Nevada : Safety by City
- Battle Mountain
- Blue Diamond
- Boulder City
- Burning Man in Black Rock City
- Carson City
- Incline Village
- Las Vegas
- Moapa Valley
- Mount Charleston
- North Las Vegas
- Virginia City
- West Wendover
Elko, Nevada, is the largest city on I-80 between Salt Lake City and Reno.
However, it’s much more than just a pit stop for gas and grub.
This high desert town feels like it’s trapped in time as a Wild West destination.
The attractions, museums, and scenic outdoor options offer a little bit of everything on top of the gambling options that you’ll find in every Nevada city (except for one where gambling is illegal).
Elko has a strong Basque heritage that is evident throughout the town.
The Star Hotel is a popular spot for traditional Basque cuisine, and the National Basque Festival is an annual celebration of Basque music, dance, and food.
As someone who lived in northern and southern Nevada for more than a decade, I know there’s so much history tucked into these smaller towns outside the more popular Reno and Las Vegas areas.
You also have the untouched expanse of the Ruby Mountains to explore by land and air.
The region is rich in minerals, including gold, copper, and silver, and the mining industry fuels the economy for more than a century and still does to this day.
The Nevada Gold Mines, which is one of the largest gold mining complexes in the world, is located just outside of Elko.
Warnings & Dangers in Elko
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low risk for a tourist spending time at the standard attractions, but also a few criminal and natural risks we need to discuss. You shouldn't be worried about safety here, but you definitely should keep your guard up.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
You can look at the GET My Ride transportation system to see if it serves your needs, but you'll likely need your own car here to explore. Rentals are easy to find, and there are some tour and taxi/rideshare options.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
The city sees several purse snatchings a year. I would think that's during big festivals or from inattentive gamblers, but the risk is still low if you're limiting what you're carrying and keeping your purse attached to you and in plain sight at all times.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
This area can get extreme cold and snow/ice in the winter. It's not uncommon, but you likely won't get massive snow storms that shut down the interstate. The Humboldt River runs through the city, which can (and does) cause flooding. Check out the flooding happening in April 2023. Snowmelt from the mountains is the main culprit. You might get some severe thunderstorms too, but tornadoes aren't that common.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
This is a low risk for visitors, but if you're a big winner at the casino, take no chances. It's so tempting to celebrate a big win. However, too many eyes are watching. In one instance, a woman was robbed in a casino parking lot after winning $10,000.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
This is also low risk, with no hard targets nearby and plenty of empty space that makes no appealing place for international terrorism.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
I strongly urge you to read the law enforcement social media pages, as plenty of scams have popped up here throughout the past few years. You always need to be prepared for someone to hustle you. The more prepared you are for common scams, the lower the risk will be.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
The only red flag I saw was a handful of drugged drink reports from 2019. Even in smaller, rural towns, you shouldn't let someone buy you a drink you haven't seen poured or leave a drink unattended at any time.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The risk is low, with all standards met or exceeded according to the latest water quality reports. Water issues caused by flooding, frozen pipes, or other issues will be reported on social media, not the water quality report. You can call (775)777-7375 if you have additional water quality questions.
Safest Places to Visit in Elko
Explore Elko is the name of the website for the city and the surrounding county.
Travel Nevada also includes a section about Elko County.
You can download a visitor’s guide, but you will need to give your name, email, and address.
Two things I love about this travel website—are the “only in Elko” restaurant options that help support a community recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic and the “Uncommon Activities” section to support the out-of-the-way places to visit.
Suffice it to say, there are a handful of casinos here with all the amenities you’ll find in any other Nevada town.
I won’t elaborate on that too much since there’s so much more to do that is family-friendly.
You’ll find several “Wild West” museum options here, each with its own niche:
- Western Folklife Center
- California Trail Interpretive Center
- Northeastern Nevada Museum (go for the mastodon bones)
- Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum
The National Basque Festival is held each 4th of July weekend, mixing American pride and immigrant influences of Spain and France.
Other times of the year, you can visit The Star Bar & Dining Room, Toki One Basque & American Restaurant, and Ogi Bar and Pintxos to get a taste of Basque food.
Drivers can take the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, while hikers can put on their boots and explore up to 36 miles on the Ruby Crest Trail.
Shorter trails include the Soldier Lake Basin trail and the Overland Lake trail.
Winter visitors can ski or tube at the Elko Snowbowl.
For real adrenaline junkies, helicopter skiing is offered with expert guides.
Elko County has some recreation areas to consider for all outdoor activities, including camping and fishing.
- South Fork State Recreation Area
- Wild Horse State Recreation Area (my favorite)
- Franklin Lake Wildlife Management Area
Ghost Town Tours might be my favorite part of Nevada, whether you choose a guided tour or go on your own.
You’ll learn how pioneers never got too attached to one place.
When the mines were picked clean, people literally just left the town as-is, and the skeletons of buildings (and some ghosts) still remain today.
Metropolis and Tuscarora are two of the most popular.
Places to Avoid in Elko
You can travel safely to and from the tourist attractions without going through a “bad part of town.”
It’s always smart to avoid residential neighborhoods just to be safe.
Elko isn’t a sleep town that rolls up the sidewalks at night.
