Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park: The Complete Guide

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park

Witold Skrypczak / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

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Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park

Ely, NV 89315, USA
Phone +1 775-289-1693

It's unlikely that anyone would stumble upon Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park in Eastern Nevada, since this remote park is far-flung from any major cities or highways. But for those willing to make the journey, they'll find alien-looking beehive structures popping out of the ground, surrounded by the rich landscape of the Great Basin. It makes for a perfect stop during a scenic Nevada road trip.

Things to Do

The main attraction at Ward Charcoal Ovens is the ovens themselves. Eastern Nevada has been a destination for silver mining since the 19th century and the giant stone ovens you see were used from 1876 to 1879 to process silver. After the silver rush, the ovens were used as a shelter for travelers and bandits in the Wild West. Standing over 30 feet high, the ovens are an icon of the American Southwest and are now on display for everyone.

After you've checked out the ovens, you can try hiking, backpacking, or biking to explore the area further. East Nevada is home to volcanic tuffs, a type of rock that was used to construct the ovens. You can gaze at the snow-capped peaks, fish at the nearby Willow Creek, or enjoy flora and fauna like sagebrush, wildflowers, jackrabbits, badgers, coyotes, and more. Several miles of trails ranging from easy to strenuous can lead you through the park, including one that's open to all-terrain vehicles.

Best Hikes & Trails

The state park has about 10 miles of trails to explore and there's plenty of scenery to enjoy apart from the stone ovens. This remote high-elevation desert offers the chance to see wildlife in a way that isn't possible at more popular parks or those closer to cities.

  • Riparian Loop: This easy loop trail is 2 miles long and a great option if you only have time for one hike. You can start near the ovens and then continue through the park to get a small taste of everything Ward Charcoal Ovens has to offer.
  • Overlook Loop: This trail also begins near the ovens and even though it's just under a mile long, it's one of the more challenging hikes in the park. Some parts are steep and it also includes portions that require scrambling over rocks.
  • Ward Legacy Trail: This in-and-out trail is the longest in the park at 2.2 miles one way and also includes some steep climbs. It's also the most remote trail and ideal for really escaping into the Nevada desert. This is the only trail open to ATVs.

Where to Camp

Camping in the park provides the most direct access to its features. There's one campground in the park that has two campsites for RVs and several other sites for tent campers. Advance reservations aren't available and you can book your spot with the ranger when you arrive on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you prefer amenities over proximity, the Ely KOA campsite is about 20 minutes away by car. You'll find the great amenities and features you’d expect from an established KOA campground, including large open sites, bath and laundry facilities, full hookups, propane refill, and more. The KOA camp also has cabins available for those who want to sleep in a bed.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you prefer to stay in a hotel, you can find some in the nearby town of Ely, which is about a 20-minute drive north of the park.

  • Hotel Nevada: The Hotel Nevada is a Prohibition-era hotel built in 1929 that is now a Nevada landmark. It's hosted celebrities like Ingrid Bergman, Stephen King, and Gary Cooper, and you spend the night here after playing in the on-site casinos.
  • Prospector Hotel: Rooms at the Prospector Hotel are modest, but the cowboy decor and Old West antiques give this no-frills hotel a very fun vibe. As with most Nevada hotels, you'll find a 24/7 casino right on the premises.
  • Holiday Inn Express: This well-known chain offers all of the amenities you'd expect from a Holiday Inn, such as free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, and a full breakfast every morning.

How to Get There

Wherever you're coming from, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park is remote and requires a significant journey to reach it. It's located right off of what Life Magazine called "The Loneliest Road in America," the portion of U.S. Route 50 that goes through Nevada and passes through long desolate stretches with no signs of civilization. Off of U.S. Route 50, there's a turnoff for Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park along a well-maintained dirt road until you reach the park entrance.

The park is about four hours north of Las Vegas and four hours west of Salt Lake City, Utah, which are the nearest major cities. If you continue west on U.S. Route 50 from the park for about five hours, you'll enter Reno, Nevada.


There's a brick trail that leads to the ovens and the trail itself is accessible. However, getting from the parking lot to the brick trail requires assistance and isn't well-maintained. The other trails in the park are rocky and steep and not suitable for visitors in wheelchairs or with strollers.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The state park is open every day of the year and at all hours.
  • There is an entrance fee per vehicle. Nevada residents get a discount on the entrance fee as well as campsites.
  • Pets are welcome at the park but must be kept on a leash.
  • Just an hour away from the state park is Great Basin National Park, which is known for its sage-covered slopes, ancient bristlecone pines, and caverns. There are plenty of great hiking and biking trails here also and a host of other activities. If you're already in the area, don't miss out on this rarely visited national park.
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Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park: The Complete Guide