History buffs and Wild West enthusiasts will find a wealth of intriguing relics from the past in Dayton, the site of Nevada’s first gold discovery. Visitors to Old Dayton will be charmed by its nostalgic boardwalk sidewalks, fascinating shops, mom-and-pop dining establishments, and beautifully unique homes located in perfectly restored buildings that tell the story of Dayton’s storied past.
Dayton NV: Where It All Began
Just east of Carson City, the historic town of Dayton NV stakes a bold, forever-strong claim: it was the site of Nevada’s first gold discovery. One lucky prospector sank his pick and found a nugget at the mouth of Gold Canyon, in what is now Old Dayton. Other Nevada firsts Dayton holds down the cred for include Nevada’s first (legal) marriage, first (legal) divorce, and first public entertainment. Today, the boardwalk-lined streets of Old Dayton call to road-trippers traveling Nevada’s (in)famous Loneliest Road in America road trip (Survival Guide stamps are available at 11 Dayton locations), fans of classic mom-and-pop eats, anglers chasing trout along the Carson River, and history hounds keen on discovering the Nevada story at Dayton State Park and nearby Fort Churchill State Historic Park—both points along the historic, if short-lived, Pony Express route.
History of Dayton NV
Thanks to infrastructure established after Nevada’s first gold discovery in 1849, Dayton’s Gold Canyon became the de facto processing and milling site in the early days of silver finds from the Comstock Lode, about a decade later. Check out artifacts from the time period at the Historical Society of Dayton Valley and the Dayton Museum, as well as to learn more about Dayton’s storied, rough-and-tumble gold and silver mining days.
Nevada’s Western history remains on full display throughout boardwalk-lined Historic Downtown Dayton, including at Nevada’s second oldest schoolhouse, built in 1865, and at Dayton Historic Cemetery, the oldest maintained cemetery in the Silver State, where tombstones date all the way back to 1851—including that of early Comstock prospector “Ol’ Virginny,” the cleverly accidental namer of Virginia City (who, the story goes, drunkenly tripped, breaking a bottle of whiskey, and saved face by christening the mining camp).
Things to Do in Dayton
Chasers of history (and trout) have two riverfront state parks within reach of Dayton. Dayton State Park is home to mining ruins—including those of one of the largest early stamp mills in the state—camping, and fishing on the Carson River. Meanwhile, Fort Churchill State Historic Park, about a half hour east, offers interpretive walks through early Nevada military history and past trout-packed honey holes, with golden-hour ghost town vibes that have called to photographers and paranormal enthusiasts for years. In addition, staked down this far removed from light pollution, campers are rewarded with truly stellar skies.
Or hop aboard the Virginia & Truckee Railroad for a quick trip up the hill to Virginia City—so famous that the entire town is a National Historic Landmark—on original cars that carried Comstock Lode ore, which helped put Nevada on track to becoming the “Silver State.”
While you’re out and about exploring the area, remember your passport. Your real one. A classic Weird Nevada experience, the Republic of Molossia has quietly been an official, independent, sovereign nation for forty years, and is located right in a Dayton neighborhood. Free, highly whimsical monthly tours are offered spring through fall (reservations required). Just be sure to leave your incandescent light bulbs, catfish, and onions at home, though—those items are contraband within these borders.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Most of Dayton, NV’s, restaurants are housed in some of Dayton’s oldest buildings, and J’s Old Town Bistro is no better place to get to know one of Nevada’s oldest towns than from historic digs that have been part of the Dayton story for more than 160 years.
Larry’s Gourmet Café and the Roadrunner Café are great breakfast spots for an early morning meal and the perfect cup of coffee. If bar bites are more your scene, check out the Dayton Taphouse for delicious brews and great food.
Help yourself to “The Loneliest Food In America Pt. 4” podcast, which includes a stop at Dayton’s Roadrunner Café during a restaurant and Sagebrush Saloon-packed culinary cruise along Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America.
Dayton Valley Days
Each September, this friendly community welcomes visitors to its annual Dayton Valley Days extravaganza, a weekend filled with a parade (a human one and a pet one), rodeo, car show, games, auctions, and so much more. The community’s signature event attracts visitors from all over the region to celebrate Nevada history and Dayton’s cherished small-town charm.
Whether you’re walking through history or making some of your own in the “birthplace of Nevada,” tag your snaps with #TravelNevada so we can follow your adventure.