Campground Review: Water Canyon Recreation Area – Winnemucca, Nevada (or BLM for Beginners)

Posted May 29, 2017 – Narrated by Carmen
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See our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.

All solar-ed up, Beauty and The Beast turned east in search of Wilderness …

Gorgeous view of The Ruby Mountains

Okay, we’d never been there, but around some campfire somewhere someone told us Nevada has a lot of that stuff…Wilderness. Also, Nevada was on our route to Yellowstone National Park where we will meet family in June for a reunion.

What better time to face our fears and uncertainties about a full week of off-grid, back-country camping?

Would a Nevada Wilderness Adventure put hair on our LIB chest? Or, would we become a BLM rescue operation?

According to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) our first opportunity for wilderness camping along Highway 80 would be the Water Canyon Recreation Area in Winnemucca, Nevada.

At our speed, that’s a two day trip from Wilton with an overnight stop in Fernley. The sun was setting late as we pulled into the Fernley Walmart parking lot. Batteries were fully charged… Yes! You don’t need wilderness to dry camp…

…We took hot showers, popped some corn, watched a film on the big screen and raised our glasses to toast our technician, Vinnie Lamica (The Professor) in our best Thurston and Lovey Howell impressions.

Next morning we stocked up on provisions for a full week of dry-camping (no potable water source – no electricity source – no sewer – no camping fee) and drove through the most remote region we’ve seen in The West, until …

… Whoa there muleskinner! Well, lookee there … Winnemucca ain’t no dusty, ramshackle cow town. Boy, howdy.

There’s a Welcome Center, golf course, two pools (one indoor and one out), a recreation center with tennis courts, restaurants, hospital … and our GPS said our destination, Water Canyon Recreation Area is only four miles away.

Well, okie dokie. This is gonna be one cushy place to test our mettle.

First, we stopped at Winnemucca RV Park where, for a five-dollar fee, we topped our fresh water tank and emptied our grey and black water tanks. Our GPS showed us to be only five miles from where we hoped to camp that night. It was 80 degrees and sunny.

On the way up the hill, hoping to find an available campsite (all campsites are “walk-ins only, meaning “no reservations” and all sites are free), we shot the shite about how it will take vigilance and determination and grit not to go down the hill to town on beer and ice cream runs.

But at least – if we run out of fuel and water or have an accident – we were a comfortable distance from support.

Sure hope we like the place, but first we gotta get past these here cows …

Bovine greetings at the entrance.

Oh yeah … We’ll stay.

Water Canyon Recreation Area, known as “Little Lamoille” among the Winnemucca BLM staff (for the Lamoille Canyon area of The Ruby Mountains), is a two-mile lush riparian area bordered on both sides by fenced-in pasture land.

Officially, you are only allowed to stay 3 days in a row, but our experience proved that if they aren’t busy no one bothers you if you stay longer.

The dirt and gravel road winds steeply up into the Sonoma mountain range.

Our campsite

Three vault bathrooms and trash receptacles are spaced at about half-mile intervals and are the only services. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

The sites are large (ours was at least 50 meters long) and spaced about ¼ mile apart. Throughout our stay, Sunday to Sunday in late Spring, the area was occupied at roughly 25% capacity for, approximately, half the time.

Our campsite viewed from the closest campsite

Our site was fairly level. We needed only one leveling block under the curbside wheels.

When we arrived, the stream gushed with Spring melt..

… and kept it up for the entire week because three days later … it snowed!!! A light snow, not enough to stick but enough to make a mess.

Then, two days of thick cloud cover kept the solar panels from completely recharging our batteries – so Jim drove The Beast downhill through icy mud to buy gas for the generator.

Okay, that was gnarly.

But we wanted to test the system (new LIB Rule: Be careful what you ask for) AND we did learn more about our new solar capabilities.

If you look closely, you can see Beauty and The Beast

This minor crisis didn’t deter us from our goal of one full week … surrounded by songbirds, wildflowers, wildlife – even elk – wild horses couldn’t drive us away.

Our campsite viewed from the hill above

Spring Wildflowers


Then, the storm passed. The sun came out and … Cha-ching! Our batteries and our usage returned to normal levels.

Because we chose a campsite with direct sun, our new solar system generated a significant amount of power.

Water conservation goal was a success. Our goal was to last 7 days on less than 59 gallons of fresh water (our fresh water tank capacity). We exceeded that goal and one week later we still had ⅓ tank left.

We’re learning tricks of water conservation. We know we can do even better.

Verizon worked most of the time, wavering between 2 bars LTE to 3 bars 3G.

Gnats were active in the early evening but they didn’t bite. Probably due to cool conditions we didn’t experience mosquitos or biting bugs. But locals say the bugs can be a real nuisance up there during warmer weather.

I am and always will be a Girl Scout, and “Leave No Trace” is my motto, so we tidied up our site as clean and pristine as we found it.

On our way out of town, we stopped again at Winnemucca RV Park to refill our fresh water and dump our grey and black water tanks … and by then, we’d worked up a powerful hunger!

