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 Virginia City where famed writer Mark Twain got his start (and his pen name).
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 world-famous Lake Tahoe; the spectacularly scenic Carson Valley; Nevada’s capital, Carson City; and the National Historic Landmark District of Virginia City.
While most Lake Tahoe Loopers will cruise from Reno to Tahoe, it’s also easy to pop over from Carson City to Lake Tahoe or go in reverse via Lake Tahoe to Reno, making this road trip one of the most popular and accessible for weekenders.
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 Alley, 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 is also known for its revitalized downtown and MidTown, a blossoming art community, and easy access to Lake Tahoe and other recreational areas in the Sierra Nevada.
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 one of downtown Reno's only smoking and gaming-free properties and is also incredibly pet-friendly. If you're in the adventure mindset, this is a good home base while exploring the Biggest Little City.
From incredible art in the city's museums to its expansive murals, the Biggest Little City is finding its voice, and it's a creative one. While the BLC takes quite a bit of pride in its growing art scene with influence from the Burning Man collective that resides here, Reno has worked hard to reinvent itself as the hub of outdoor exploration with a healthy balance of 24-hour nightlife.
Immerse yourself in Reno's burgeoning arts and culture scene by starting at the Nevada Museum of Art, explore larger-than-life art installations 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 the Spark!Lab Smithsonian, where visitors learn about the process of invention. For the real history buffs, check out Nevada Stories, too. Visitors can uncover buried artifacts, discover what types of minerals are hiding in Nevada's landscape, stock goods on a Prairie Schooner and learn more about Nevada's rich American Indian culture.
If you're looking for a little more excitement, hit Bundox Bocce for a quick game of bocce ball at the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel, stop by a comedy show at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, visit one of the city's many bustling bars for some live music, or hit up a few of the new shops in Midtown like Natural Selection for some good ol’ fashioned taxidermy and a plethora of exotic plants. And like you could forget (we’re going to remind you anyway), make sure to snap a photo in front of *both* of Reno's arches.
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 The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery and Lead Dog Brewing Company. This area has experienced a recent renaissance and is improving all the time, so keep an eye on it. But the most up-and-coming section near downtown Reno is most certainly MidTown.
Hosting tons of new shops, salons, restaurants, bars, and even a few unusual thrift shops that open a window to Reno's past, be sure to add this area to the list of places to check out.
Brasserie Saint James, MidTown Eats, Noble Pie, and Rum Sugar Lime are just a few must-taste stops for foodies. Make sure to utilize the great virtual tour made possible by Visit Reno Tahoe to find whatever you’re craving. Visit their site, navigate to ‘restaurants’ and start getting familiar with the region’s dining landscape. Visit our Reno page for more information on the long list of amazing places to stay in Reno.
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. As the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is popular for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming… and if you're ready, become one of the brave few who embrace the challenge of taking a refreshing "polar plunge" in the middle of summer (or for the real daredevils, in winter—wetsuits don’t count here).
Lake Tahoe's #NevadaSide is where you'll find the communities of Incline Village and Crystal Bay 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 peruse a robust resource collection at the visitors' center to help roadtrippers dive into the history of 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 paddleboard rentals.
Crystal Bay lives up to its mission as Tahoe’s north-shore border town with gaming, great concerts at the Crystal Bay Club, wild theme parties at the Tahoe Biltmore, and lodging at a few classic properties.
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— which is part of the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park complex—equipped with hiking trails and access to the Flume Trail, an advanced-level mountain biking route. Other places to check out include some of Nevada's most popular state parks like 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. If you prefer to stay in the Incline Village/Crystal Bay area, there is certainly an abundance of epic lodging along the lake’s east side. From the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino in Incline to the Tahoe Biltmore Lodge & Casino in Crystal Bay, Nevada state Route 28 is not only beautiful, but welcoming.
Stateline is literally on the southern state line between Nevada and California. Home to four major resorts: Harrah's Tahoe, Harveys, Montbleu, and the 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, the home of the annual American Celebrity Golf Championship, as well as the lakeside Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe, which opened in the summer of 2017.
Don't forget to check out the lake’s most infamous boat cruises like on the M.S. Dixie, a sightseeing paddle wheeler that departs 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.
Leaving Lake Tahoe for the Carson Valley via Kingsbury Grade (Nevada state route 207 and 206) gets you to Genoa, who boasts not only the oldest settlement in Nevada but also 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 possession: 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 Resort—a longstanding Nevada hot spring that famed author Mark Twain was rumored to have visited, as well as a handful of other distinguished politicians of the era, and even a few Pony Express riders were rumored to have enjoyed a a href="https://travelnevada.com/adventures/32954/score-soak-history-lesson-3-nevada-resort-hot-springs">restorative soak, too.
Carson Valley is also home to the spectacularly picturesque ranching communities of Minden and Gardnerville, and as they're not far down the road from Genoa, they 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, sip on the unofficial state drink of Nevada, and feast on other Basque-American fare at the J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room. Then close out your adventure by stopping to 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 Skydive Lake Tahoe, located at the Minden-Tahoe Airport in Minden. Also, be on the lookout for Carson Valley's latest attraction: the highly anticipated Bently Heritage Estate Distillery. Located in the 100+-year-old mill that originally belonged to the Dangberg empire, the property has embraced LEED certified standards to process grain for the creation of a variety of high-quality gin, vodka, and (when it matures) single-malt whisky.
Continue on to Carson City, Nevada's state capital, a half-hour 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, where passengers will spend about three and a half hours exploring Virginia City on their own. A shorter ride from Virginia City to Gold Hill and back is also 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 known as the Blue Line Trail or the Kit Carson Trail, offers a self-guided, 2.5-mile stroll through Carson City’s historic 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, the Martin Hotel, Adeles, Squeeze Inn, 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 wealth stemming from this storied mining camp was so lucrative, it helped fund the construction of the majority of the West Coast (twice, in some cases), including major cities like San Francisco. A 30-minute drive from Carson City, Virginia City's Historic C Street is lined with shops and saloons housed in Victorian-era buildings, lined with wooden boardwalks, which gives visitors a sense 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" began what would become a career-long fascination with paranormal activity in the town, with episodes that have featured Washoe Club and many other properties, while 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 can still 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. Ghost lovers should consider touring the "haunted" Mackay Mansion, too, where visitors hope for a visit from the ghostly prostitute that is rumored to haunt the Silver Queen, Ms. Lena. Or, if you're really brave, stay at the Miner's Cabin at the Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon, which sits at the mouth of the Yellowjacket Mine—the site of one of the deadliest mining accidents in Nevada history. 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, which is the main drag. One of the most famous is the Red Dog Saloon, where bands such as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead performed in the psychedelic 1960s. One of the newest places to wet your whistle is the Virginia City Brewery and Taphouse, or, for a cup of joe, be sure to hit the Roasting House.
For lodging options, see VisitVirginiaCityNV.com.
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