The Carson Sink is geographically bounded by the West Humboldt Range to the north, and the Stillwater Range to the east. To the south the land raises slightly, and is extensively farmed. To the west lies the Forty Mile Desert, so named because along that section of the Carson River Route of the California Trail one had to travel roughly forty miles between the last drinkable water on the Humboldt River to the first drinkable water on the Carson River. That was a great hardship to California bound immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s, many of whom were already near starvation by the time they reached it.
In 1984 the natural dike between the Carson Sink and the Humboldt Sink was breached by the Nevada Department of Transportation to prevent Interstate 80 and the town of Lovelock from flooding due to unusually heavy snowfall in the preceding three years. The sinks remained connected by water until 1987.
The Carson Sink and the Lahontan Valley form the central portion of the lakebed of the prehistoric Lake Lahontan, which existed in northwestern Nevada at the end of the last ice age, between 20,000 and 9,000 years ago.
The north central portion of the sink is used as a bombing range by aircraft operating out of Naval Air Station Fallon. This range is officially designated B-20, but is commonly known as 'Lone Rock' after a solitary pinnacle of rock that extends through the playa. The Lone Rock is held sacred by the Paiute. In July 1952, the sink was the site of a famous UFO incident, called the Carson Sink Case.