Your adventure options are endless in Tonopah, Nevada. Embrace the oddball at a motel adorned with thousands of clowns, search for spirits in historic hotels or nearby ghost towns, and bask in the glory of the Milky Way (visible to the naked eye here). And when you’re done, wash all your newfound stories down with a locally brewed beer.
Queen of the Silver Camps
Tonopah, Nevada: also known as the starting point for some of the best memories you’ll ever make. That’s high praise, but trust us that this town delivers. Between the turquoise rockhounding, haunted hotels, must-see mining park, and the sleepy burro that helped put this place on the map, you’ll need more than one overnighter (under some of the darkest skies in the Silver State) to enjoy everything Tonopah has to offer.
So, Where is Tonopah, NV?
Halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, Tonopah’s ideal location in Nye County (the largest in the state) makes it the perfect standalone destination or an awesome addition to tack onto your existing Silver State travels. If you’re traveling U.S. Routes 6 and 95, the town of Tonopah acts as an A++ start or end point for the Extraterrestrial Highway and natural overnighter on the Free-Range Art Highway, respectively. No matter how you get here, give yourself ample time to explore, as Tonopah positively brims with only-in-Nevada experiences.
The History of Tonopah, Nevada
‘Twas the year 1900, and a businessman and prospector by the name of Jim Butler had lost his burro. Once he found it, soundly napping in the desert, the story goes that Butler picked up a rock to rouse his runaway companion and realized it felt heavier than normal. Turns out, that burro had been snoozing atop an untapped reserve of silver ore. The site majorly boomed, naturally, as Butler and others filed claims and started mining. Only a year later, those mines had already produced almost $750,000 in silver and gold, and during the peak years (1901-1921), the total neared $121 million. Easy to see why Tonopah, NV is still regarded as “Queen of the Silver Camps” today.
Like Jim Butler’s burro, lots of big-name celebrities were drawn to Tonopah as well. Wyatt Earp opened the Northern Saloon here in February 1902, and Jack Dempsey – the boxer who held the world heavyweight championship from 1919 to 1926 – had some of his first bare-knuckle bouts in Tonopah and nearby Goldfield. Legend has it that The Mizpah Hotel was the site of Howard Hughes’ wedding to Jean Peters in 1957, and Hughes even returned to Tonopah almost a decade later to buy up 100 mining claims.
You can walk in Jim Butler’s footsteps (and his burro’s hoofprints) at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park, located right where the original mining claims started the silver rush. More than 100 acres feature preserved and restored buildings, artifacts, and always-evolving exhibits that can be seen via self-guided walking tour or guided Polaris expedition. There’s also the Mizpah Mine Shaft, which takes you for an underground mine walk over a shaft, and the Burro Tunne, which invites visitors to stand atop a grate and peer directly down a 500-foot-deep stope.
Heralded as “The Finest Stone Hotel in the Desert”, The Mizpah Hotel was constructed in 1907 and immediately lived up to its luxury reputation, sparing no expense. outfitted with electric lights, steam heat, and a bar stocked with the best whiskey, The Mizpah Hotel remains one of the best overnighters in the Silver State.
The Central Nevada Museum is also an absolute must. High-caliber exhibits highlight the region’s Western Shoshone people and heritage while also diving into mining and pioneer history. You’ll learn all about the Tonopah Air Base, too, which was the largest WWII training center in the country. Kids (and kids at heart) will flip for the replica old west town outside that’s got ore cars, a blacksmith shop, a saloon, and more.
Things To Do In and Around Tonopah
One day simply won’t be enough for exploring all the adventure opportunities in Tonopah, Nevada. Two of the Silver State’s best ghost towns are located just beyond Tonopah, too. Belmont Ghost Town boasts ruins of a massive combination stamp mill and a still-standing, 100-foot-tall brick chimney, plus the immaculately preserved Belmont Courthouse and the still-open Dirty Dick’s 1867 Belmont Saloon. Over in nearby Manhattan Ghost Town, you’ll find an original 1906 bank vault inside what’s left of the only stone building in town. This is also where Howard Hughes actually rolled up his sleeves and played prospector, and it’s home to a stolen church – seriously.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
If you want an extra authentic souvenir, give rockhounding a try at the Otteson Brothers Turquoise Mine Tours. Or, simply pick up a gorgeous piece of turquoise from one of Tonopah’s local shops. More outdoor recreation awaits in Monitor Valley, where you can hike to Mt. Jefferson (Nevada’s fourth-tallest peak) and surround yourself with the beauty of the Alta Toquima Wilderness. The Pine Creek Campground is a perfect basecamp for latching onto these off-grid options, by the way. ATV enthusiasts won’t wanna miss Crescent Dunes (sometimes called Tonopah Dunes), either. Paddle tires are recommended, and if you don’t have your own ATVs, you can rent them in Reno or Las Vegas before making the trek.
