Cave Lake State Park, outside the City of Ely, White Pine County, Nevada

A hawk (I believe a Harris’ hawk) perches on rabbitbrush to survey his domain. This picture was taken near Cave Creek, the southeastern inlet of Cave Lake that gives Cave Lake State Park its name.

My daughter was promised a camping trip before she returned for her school’s fall semester. As the Dog Days of summer began to sap everyone’s energy, I was reminded that “back to school” was but two weeks away. I quickly began planning a short, overnight camping trip.

Since it was to be her first camping trip I wanted to keep it simple, but interesting. A short-as-possible drive would be best, especially if she awoke in the middle of the night frightened and crying to go home immediately. You never know for sure about a child’s first time, and in the back on my mind I was recalling the “Skunk Camp” event with my two middle sons back in 2000 (you’ll find those details in the 2003 post about Cave Lake).

The weather forecast was reflective of the southwest “monsoon season” when the hot land masses create upward thermal air flow which then produce low-pressure areas that in turn suck in moisture from the south. This mostly results in southwest humidity triple the normal levels, but in the higher mountains of the southwest it brings thunderstorms.

My preferred destination was Pine Valley, UT, but camp sites were already reserved. Other nearby destinations in southern Utah and Nevada also forecast thundershowers, but Cave Lake State Park was going to have scattered thundershowers in the early evening with 35-40 percent probability. Thus, although the drive would be at least one hour longer, Cave Lake was selected.

The southwest view, from Cave Lake State Park campsite number 25, displaying Ward Mountain in the Egan Range far across the Steptoe Valley. 

Upon arrival at campsite #25 we set up the tent and unloaded the truck. My daughter wanted to see the lake and watch if I could catch a fish. She remembered that there were two types of trout in the lake: rainbows and browns. Before heading to the lake I asked her again, “Do you prefer sleeping in the tent or the truck shell?” She said she wanted to sleep in the shell so that’s where I left the sleeping bags.

Down at the inlet we flushed a hawk from the aspen grove but its flight was short and it alighted on a rabbitbrush near the trail we were walking on. At first I thought it was a Red Tailed hawk, but have since decided it was a Harris’ hawk. We were able to get remarkably close which enabled me to take a few photos.

Cave Lake State Park campsite #25 in the middle of the 132-mile-long Schell Creek Range. The northern section of this mountain range is breathtaking. 

When we arrived at the shoreline I had targeted, after two casts the winds came, skies darkened, and it began to sprinkle with a smattering of large droplets. We hustled back to the Fish Taco and drove up to our campsite. Since the sleeping bags were in the shell, that’s where we took shelter. That’s when the volume increased, trapping us in the shell. That was about 6:00 PM. It didn’t stop until 9:05 PM which was a blessing since she had to use the restroom since 8:30 PM. 

The dilemma then became whether to walk through the mud to the tent wherein the porta-potty awaited (what to do about the muddy boots entering the tent, do we leave sleeping bags in the shell or just wholesale move into the tent, etc.???), or do I drive her down to the full service toilets and park right outside the bathroom door? One of the creature comforts of this Nevada state park is that it has a bathroom facility with four separate flushing toilets with hot/cold sinks plus two full service showers. Because of her urgency I opted to drive the truck down to the bathrooms with her nestled in the shell. Once relieved we drove back up to the camp to sleep. But she still had a hard time sleeping. I know that because I had a hard time sleeping. A shortcoming of the Fish Taco is the 41 x 60 inch bed dimension. I’m short, but even I had to sleep with my knees bent all night which created all types of new pressure points and joint pains. That was a lesson that wont be repeated.

One of the gravel beaches on Comins Reservoir in Steptoe Valley. My daughter said she wanted to see me “catch a fish,” and this was the most likely spot to accomplish that from shore. In the distance are the northern peaks of the Schell Creek Range that approach 12,000 feet. 

