Scale the tallest outdoor rock climbing wall in the world, paddle board on one of the clearest (and coldest!) bodies of water in North America, drink a beer at the oldest saloon in Nevada, and walk the original wooden boardwalks in a town where famed writer Mark Twain got his start in Virginia City. It’s all possible on the Lake Tahoe Loop, a road trip that begins and ends in the Biggest Little City in the World, with stops around Lake Tahoe; the spectacularly scenic Carson Valley; Nevada’s capital, Carson City; and the National Historic Landmark District of Virginia City.
142 miles/229 km
Check out the map HERE.
LEG 1: THE BIGGEST LITTLE CITY IN THE WORLD
Founded in 1868, Reno first drew visitors as a gambling destination — Nevada legalized the activity in 1931, and Reno is where modern casino gaming developed. Keep an eye out for Reno's historic alleyways, like Douglas and Lincoln Highways, which were the original (and only) entrances to Reno's earliest casinos. Today, Reno’s tourism profile still includes gaming, but the Biggest Little City in the World also is known for its revitalized downtown and MidTown, a blossoming art community and easy access to Lake Tahoe and other recreational areas in the northern Sierra.
When visiting Reno, be sure to check out Basecamp, the outdoor climbing wall at the Whitney Peak Hotel. At 164 feet/50 meters, it’s the tallest outdoor rock climbing wall in the world. Basecamp guests also can enjoy the indoor bouldering park on the hotel’s second floor. Plus, the property is downtown Reno's only smoking and gaming-free property, and is also incredibly pet friendly. If you're in the adventure-mindset, this is a good homebase while exploring the Biggest Little City.
Reno is home to Nevada's only art museum in the state, with accrredidation from the American Alliance of Museums. The Nevada Museum of Art displays traveling exhibits as well as a permanent collection divided into four focus areas: Altered Landscape Photography; Art of the Greater West; Contemporary Art; and Work Ethic. Guided tours are offered at select times. And, thanks to the nearby annual Burning Man festival which takes place just north of Reno in the Black Rock Desert, Reno has become a basecamp for artists from all over the world.
Often times, Reno is lucky to feature galleries exhibiting artwork from this globally-known arts and culture event, as well as some art installations themselves which can be found throughout Reno's Riverwalk District, and in the newly-established Reno Playa Art Park. Immerse yourself in Reno's burgeoning arts and culture scene by starting at the Nevada Museum of Art, explore larger-than-life art installtions exactly how they originally appeared on the playa at the Reno Playa Art Park, then stroll the Riverwalk District, adjacent to the Truckee River. The Riverwalk has a medley of shops, bistros, cafes and bars, as well as the Truckee River Whitewater Park, which draws kayakers in the spring and early summer.
Got your family in tow? Be sure to swing by The Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum. Originally founded as a children’s museum, the Discovery has evolved into a science center serving learners of all ages with hands-on science, technology, engineering, art and math exhibits. The Discovery’s permanent collection includes the Build It! gallery, where visitors can explore the building process; and Spark!Lab Smithsonian, where visitors learn about the process of invention. Or, explore the impressive private collection of automobiles, owned by gaming magnate Bill Harrah, at The National Automobile Museum. Named one of the America’s Greatest Automobile Museums by Autoweek magazine, the National Automobile Museum features more than 200 vintage, classic and special interest vehicles, ranging from autos like Sammy Davis Jr.'s Dusenberg SSJ Roadster, to the DeLorean.
Reno’s food-and-drink scene is a melting pot of flavors, from Basque to Thai to Latin, as well as American pub fare found at the many craft breweries that have opened their doors in the past few years. East Fourth Street has welcomed a recent brewery boom, with breweries like Under The Rose, The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery, and Lead Dog Brewing Company. This area has experienced a recent renaissance and improving all the time, so keep an eye on it. But the most up-and-coming section near downtown Reno can be found in MidTown.
Hosting tons of new shops, salons, restaurants, bars, and even a few unusual thrift shops that open window to Reno's past, be sure to add this area to the list of place to check out. Brasserie Saint James, MidTown Eats, Noble Pie, and Rum Sugar Lime are just a few great spots in the area, but be sure to utilize a great online tour made possible by Visit Reno Tahoe. To use, go to VisitRenoTahoe.com, and find Restaurants, to help you navigate the region’s dining landscape.