Sunday evening The Martin Hotel opens it’s Basque Restaurant for dinner at 4 PM.

In town, a few miles away, was a fantastic Basque restaurant.

This is a destination restaurant with a relaxed European atmosphere along with an eclectic menu of Basque specialties: freshly baked bread, fresh game, and complimentary wine for the table. When you walk in, glance toward the bar and you will probably see a buckaroo or two.

LIB Tips We Learned While Dry Camping on Solar:

  1. Pick a sunny site.
  2. Bring back-up fuel. Cloudy skies do not collect much solar energy. Fuel up the generator!
  3. We saved gallons of fresh filtered water by capturing unused water from the shower and kitchen sink in a pitcher. Usually, about a quart of water is wasted before the temperature is quite right. We immediately transferred that water to the kitchen countertop for use. (Click Here for an update with many water conservation tips and ideas)
  4. The biggest source of inverter drain is the convection/microwave oven, electric space heater and hair dryer – so, we plan to use those appliances in the morning.

We give this BLM a Four Bambi Rating because it has clean and private spaces, provides hiking and mountain biking trails (though one bridge was down and needed repair), seemed safe and patroled by BLM, and has services and plenty of other activities nearby.

Our only annoyance was road dust. The two-way dirt road is heavily travelled on weekends and fair and sunny weekday evenings.

The area is also approved for ATV‘s. It’s also important to keep in mind that Water Canyon Recreation Area is primarily a day-use area frequented by the local Winnemucca community.

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.

Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (hiking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at its best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!

We were not paid, reimbursed nor influenced in any way by anyone for this campground review.

Click here to see our other campground reviews.

14 thoughts on “Campground Review: Water Canyon Recreation Area – Winnemucca, Nevada (or BLM for Beginners)

    1. As full-timers, the solar setup is kind of a no-brainer. We knew we needed it, the trick was to find the right technician. For us, the solar should pay for itself in a little over a year. Add to that bonus, the benefit of being able to camp in deep green environments rather than commercial spaces … big, big plus!

      Thank you for being with us!


  1. A wonderful place for a couple to spend a week alone. Thanks for sharing. Nekkid Lady Falls is gushing along past the screen porch here. Y’all need to come for our view of the eclipse this summer. We are situated in the very narrow best viewing corridor. Deb

    1. Hey Sis. Nekkid Lady is always calling … Eclipse will have to wait. We’ll be in Ohio having work done. See you in Yellowstone.



  2. Nice find. You did well with the water use. I guess the dirt road was smooth enough for the low clearance of the Airstream. My biggest fears is encountering a big dip and not be able to turn around. We will be in Yellowstone in June too starting June 9 at Grant Campground. We’ve got a 2008 Classic 25fb. Got 200w of roof solar plus 200w portable panels we can plug into the system. Two 6v 220ah AGM batteries. We have the same solar monitor panel you do. We will bring the Honda 2000 in case of clouds or too much shade.

      1. BTW, Kelvin – I rode ahead on my bike to check out the dips in the road. I should have mentioned that.


  3. Camp-hosted there my first summer after being widowed. Met some nice locals and cleaned up after some not-so-nice ones who liked to come up for meals and then leave their trash and fires… Loved it there, even the snakes were okay. LOL Rescued a dog and a kitten while there. An animal rescue met me at Walmart for the kitten, it was too young to be away from mama. Animal control came up for the dog, but when I realized they had no website or “friends of” group, I paid the $200 to get him fixed and adopt him. Found him a nice family in WA before my next hosting gig at Skull Hollow. Sent him off in a hoodie sweater I designed with ear holes…LOL 🐾

    1. Alicia,

      SO happy to have you here! Wow, what a great camp-hosting story! The full-time RVers I know are some of the best animal rescuers. I’m working on an app for animal rescue where a photo or 5 sec video is sent to a site where only licensed and reputable rescuers have access. Love the hoodie!

      I think they no longer have a camp host at WCRA but I saw a woman with her own truck and dog going from site-to-site picking up trash. She’s doing a good job because it was mostly spotless.

      I love meeting women “on the road” full-time. We’d love to meet up sometime and interview you in the Excella Cafe.

      Safe Travels!


  4. Thank you so much for your great post and pictures. I’m passing through that area and was looking for feedback on Water Canyon. Yours was the most thorough and informative. With apprecation. Julie (South Lake Tahoe, CA)

    1. Julie, glad to help. We stayed in the “Campground On The Lake” in South Lake Tahoe for 2 weeks last year. Loved it!

  5. LIB, great review and, as always, presented in a playful way!! we have the AS solar package that came with the trailer and have been successful enough so far not to have to buy a generator. I was wondering if you guys have ever tried hooking the truck up via the 7-way pin to recharge your batteries instead of running the generator? This is what we have been doing over the past year on a cloudy day or late at night when the batteries are running low. Anyway it’s great to read your posts.. looking forward to more. Bert

    1. Bert, thank you for your kind words. Yes we have on occasion used the seven way pin to recharge our batteries instead of using the generator. Lately we’ve only been using the generator when we needed air conditioning.

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