Encompassing over 6 million acres between California and Nevada (mostly Nevada), the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is second only to Alaskan forests in acreage, and second to none when it comes to beauty and diversity. The forest begins at 4,100 feet above sea level and tops out at Ruby Crest, 12,374 feet above sea level.
Whether you’re a naturalist looking for rare alpine species, a botanist searching for plants found nowhere else in the world, or an experienced hiker looking for the next big challenge, Humboldt-Toiyabe is one landscape that provides all kinds of adventure.
About Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
The mid and lower elevations contain thick coniferous forests of pine and juniper, river habitats, and shrublands sprinkled throughout. The higher elevation areas in these woods aren’t wooded at all, because the environment in alpine areas is too extreme for trees to grow.
If you don’t already have an idea of what alpine looks like, think of wide open, rocky tundra. In addition, this landscape is covered in mountain goats and pikas (pikas are a small, adorable little brown mammal that looks kind of like a bunny with round ears, fat bodies, tiny limbs, and a cartoonishly cute face). Unfortunately, Pikas have suffered a rather sudden and somewhat mysterious decline within a 64 square mile radius of Sierra-Nevada land that may be due to climate change. More on this here.
All that environmental variation is contained within the very same forest. For example, you will experience temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as -40; so be prepared for anything! But don’t worry too much, because depending on which environment you dare to trek, you can plan on what to expect and dress accordingly. There is plenty of comfortable middle ground filled with photogenic, songbird-laden trees and glistening blue mountain lakes. Just look at any picture of this gorgeous place!
Humboldt-Toiyabe is rich in history, containing archaeological finds from prehistoric times all the way up through the mining towns of the 1800s. In fact, it is estimated to contain anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 significant archeological sites. In short, that’s a lot of history spread out over 6.3 million acres!
“Humboldt” is named after a German naturalist, Baron Alexander von Humboldt. “Toiyabe” (toh-ee-yah-bay) means “mountain” in the Native American Shoshone language. As you may have guessed from the hyphen, Humboldt and Toiyabe were two separate forests over one hundred years ago but were joined together to create one big national forest in 1995. In fact, Humboldt used to be two separate forests as well. Born in 1908, it was the product of joining Ruby Mountains National Forest and Independence National Forest.
These seven ranger districts serve as the administrators of the forest. If you have any questions about rules, regulations, passes, parking, programs, or volunteer opportunities, reach out to the following as it applies to you:
Austin-Tonopah Ranger District
– Austin Office
100 Midas Canyon Rd.
– Tonopah Office
1400 S Erie Main St.
Tonopah, NV. 89049
Bridgeport Ranger District
HC62, Box 1000
Bridgeport, CA. 93517
Carson Ranger District
1536 S. Carson St.
Carson City, NV. 89701
Ely Ranger District
825 Ave. E
Ely, NV. 89301
Mountain City–Ruby Mountains–Jarbridge Ranger District
– Elko Office
660 South 12th St. Suite 108
Elko, NV. 89801
140 Pacific Ave.
Wells, NV. 89835
Santa Rosa Ranger District
775-623-5025 ex. 4
3275 Fountain Way
Winnemucca, NV. 89445
Spring Mountains National Recreation Area
4710 N. Torrey Pines Dr.
Las Vegas, NV. 89130
If you’re up for the challenge, there are plenty of places to traverse alpine terrain, all within the Ely Ranger District:
- North Schell Peak (Schell Creek Range)
- South Schell Peak (Schell Creek Range)
- Currant Mountain
- Duckwater Peak (White Pine Range)
- Mt. Moriah (North Schell Range)
- North Mountain (Egan Range)
So, why would anybody want to travel that high when all the warmth and green is below the treeline? Well, there is a variety of wildlife that you are less likely to see at lower elevations, such as mountain goats and mountain chickadees (yes, these super-tough teeny-tiny birds can live up to 12,000 feet above sea level!)
A Geological Treasure Trove
There is one thing located in the alpines of Humboldt-Toiyabe that you won’t find as much of at lower elevations: hidden pockets of quartz and granite!
This beautiful igneous stone has been intricately shaped by nature, creating some of the most interesting terrain to hike. In fact, these mountains are literally made of granite (there is even a mountain located just outside the forest boundary named Granite Peak). Unlike the polished pieces of countertop and garden decor you see in home magazines, this granite remains untouched, in its naturally occurring form.
Not a huge fan of the granite scene? How about rubies?
Okay, The Ruby Mountains of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest are technically made of garnet, another semiprecious stone that resembles rubies so strongly that most people can’t tell them apart. The Ruby Mountains are located in Elko and White Pine County, with a max elevation of 11,387 feet at Ruby Dome.
If walking on a mountain of gems interests you, try Ruby Crest Trail. This 38-mile trail is moderate and dog friendly. It’s located at the edge of the treeline, so there’s still plenty of wildflowers and songbirds to hear and see. Speaking of birding, The Ruby Mountains is the one and only habitat for a small population of beautiful pheasants, the Himalayan snowcock, in the United States. Because this trail is light on foot traffic, you may just see one if you visit!
Want to take in the beautiful geology, but don’t want the walk? You can enjoy it via drive-by also. Lamoille Canyon Road, a 12 mile National Forest Scenic Byway begins on State Route 227 near the town of Lamoille, and ends in a large parking lot leading to multiple trailheads.
Considering that Humboldt-Toiyabe is the largest forest outside of Alaska, it comes as no surprise that there are 23 designated wilderness areas contained within it. The smallest of these is Rainbow Mountain Wilderness at 4,599 acres. The largest is the High Schells Wilderness, coming in at 121,497 acres.
Rainbow Mountain Wilderness is yet another one of those areas of Humboldt-Toiyabe that is regarded as remarkable for its unique geological features. As you may have guessed, Rainbow Mountain is colorful. Stacks upon stacks of multicolored ancient sandstone, layered and smoothed into fantastic mountain domes dominate the juniper landscape against star-spangled skies. The area is so remarkably beautiful, you may have already seen photos of these colorful canyons and twisting blue streams without realizing it, and at only 12 miles west of Las Vegas, it isn’t hard to get to either.
As for the wildlife itself, you may see animals ranging from owls and foxes to ringtails and kangaroo rats; it’s quite a variety. Not to mention, this unique and varied environment supports certain plant species that are not found anywhere else in the world, making Rainbow Mountain Wilderness a popular attraction for amateur botanists and foresters looking to identify some unique and unusual species.
For information on all wilderness areas in Humboldt-Toiyabe, click here.
Curious about what local visitors think about the park? Visit Trip Advisor to read reviews and get ideas for your trip! For information on the best camping sites and more reviews from the people who have actually been there, you can also visit this page of thedyrt.com. And of course, don’t forget to check the forest’s home page for up-to-date news, maps, road closures, conditions, and fire restrictions. Stay safe, have fun, and happy camping!
For more information on each of America’s national forests, save TheNationalForests.com to your reading list so you always have a reference.
Have a great stay, enjoy some good play, and leave no trace!
-By Heaven Morrow