There’s plenty of nightlife inside and outside the casinos.
If any place has the words “Gentleman’s Club” or “Ranch” in it, it’s likely a strip club or brothel.
Brothels are legal in most areas outside the countries where Reno and Las Vegas are located.
Avoid anyone who tells you that “locals casinos” have the best odds or tells you long-known legends like “the slots near the door have the best odds, so more people see winners and want to gamble more.”
Nevada has strict gaming requirements, and each slot must meet certain standards.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Elko
- Elko has its own police department. You can email them at email@example.com to ask specific questions or message them on Facebook @ElkoPolice. To follow the Elko County Sheriff on Facebook, look for @elkocountysheriff. I always provide this information for each city, but I can tell you this – Elko city and county have some pretty crazy things happening that you should be aware of during your visit.
- Check to see if the emergency notification system has been put in place before you go, as the sheriff is working on that system. Until then, use the WEA function on modern mobile phones and be sure to have “location tracking” enabled. If you’re heading to the mountains, bring a NOAA weather radio with you.
- Nevada Fire Info is the website where you can track wildfires in the state. Even routine thunderstorms can cause lightning-sparked fires. This website will also help you see if a plume of smoke is a wildfire or controlled burn.
- NVRoads.com is the website for the Department of Transportation in the state. You can also search for Nevada 511. Live cameras are available for most major roadways, along with a color-coded system to check road conditions, traffic backups, or construction work.
- Elko is 5,000 feet above sea level, and the mountains go up to 11,000-foot peaks. That means altitude sickness can set it. It will start with a feeling of not being able to get enough air, dizziness, and nausea. If you have any of these symptoms, stay hydrated and rest. If you give your body a day or two for adjustment, you’ll have better hikes at higher elevations.
- Check the alerts through the U.S. Forest Service for the Ruby Mountains before you go. Trail closures, wildfires, avalanches, and flooding can all pose risks. Even though the humidity is low here, the heat and the cold can be bone-rattling. At higher, arid elevations, you won’t sweat as much since it evaporates, but you could still easily get dehydrated.
- Anglers and hunters need a license from the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The fishing license is easy to get, but the hunting license will come with the required safety steps.
- The speed limit on I-80 in rural areas is 80 miles per hour, a very liberal limit. The Nevada Highway Patrol wants to emphasize this is a maximum limit that is strictly enforced. Don’t go by the “I can do nine miles over that limit without getting a ticket.”
- You’ll be sharing this major interstate with a lot of semi-trucks. Check the Department of Transportation website about how to share the roads with these trucks safely. While a slower truck or the passing action can be frustrating for lead-footed drivers, an accident can be deadly or shut down the interstate (with no alternate routes) for hours.
- It’s pronounced “Neh-veah-duh” not “Nev-aww-duh.” The “veah” rhymes with “yeah.”
So... How Safe Is Elko Really?
The main thing I would caution against is not getting a false sense of safety due to the friendly, small-town nature of Elko.
The crime rates here are higher than you’d expect, with about two violent crimes a week happening in a town of 20,000 people.
Violent crime has been pretty static over the past five years, with a 5% increase between 2020 and 2021.
The rate per 100,000 people is 15% higher than the national average.
I was a bit surprised to see that 33% of violent crimes happen against strangers, as from what I know of Elko, it seems it would be more domestic or drug-related issues.
However, when you add in the sex industry, 24-hour casinos, plenty of cash floating around, and an active drug trade, there are plenty of compromising positions for tourists to wind up in.
Elko definitely falls into the “if you don’t go looking for trouble, you won’t find it” category.
The tourist attractions are safe, and the casinos have a lot of security.
Use common sense – if you win a big jackpot, don’t walk to your car alone.
If there’s a fight brewing at a bar – leave.
You get the point.
Since the town is so transient with highway traffic and truckers, it’s always good to keep your guard up, even if you’re just filling up the gas tank.
There’s a lot of history and cool things to see here.
Using situational awareness and street smarts will go a long way.
How Does Elko Compare?
|New York City||67|
|Hong Kong (China)||70|
International visitors need either a visa designated for the purpose of the travel (work, tourism, school) or a visa waiver for certain eligible countries. A passport that isn't within six months of expiring is also required. Start this process with the U.S. State Department Visa Wizard module.
Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here, and the casinos will only take USD cash. Credit cards aren't accepted in slot machines. The lowest fees on currency exchange will be at your local bank. The highest will be at the casinos.
Even though Elko is a high desert, it can get very cold and sometimes snowy in winter. Bring winter clothing and accessories, especially in the event you break down on the highway. It could be a while before help gets there. The sun of the desert is great, but sunglasses and hats will help with the UV rays and brightness. Bring hiking boots for the trails.
Elko has a regional airport with a handful of flights, but it's really your best option without having to drive many hours in either direction. It's about four hours to Reno or Salt Lake City in opposite directions.
Comprehensive travel insurance is smart to cover your flight, belongings, and rental car. Be sure you have some kind of health insurance stateside, just in case of an accident, or else you'll pay a lot of pocket for even minor injuries at a healthcare facility.
Elko Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Nevada - Safety by City
|Burning Man in Black Rock City||70|
|North Las Vegas||54|