black Canyon ... here's to you!

Author: Paul Sebesta

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