Highland Peak is the highest point of the Highland Range in southeast Nevada, about 8 air-miles west of the interesting mining town of Pioche, in Lincoln County. Highland dominates the skyline for miles in all directions, visible from points along US-93 as far south as the Delamar Valley. As is often the case, tower builders have co-opted the summit for their artwork, meaning a dirt service road snakes up to the summit; this will probably be your hiking route. Even so, views from atop Highland are stunning—given this peak’s combination of height and prominence, you will have unobstructed views in all directions, as far north as the mighty Snake Range and Wheeler Peak, and as well as into Utah. You stand a good chance of not seeing anyone else on your visit.
Not many people get to this part of Nevada, but a trip here is well worth the effort. Pioche is a fascinating old mining town that lives on as the Lincoln County seat and well worth a little tour, while nearby Cathedral Gorge State Park offers some fine camping amid multi-colored eroded mud and sandstone canyon lands. With a good vehicle, a climb up Highland only takes a half a day at most, leaving time for other explorations.
Getting There & Route
Pioche is located in central Lincoln County, about 180 miles north of Las Vegas via Interstate-15 and US-93. Traffic? They don’t know the meaning of the word out here. North of Pioche, look for a junction with state route NV-320, and go left here. (A right at this same junction turns onto a dirt road that eventually leads to Mount Wilson
.) Drive 2.5 miles along NV-320 as the road bends west then south behind the smaller Ely Range that fronts Pioche proper. Look for a dirt road on your right (west) marked with a stop sign and a tire affixed to a post. Go 1.5 miles west along this road to a Y-junction, staying left (straight). Immediately pass into and out of an arroyo and pass an outbuilding of the Wheeler Ranch. Stay on this main road as it bends south into Anderson Canyon, getting narrower in the process (simple power lines parallel this road). Depending on your vehicle, you may opt to park and start the hike from somewhere within this canyon, or drive as far as you feel comfortable. 2.8 miles past the Y-junction, the road comes to a tight right-hand bend, the start of some switchbacks that eventually work up the ridge to the summit. A flat parking area can be reached another 0.8 miles up the switchbacks west of point 8,310. The summit is about 2 miles south and 1,250 feet higher from this starting point.
The road is surprisingly good, assuming it’s dry and has been graded recently. A small passenger vehicle might have to take it very slow and park early; there are some areas of little rocks. Anything with high clearance can get higher. I have a Nissan Frontier truck and was able to drive to the de-facto starting point in 2-wd. However, coming down I used 4-wd to govern the descent a little more positively. Even if you must park within Anderson Canyon, your stats to the summit aren’t too intimidating: maybe 3-4 miles one way, 1,800-2,400 feet of gain depending on where you park.
Saddle west of Point 8,310, a good starting point if you want a hike out of the deal.
As for the route: just hike the road to the summit. The summit is actually located a bit behind the last of the towers, a bare hump of rock and brush. The views are superb.
Note the contrast in flora between the east and west slopes: greener, more mature pines on the west, hardier shrubs and undergrowth on the east, a neat localized rain-shadow effect. Some jeep roads connect to the access road from the west and could be used as an alternative hiking option although I have no idea where they originate and the map does not show these roads.
No restrictions whatsoever. Beware of hunters during season.
There are a handful of good wide areas along the road into Anderson Canyon that could be used for camping. Some even have fire rings.
For more amenities, check out the campground at Cathedral Gorge State Park about 12 miles south of Pioche, near the Panaca junction.
Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
A spot runs $14 per night (as of 2009) with showers and modern toilets nearby, plus easy access to some great trails.
Note that NV-320 loops off of US-93 both south and north of Pioche. You can bypass Pioche entirely and catch NV-320 at its southern junction not too far north of the turn off to Cathedral Gorge.
Don't come this far without at least driving through the living ghost-town of Pioche. Pioche has its founding in mining, originally silver and later, lead and zinc. As one might expect, a town sprung up near the actual operations, and as a result, Pioche somehow shoe-horned itself into steep canyons and slopes never meant for such building. During the 1860s, when Picohe gained prominence and notoriety, it was one of the most violent places in Nevada, supposedly accounting for two-thirds of all homicides in Nevada during 1867, and featuring 72 saloons to fuel the debauchery. Pioche also sat (and still does so) at the cultural confluence of the expanding Mormon settlers, coming in from the Utah territory to the east. The community of Panaca, located about 15 miles of Pioche just off of US-93, is a study of contrasts with Pioche: Pioche is classic Nevada: saloons, casinos, mining apparati, graves, while Panaca is a neat, orderly settlement devoted to farming, hard work and families.
The best way to start a tour of Pioche is to leave US-93 at the south end of Pioche at the sign marking "Pioche Junction/Business 93". Drive up the slopes, go up and over a pass and immediately you have a birds-eye view of the city and some mining tramways still standing. Descend into Pioche, passing through main street (note the steep slope). Go left at a junction and see the "Million-dollar Courthouse". You can't really get lost here. All roads heading downhill eventually lead back to US-93.
For more on Pioche, visit:
Pioche Chamber of Commerce
My trip report: Highland Peak (www.surgent.net 8/3/09)