Northeastern Nevada’s Pilot Peak

February 27, 2023

RayB_pilotpeak659c_28jan23 (003)

Photographer: Ray Boren 

Summary Author: Ray Boren 


Looming prominently, and helpfully, above the Great Basin of western North America, Nevada’s Pilot Peak has proved to be a beacon to desert travelers. The mountain rises to an elevation of 10,720 feet (3267.6 meters) above the sage, salt flats and lower ridges of the Great Salt Lake Desert. It has an appealing pyramidal aspect even in mid-winter, as shown in this photograph, taken on January 28, 2023, from an Interstate 80 exit south of the mountain, not far from the twin, stateline communities of West Wendover, Nevada, and Wendover, Utah.


Native Americans, such as the region’s resident Goshute and Shoshone peoples, mountain men, and 19th-century emigrants all found Pilot Peak an invaluable landmark. Historic markers near the freeway exit note that the early, California-bound Bartleson-Bidwell wagon party, cutting cross-country northwest of Great Salt Lake, camped by the mountain and precious springs that they found there in 1841, having left the Oregon Trail in today’s Idaho in search of a new route to north-central Nevada’s Humboldt River. The summit’s name is attributed to government explorer John C. Fremont, who in 1845 first glimpsed it from the Cedar Range, about 75 miles away, and recognized its value as a guide for emigrants. Only a year later, the Donner-Reed party reached Pilot Peak and its springs after an arduous and time-consuming traverse of the desert and salt flats on the untested Hastings Cutoff, which caused delays that contributed to the company’s subsequent snow-bound tragedies that autumn and winter in the still-distant Sierra Nevada Range.


Pilot Peak’s “prominence” — its impressive 5,726-foot (1745 m.) rise and views above surrounding valleys — places it among an elite group of summits in the United States, according to hikers and mountaineers. Primarily composed of sedimentary rocks, including shale, the short Pilot Peak Range is among the many mountain sequences that help define the Basin and Range physiographic province, extending from Utah’s Wasatch Mountains on the east to California’s Sierra Nevadas on the west. Geologists explain that tectonic extension stretched the earth’s crust over millions of years, forming the basin’s series of mountain blocks and intervening valleys. 



Pilot Peak, Nevada Coordinates: 41.0210, -114.0778


Related Links:

Bonneville Salt Flats and Pilot Peak

Humbolt River