CATCH SOME ZZZs
- Whitney Peak Hotel, 255 N. Virginia Street, Reno, 775-398-5400 WhitneyPeakHotel.com
- ElDorado Resort Casino, 345 N. Virginia Street, Reno, 775-786-5700 ElDoradoReno.com
- Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel, 1 South Lake Street, Reno, 775-682-3900 Renaissance-Hotels.mariott.com
- For more information on the long list of amazing places to stay in Reno, see VisitRenoTahoe.com
LEG 2: RENO TO LAKE TAHOE (36 miles/58 km to Incline Village from Reno, 60 miles/97 km to Stateline)
Lake Tahoe, which sits in the Sierra Nevada and straddles the Nevada-California border, provides a stunning backdrop for hiking, biking and other recreational activities, including skiing and snowshoeing in winter. The largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is popular for stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and swimming... if you're ready embrace the challenge of taking a refreshing "polar plunge" in the middle of summer. There are two communities on the #NevadaSide of the lake: Incline Village in the north, and Stateline in the south.
Incline Village is home to Diamond Peak Ski Resort as well as two golf courses: Championship and Mountain. Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park can be accessed by way of several properties surrounding the lake, like Sand Harbor State Park, which is one of the lake’s most popular beaches. Here, visitors can expect to peruse a visitors' center with a robust dive into the history in the area, like Tahoe's former timber production days, and stories of local eccentrics like George Whittell Jr. of the Thunderbird Lodge. Other amenities include short, yet spectacular walking paths, a boat launch, and stand up paddle board rentals. The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival performs at Sand Harbor’s outdoor amphitheater in July and August; and in the winter, sleigh rides are available, weather permitting. Incline Village also boasts Spooner Lake and Marlette Backcountry - also part of the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park compex - which has hiking trails and access to the Flume Trail, an advanced-level mountain biking route. Other properties part of one of Nevada's most popular state parks includes Hidden Beach, which is just north of Sand Harbor and much smaller in size, and Cave Rock, which was of spiritual importance to Nevada's Washoe American Indian Tribes.
CATCH SOME ZZZs
Stateline is literally on the state line between Nevada and California. Home to four major resorts: Harrah’s Tahoe, Harveys, Montbleu and Hard Rock Lake Tahoe. Stateline offers gaming, nightlife and fine dining in a beautiful alpine lake setting. From downtown Stateline, it’s a short walk to the Heavenly Mountain Resort gondola, which operates in winter and summer.
Stateline also has Edgewood Tahoe golf course, home of the annual American Celebrity Golf Championship, as well as the lakeside Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe, opened in summer 2017. Boat cruises on the M.S. Dixie sightseeing paddle wheeler depart from the neighboring community of Zephyr Cove. Here, Zephyr Cove Resort offers great lodging, a huge beach, campgrounds, snowmobile tours in winter and horseback riding in summer. For a mountainside experience, including ski-in, ski-out access to Heavenly Mountain Resort, check The Ridge Tahoe.
CATCH SOME ZZZs
- Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, 15 U.S. 50, Stateline, 800-427-7247, Caesars.com/Harrahs-Tahoe
- Harveys Lake Tahoe, 18 U.S. 50, Stateline, 775-588-6611, Caesars.com/Harveys-Tahoe
- Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa, 55 U.S. 50, Stateline, 775-588-3515, MontbleuResort.com
- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe, 50 U.S. 50, Stateline, 844-588-7625, HardRockCasinoLakeTahoe.com
- The Ridge Tahoe, 400 Ridge Club Drive, Stateline, 775-588-3131, RidgeTahoeResort.com
- Zephyr Cove Resort, 760 U.S. 50, Zephyr Cove, 775-589-4906, ZephyrCove.com
LEG 3: CARSON VALLEY, CARSON CITY, VIRGINIA CITY, THEN BACK TO RENO (108 miles/174 km from Incline Village, 84 miles/135 km from Stateline)
Leaving Lake Tahoe for the Carson Valley via Kingsbury Grade (Nevada state route 207 and 206) gets you to Genoa, who boasts to be not only the oldest settlement in Nevada, but is also home to the Oldest "Thirst Parlor," or bar, in the state. Plan on visiting the Genoa Bar, which dates back to 1853, and features a variety of wild relics, including Willie Nelson's hat, Raquel Welch's Bra, and what the bar considers to be their most prized posession: a diamond dust mirror.
Also in Genoa, you’ll find Mormon Station State Historic Park, the site of a trading post built in 1851 along the California Trail, and what historians consider to be Nevada's first official settlement. The park is open year-round and contains a museum, which operates seasonally.
Grab a bite to eat at the Pink House, a historical home-turned-restaurant with an in-house cheese shop and charcuterie; and round out the day with a dip in the hot springs at David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort - A long standing Nevada hot spring that famed author Mark Twain was rumored to regularly visit, as well as a handful of other distinguished politicians of the era and even a few pony express riders who were rumored to have enjoyed a restorative soak, too.
