Escape Nevada’s big cities by going on a road trip to discover quaint small towns spread throughout the Sierra Nevada. Scenic drives along the wide-open roads of Nevada’s backcountry promises cool stops with a host of discoveries, be it charming historical landmarks, thrilling nature adventures, soothing relaxation, or even outright odd and unique encounters.

    Many of the must-see towns in Nevada have their rise and fall during the country's mining industry in the early 19th century. Being so rural and out in the desert, these towns are stargazing meccas, far from the bright lights of the big cities. Check out these suggested itineraries for your next Nevada road-tripping adventures.

    1

    Virginia City

    An authentic historic mining town just 30 minutes from Reno

    On a day trip to Virginia City, you’ll step back in time and relive the gold rush of the mid-1800s. The charming little town is an exciting mix of Wild West, fascinating sites, informative museums and live entertainment. See a cowboy shootout, explore the famous Comstock Lode silver mine, ride on a steam engine or walk down the main drag lined with Victorian-style buildings on restored board sidewalks.

    For a spooky experience, families can join a guided ghost tour or visit the many haunted locations in town, such as the Silver Queen Hotel, Mackay Mansion and the cemetery. Don’t let the car ride put you off – the drive from Reno to Virginia City along Highway 341 provides panoramic views of the region’s mountainous landscape.

    Location: Virginia City, NV 89440, USA

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    photo by Reno Tahoe Territory (CC BY 2.0) modified

    2

    Genoa

    Discover the charms of Nevada’s oldest town

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    Genoa National Historic District is the oldest town in Nevada, which saw its first settlement way back in 1851. The town lies in the Carson River Valley on the eastern foot of the Sierra Nevada Range, and features an old charm that harks back to the Wild West.

    After a scenic drive along Highway 206, enter downtown Genoa and explore vintage-style shops and houses, including Nevada’s oldest saloon, which opened in 1853. Visit the Mormon Station State Historic Park, where mule deer roam freely. The park contains the statue of Snowshoe Thompson, the father of California skiing. Many try to locate his final resting place at Genoa Cemetery, not too far to the north of the town.

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    3

    Minden

    A charming small town in the Carson Valley

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    Minden is a quaint town in the Carson Valley, boasting an old-fashioned, American Frontier charms. It's surrounded by the magnificent scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Stroll through the historic downtown and take in the sight of centuries-old houses and brick buildings. 

    At its heart is Minden Park, which has a standout bandstand and gazebo set among 2 acres of lush greenery. It’s a focal spot for seasonal events and picnics, especially in autumn. Idyllic sights and old charms aside, Minden and the Carson Valley are popular among sailplane gliders, thanks to the area's excellent soaring conditions.

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    4

    Ely

    A former stage station during Nevada’s mining boom

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    Ely is a small, remote mountain town in Nevada’s White Pine County. It served as a stage station around the 1870s, just before the copper mining boom. The area developed into a short-lived mining town in the early 1900s, but has retained much of its past with notable spots highlighting its history.

    Check out the Nevada Railroad Museum and the Ely Renaissance Village to experience a bit of the Old West. Strolling through town, you’re treated to a visual feast with magnificent murals and artworks by the Ely Historic Mural Project around town. Besides pretty sights and history, there’s the great outdoors to be enjoyed right out of Ely. Mountain biking trails and adventures await in the nearby Great Basin National Park.

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    photo by Hermann Luyken (CC0 1.0) modified

    5

    Lovelock

    A place to explore and hang your lover’s lock

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    Lovelock is a small railroad town set in a meadow valley in northern Nevada. It has a long history in railroad and mining – the town saw its first settlement in 1849, eventually, after serving as a stop for settlers on their journey along the Humboldt Trail to California.

    Check out remnants of Lovelock’s past in the heritage buildings, such as the 1886 wooden Grace Methodist Church, the Victorian-style Marzen House Museum with its 19th-century furnishings, and the Central Pacific Railroad Depot. A more contemporary thing to do, especially on Valentine’s Day, is buying a themed padlock and locking it at the linking chains of Lover's Lock Plaza.

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    photo by Famartin (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    6

    Eureka

    One of the best-preserved mining communities of the Old West

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    Eureka is a small town in Nevada known for its silver mining history. Here, you can see many beautifully well-preserved buildings, such as the Eureka County Court House on Main Street – it's one of Nevada’s very few 19th-century courthouses still in use to this day Just across the road from the courthouse is the striking period Eureka Opera House, where some of the town’s special shows and events take place. 

    A short stroll north leads you to the Eureka Sentinel Museum, which showcases the town’s brush with the mining boom. Established in 1879, it was where the Eureka Sentinel newspaper was published. You can see vintage typewriters and antiquities like old firefighting gear on display.

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    7

    Rachel

    A quirky stop on the famous Extraterrestrial Highway

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    Rachel is a small rural town along the scenic Extraterrestrial Highway, long associated with the infamous Area 51. Surrounded by the emptiness of the Nevada desert, the scenic and open-road drive is a good reason to visit this town.

    Along the way, signs bearing amusing words like “Low Flying Aircraft” are the stuff of Instagram bucket lists. Upon entering the town, you'll see a truck towing a spaceship by a greeting sign that says “Earthlings Welcome”. A must-see is Rachel’s trailer park, which was where Independence Day (1996) was filmed. It's also a great place for stargazing and, possibly, UFO spotting.

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    8

    Austin

    A great base for enjoying Nevada’s outdoors

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    Austin serves as an ideal and central base for experiencing some of the best of Nevada’s outdoors. The charming mountain town lies snug within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, surrounded by wide-open landscapes for hiking and mountain biking as well as a handful of intriguing ghost towns nearby.

    Austin rose and fell with the silver mining boom in the 1860s but has many well-preserved buildings. Find historic charms on a stroll down Main Street – standouts include 3 churches built in the 19th century and the curious 3-storey granite tower known as Stokes Castle. Go further back in time by checking out Native American rock art inside Pott's Cave. After a long day, hit Spencer Hot Springs for a good relaxing soak.

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    9

    Caliente

    A hushed railroad town in south-eastern Nevada

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    Caliente in Lincoln County is one of the least populated towns in Nevada, with a history that’s firmly rooted in the railroad industry. Its main landmark is the historic Caliente Railroad Depot built back in 1923, where you can admire art in its gallery or catch up on history at its library.

    Just outside town, you’re treated to wide-open scenery and cottonwood trees, which makes for a mesmerising scenic drive in autumn. Mountain biking is possible, thanks to miles of paved trails –  Caliente's Mountain Bike Fest is a free event usually held in September. You can go further away from any crowd to Rainbow Canyon, just south of Caliente, for truly  Instagrammable, open-road vistas. To unwind, soak at the hot springs of Kershaw-Ryan State Park, which many consider an oasis in the desert.

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    10

    Tonopah

    A rural Nevada town filled with history and oddities

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    Tonopah is a small town in Nye County first settled by prospectors during the silver mining boom in the early 20th-century. Located midway between Vegas and Reno, it's often a stop on UFO-hunting road trips along the famous Extraterrestrial Highway.

    The town’s own set of unique experiences include the old and reputedly haunted Mizpah Hotel. Further ghost-hunting awaits in Belmont just north. Catch up on some history at the Central Nevada Museum or the Historic Mining Park. For something truly bizarre, check out the Clown Motel. This ‘uncanny valley’ of a place is filled with hundreds of clown figures – being right next to Old Tonopah Cemetery simply adds to the eeriness.

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    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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