We awoke to a clear sky and a rising sun. After a light breakfast we broke camp, packed up the truck, and headed to Comins Reservoir down in Steptoe Valley to try a few minutes of fishing. Fortunately we arrived as a car filled with children was leaving the very beach I had in mind. I brought my 9-foot 5-weight fly rod, some rubber boots, and one small box of flies that were tied by my good friend Bill Bergan. I wanted my daughter to experience fishing first hand. Although I have actually started her practicing fly casting in our backyard, she wasn’t ready for fly fishing. But I reasoned that if I hooked something from shore I could get the fish on the reel and hand the rod to her to reel it in herself (you fisherman know of the electrifying experience of a decent fish head shaking underwater or the leaping of a rainbow trout). Anyway, I just couldn’t resist a few casts (could you have resisted?).

On about my fifth cast I hooked an eleven-inch rainbow. My daughter expressed her excitement with an “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, he’s got a fish!” The cast after that I caught a small black bass. A few minutes later I hooked what I suspect was a decent sized rainbow, but as I started collecting the slack line on the reel so I could hand her the rod with the trout “on the reel” the hook came out (I use barbless hooks because I release all fish I catch, so this is a common result). I hooked and landed two more trout and two more bass. The thirteen-inch trout fought nicely, and once more I tried to hand the rod to my daughter after I got the fish on the reel, but she didn’t want it.  She said she was too busy filming a video of my fishing exploits with the iPad as she has aspirations of being a vlogger… like her mom and dad will let that happen anytime soon. Although she didn’t experience the thrill of reeling in a fish, she very much enjoyed it vicariously through me. Of course I was pleased to have hooked seven fish over the 40 minutes, achieving hook-up about every six minutes or so. The seed is planted.

A fine rainbow trout of about 13 inches. Even I was surprised that a late morning in August gave up three trout and three black bass (i.e., largemouth bass), and one LDR that fought like a 14-inch rainbow before it spit the hook as I frantically reeled in the slack line to get the fish “on the reel” so my daughter could finish reeling it in.  Six fish landed in about 40 minutes was a nice closing to our first-ever camping trip. 
All seven fish (including the one LDR) were hooked by this fine fly tied by my friend and supreme pescador, Bill Bergan. 

As mentioned, one beneficial aspect of Cave Lake is its proximity to one of Nevada’s larger rural cities and the amenities it offers. In the case of Ely, there are two museums that will peak the interest of children and adults.

The White Pine Public Museum, started in August 1959, is much larger than the small storefront on Ely’s main road would imply. My daughter particularly enjoyed the doll artifacts, the Cherry Creek train depot, and the one-room school house from Baker, NV. A family could easily spend most of the day exploring this wonderful museum.

Back in August of 2006 I had fished Cave Lake and Comins Reservoir with my son Brian. We visited the Nevada Northern Railway Museum gift shop on that trip, but we failed to explore the rail yard to appreciate what it offered. If you or someone you love has an itch for trains, you need to check out the link embedded above. This is a significant opportunity to immerse yourself into the world of trains, both steam and diesel. Here’s a quote from that website:

We have heard the question many times. People come to the ticket desk and ask “Where’s the museum?” The truth is, this is a very large museum. It’s the original Nevada Northern Railway, complete with its original depot, engine house, freight house, and administrative building, all built in the 1910’s. It’s the original Nevada Northern mainline track. We still own all 147 miles of it. It’s several of the original Nevada Northern Railway locomotives, still in operation today. Come, explore history with us!

Nevada Northern Railway Museum
Travelling down E. 11th Street to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, which is more than a museum but rather a working train depot that is also a National Historic Landmark. This is a “must see” for train aficionados. 
For about $800 you can be an engineer and actually drive a steam or diesel locomotive on a 14-mile trip. For a few hundred more you can work in the rail yard as part of the crew. It’s called Railroad Reality Week. 
A view of the Engine House and Restoration buildings in the photo’s center, and other buildings on the periphery. 

So, my daughter was reluctant to leave Ely, trying all sorts of ploys to stall our departure. One that I succumbed to was a playground visit. I knew where a public playground was in the residential area on the way out to Highway 6, so there we went. When we got out of the truck I noticed a preponderance of slow flying yellow-black bugs. At first I thought they were small bees, but in fact they turned out to be beetles, and they were all over the playground equipment, picnic tables, and awnings. They didn’t bite, but they were a nuisance, especially the three that hitched a ride in the truck cab all the way to Alamo.