If you ain’t afraid of no ghosts, take a walking tour of the historic Old Tonopah Cemetery, the eternal resting place of some truly fascinating people (whose spirits you might meet elsewhere in town). The fun’s only getting started once the sun goes down. Rated the #1 stargazing destination in America by USA Today, the Tonopah Stargazing Park is one of our favorite places for scoping thousands of brilliant stars in seriously dark skies, which you’ll be able to see with or without a telescope.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Hungry? You will be after reading this. At the Pittman Café inside the Mizpah Hotel, you can enjoy Egg Miz-Muffins and fluffy buttermilk pancakes for breakfast and dine on grass-fed beef burgers, country fried steak, and chicken fried chicken over dinner. Over at Tonopah Brewing Company, get a little messy scarfing down tasty BBQ plates – think beef brisket, burnt ends, and baby back ribs – accompanied by hefeweizen, IPA, and porter craft beers.
At Hometown Pizza, convenience meets deliciousness with calzones, sandwiches, and a pizza lunch buffet. If you’re craving Mexican bites, El Marques brings chimichangas, panuchos, and meat and seafood plates to the table. And for orange chicken, kung pao beef, Singapore noodles, and more, the Bamboo Chinese Kitchen inside the Banc Club is your best bet.
For an extra dose of awesomeness, plan your Tonopah visit around one (or more) of the community’s special events. Be sure to get Tonopah Ghost Walks and Tonopah Star Parties on the calendar, both held monthly during the summer months. If you need Memorial Day Weekend plans, celebrate Tonopah’s founding father during Jim Butler Days & Nevada State Mining Championships, which includes street dancing, stock car (and bartender) races, kids mining events, and a whole lot more over multiple days.
The family-friendly Tonopah Arts Festival combines music and dance performances with an artisan fair and hands-on experiences, too. There’s almost always something on the event calendar for Tonopah, Nevada, so don’t forget to take a peek when travel planning.
Places to Stay in Tonopah, Nevada
No matter what kind of overnighter you’re after, Tonopah, NV is here to deliver. The Mizpah Hotel is regarded as the “finest stone hotel in the desert,” and when it originally opened in 1907, it was the tallest building in all of Nevada. The Mizpah is also Nevada’s lone property on the Historic Hotels of America register, and if you’re lucky (or perhaps unlucky), you might encounter the Lady in Red during your stay.
For an upscale boutique experience, consider the Belvada Hotel. Originally built in 1906 as the Nevada State Bank & Trust, the building was home to bankers, miners, and barbers before being renovated in 2020. Now, guests delight over the authentic, historic elements paired with modern decor and classic charm.
Truly an only-in-Nevada kind of sleepover, The Clown Motel almost speaks for itself. Located right next door to the Old Tonopah Cemetery, the lobby is jam-packed with thousands of clowns, and all 31 guest rooms feature 2-3 custom clown paintings (along with standard amenities). You can go all-in on the scare factor by requesting to stay in extra haunted rooms, or limit the length of your clown exposure by stopping by the gift shop.
When you check in at Tonopah Station Hotel, Casino and RV Park, you’ll have a chance to roll the dice for one free night stay – literally! The property also has a 24/7 casino, Stage Stop Café, and mining antiques museum. Jim Butler Inn & Suites will welcome you with exemplary customer service, comfy beds, and a light breakfast bar, while the Best Western Hi-Desert Inn offers tried-and-true lodging and amenities.
Clowns, ghosts, mines, and the Milky Way – we wanna see it all. Use #TravelNevada so we can tag along while you’re touring Tonopah.