Carson Valley is also home to spectacularly picturesque ranching communities of Minden and Gardnerville, and as they're not far down the road from the Genoa, are also some of the oldest settlements in the state. Here, you can check out the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, home to one of the area’s founding families and one of the oldest pair of Levi's coveralls in the entire state of Nevada; sink your teeth into garlic-loaded steaks, the unofficial state drink of Nevada, and other Basque-American fare at the J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room; and learn about the region's rich heritage at the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center.
Thrill-seekers may want to take Tahoe to new heights by taking a glider plane ride with Soaring NV or skydive with Sky Dive Lake Tahoe, located at the Minden-Tahoe Airport in Minden. Also, be on the lookout for Carson Valley's latest attraction, set to debut in May of 2018: the highly anticpated Bently Heritage Distillery. Located in the 100+ year-old mill that originally belonged to the Dangberg empire, the property will embrace LEED certified standards to process grain for the creation of a variety of high quality spirits. Check back at our site or theirs for updates on official grand opening dates!
CATCH SOME ZZZs
Continue on to Carson City, Nevada’s state capital, a half-hour’s drive to the north. Founded as a community in 1851 — 13 years before Nevada became a state — Carson City became a thriving commercial center after the discovery of gold and silver in nearby Virginia City. Today, Carson City is rich in historical sites, including the Nevada State Museum, Carson City, formerly the historic Carson City Mint building; and the Nevada State Railroad Museum, Carson City, which curates the history of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and offers train rides on weekends May through September, featuring specialty cars, like the historic McKeen Car.
For an all-day train experience, check out the Virginia and Truckee Railroad (a business separate from the museum), which offers a narrated ride from Carson City to Virginia City and back, with passengers spending about three and a half hours exploring Virginia City on their own. A shorter ride, from Virginia City to Gold Hill and back, also is offered.
Carson City is home to the Stewart Indian School, a former federal boarding school for American Indian children. Today, the campus is owned by the state, with several of the buildings occupied by state agencies, but visitors can stroll the grounds and learn about Stewart’s complex history through a self-guided cell-phone tour. Another walking tour is the Blue Line Trail, also known as the Kit Carson Trail, a self-guided, 2.5-mile walking tour through Carson City’s historical district featuring properties like the site of The Shootist, John Wayne's last movie, The Governor's Mansion, and other historic, allegedly-haunted mansions from Nevada's early days. Pick up a guide for the route at the Carson City Visitors Center, 716 N. Carson St.
Grab a bite to eat in Carson City — among the choices are The Union Eatery Taphouse & Coffee, LA Bakery and Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint. For a full list of dining options in Carson City, as well as places to stay overnight, see VisitCarsonCity.com.
Next, head up to Virginia City, the 1850s-era mining town built above the underground Comstock Lode silver mines. Though hard to believe, the weath stemming from this storied mining camp was so lucrative, it helped fund the construction of the majority of the west coast, including major cities like San Francisco. A 30-minute drive from Carson City, Virginia City has shops and saloons housed in Victorian-era buildings lined up along wooden boardwalks, giving visitors the feeling of stepping back in time. Home to about 855 people today, Virginia City in its late-1800s heyday was home to about 25,000, including Mark Twain, who adapted his famous moniker here, when writing for the local Territorial Enterprise newspaper.
Years later, after the mines had played out, Virginia City enjoyed pop culture notoriety as the home of the fictional Cartwright family in the TV show “Bonanza,” broadcast on NBC from 1959 to 1973. More recently, the community has grabbed attention for its “haunted” buildings. In 2004, “Ghost Adventures” filmed a documentary about paranormal activity in the town and filmed at the Washoe Club, but the city as a whole is said to be one of the most haunted places in the state, if not the entire country.
Today, visitors still can visit the Washoe Club – for a drink at the bar on the first floor or a guided tour of the building’s haunted three floors, tour the "haunted" Mackay Mansion, hope for a visit from the ghostly prositute that is rumored to haunt the Silver Queen, or if you're really brave, stay at the Miner's Cabin at the Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon. Bats in the Belfry also offers guided tours of haunted sites in Virginia City.
More traditional tours include the Trolley Tour, a 20-minute narrated trip through Virginia City, and the Chollar Mine Tour. Saloons with old wooden bars and tin-stamped ceilings are found up and down C Street, the main drag; one of the most famous is the Red Dog Saloon, where ‘60s bands such as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead performed. One of the newest places to wet your whistle is the Virginia City Brewery and Taphouse, or, for a cup of joe, the Roasting House.
Virginia City’s charming and incredibly rich historical vibe are hard to resist... it's so good you may just have to stay overnight. You may have to stay overnight. For lodging options, see VisitVirginiaCityNV.com.
Otherwise, it’s a half-hour drive to Reno, and completion of the Lake Tahoe Loop itinerary!