Up close and personal with one of the thousands of 7mm beetles that were all over an Ely, NV playground, three of which hitched a ride to Alamo, NV in the cab of the Fish Taco. 

But of course, more than the camping, fishing or museum visits, spending time alone with my daughter was the best part of all. I endured the KidsBop music channel on SiriusXM and the l-o-n-g game of “Name your three Favorites” because it made her happy. But there were also meaningful talks about God, the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross, and why a little nine-year-old girl doesn’t have to worry that she’ll not get to heaven because she “can’t be good” all the time. I was most pleased to see the relief on her face as she realized we all try to be good because it’s pleasing to Him and good for us and our friends, but when we fail there is always His grace to forgive us.  We don’t need to be good to get to heaven, but because of Jesus we want to be good.  With that I leave you to meditate on these verses, because even adults wonder at times how they can get to heaven with so much sin on their hands:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:4-5

Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24

But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16
My daughter’s iPad video of her FisherDad in action (and no, despite her passing interest in “dead things” we did not kill the rainbow trout but released him back into Comins Reservoir).
A daughter’s view of the foothills of White Pine County’s Schell Creek Range.
Little Miss Sunshine

Author: FisherDad

I am a Christian who has been married to my wife for over four decades, with six children and four grandchildren so far. I have retired from a string of successful occupations as a certified public accountant, a chief financial officer, and a registered municipal advisor. I have been a fly angler for almost five decades. My one and only article submission was published by Southwest Fly Fishing magazine (now American Fly Fishing). You can learn more about me by clicking on “About” on the top of my blog page.

9 thoughts on “Cave Lake State Park, outside the City of Ely, White Pine County, Nevada”

  1. Glad FisherDad had a good father daughter trip! They are special.
    Also glad the fly worked,, or maybe it was the anglers skill…………

    Bill Bergan, an average Pescador ?

  2. Mark,

    Mary and I enjoyed your adventure with dear Emily! Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us.
    You are a Great Dad!! I wrote a paragraph a couple days ago, but couldn't figure out how to send it.

    I hope this makes it through.

    Peace Brother,

    David and Mary

  3. Bill –

    Those flies in that box are very special to me, and I almost hate to fish with them. But, you'd be very sad if I never fished them so out of respect for you, I'm using them as intended.

    And from my perspective, there's nothing "average" about you in any way.

    – Mark

  4. June –

    This might be your first comment ever posted on my blog… how nice! Hope all is well in the Westerson Household. We'll talk soon.

    – Brother Mark, aka FisherDad

  5. Fisherdad, Thanks for the post. Spring Valley State Park was on my short list for next year's vacation. I've never really thought about the Ely area but do you think it might be worth the few extra hours driving. We like both Spring Valley and Pine Valley but going somewhere new has a certain appeal. Great Basin Nat Park is also in that area I think.Thanks for any insight you can provide.Ron

  6. Ron –

    I assume you are not the Ron from Santa Barbara since he has fished Comins outside Ely; in other words, you’ve never been north to Ely. That said, the value of the Ely area is that it has many more attractions (fishing, state and national parks, and even museums) that can hold the interest of both children and adults.

    If you camp in a trailer or motorhome you might like the KOA campground which is 3 miles outside Ely on US93 (which overlays with US50 and US6 on this stretch). The elevation at the KOA is about 6,400 feet, but in the hottest part of summer the temps there can reach well into the 90s. If you want a little more seclusion, nature and cooler temps, Cave Lake State Park is the ticket. Cave Lake’s campground is 15 miles outside of Ely (the paved turn-off for Cave Lake is just 4.5 miles beyond the KOA on the same highway). Cave Lake’s main campground has full bathrooms and showers to boot. The main campground in the Park sits slightly higher at 7,300 feet, and with considerably more trees and mountains to shade yourself from the hot summer sun.

    Here’s a short list of attractions and their distance from Ely:

    Northern Nevada Railway Museum is in the city of Ely, and you can easily spend all day exploring the rail yard and riding the trains. Lots of rich mining history related to the railway due to the old Kennecott Copper Mine right next door in the town of McGill.

    White Pine Public Museum is also in the city of Ely and is surprisingly stimulating as it has a little something for everyone. Easy to spend an afternoon in this little gem.

    Cave Lake has a little boat dock like Eagle Valley. Lake is routinely stocked with rainbows, but there is still a resident population of wild brown trout as well. Fish over 12 inches in this lake are a pleasant surprise.

    Comins Reservoir, 9 miles outside Ely, also on the same stretch of US93, has some great rainbow fishing, even from the shore. There is a dirt boat launch site, but it can handle just about anything. Here you can expect to catch lots of rainbows in the 15 to 20-inch range, and an occasional trout over 20.

    Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park is located about 20 miles outside Ely, again the same stretch of US93. To be honest, I’ve not visited this park yet, but I know than many have. The ovens here, like many throughout the west, were built to produce charcoal out of wood for the nearby mining smelters back in the day.

    Illipah Reservoir is about 40 miles west of Ely on infamous US highway 50, once dubbed “America’s loneliest road” by Life magazine in 1986. Illipah has a rustic campground, but it’s attraction is the fishery and nearby historic Fort Hamilton. Many trout in Illipah survive to grow 12 to 17-inches, occasionally longer. Like Cave Lake, wild browns do inhabit the lake as well.

    Probably the most well-known attraction near Ely is the Great Basin State Park. Taking US93 east again, and then US50/US6 over the pass in the Snake Range, will get you into the town of Baker, the gateway to the GBNP. Lehman Caves and Wheeler Peak are the most photographed attractions in the park, but there are many creeks and alpine lakes to fish, plus the bristlecone pine trees. Traveling from Ely, the 140-mile round trip makes this a relatively easy day trip. BTW, the park has a simple restaurant and gift shop next to the Lehman Caves.

    So, I heartily recommend the Ely area. It’s well worth the extra travel time especially if you are camping 3 days or longer; so much to see and do. I feel sorry for Nevada outdoor lovers who’ve never visited the Ely area.

    – FisherDad

  7. Fisherdad, Thank you so much for the info! No, I'm not the Ron from Santa Barbara, I guess I would be Ron from LA or something like that. I've been to Spring Valley several times but that's as far north as I've gotten. After I read the blog on Cave Lake I looked it up on but it seemed pretty similar to Spring Valley. With all your enthusiasm and details for the area I'll definitely have to reconsider. One concern was that most of the campgrounds appeared to be pretty exposed with very little shade. We're tent campers and don't like open sites. The variety of water bodies in the area is a definite plus. As are the museums, though my kids are pretty young for that sort of thing. thanks again,Ron

  8. Ron –

    Yes, even at over 7,000 feet the trees at Cave Lake SP campgrounds are still pinion and juniper (similar to Spring Valley SP). The only shade you get from juniper is from their lateral shadows. When pinions get 20 to 30 feet tall they can provide decent tent shade. The primary Cave Lake campground is on a hillside, so that also seems to impact shade. But then, the need for shade depends upon the time of year. There are primitive campsites father up Steptoe Creek in the aspen and conifer forest that might be neat alternatives.

    Another option is to take US93 all the way to US50 right past Pioche and Spring Valley SP, and then US50 over the pass to GBNP. You’ll need to reserve a site or get there in mid-week to find one, but those campsites are gorgeous with awesome views of Wheeler Peak. Fishing action won’t be as good as Cave Lake or Spring Valley, but your family really needs to camp GBNP at least once. I’ve camped there a half-dozen times, most of which were before it was a National Park.

    And if you want to take the youngsters lake fishing but don’t want to hike into one of the two fishable alpine lakes in GBNP, remember a "round trip" between Ely and GBNP is still only a 2 hours. Just reverse the plan: camp in GBNP and visit/fish Ely one or two days (i.e., visit museums and/or fish Cave Lake and Comins Reservoir)… just a thought.

    If you didn’t do so, cut/paste this URL to my sole GBNP post (or search my blog for "Great Basin State Park").

    All the best to you and the family, and if you go please post a note about your experience.

    – FisherDad

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