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Nevada may best be known for its big cities like Vegas and Reno, but it’s also filled with spectacular remote stretches and some great small towns. For the total experience, the next time you visit the Silver State, be sure to venture outside of the casinos to discover lesser-known gems too. These small towns, in particular, are all well worth a visit.
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Virginia City got its start as a boomtown in 1859 with the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the country’s first major silver deposit discovery. While it’s gone from as many as 25,000 residents during its early mining days to less than 900 today, you’ll find plenty of glimpses of its past, with multiple Old West saloons and museums that help to preserve its history as well. Take a ride on a trolley, stagecoach, or tour of a mine, or hop on the V&T Railroad steam engine at this popular ghost town in Nevada.
The county seat of White Pine County, Ely has a population of just over 4,000 but it offers a ton of things to do for its relatively small size. Founded as a stage coach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route, its mining boom came with the discovery of copper in 1906. Located at the base of Great Basin National Park, you’ll be able to enjoy trips to the Lehman Caves and hiking scenic routes like the Island Forest Trail or Bristlecone Pine Trail or even summit Wheeler Peak. The lively community itself hosts frequent events throughout the year, including food and arts festivals, shipping derbies and sheepherders’ galas. Art lovers won’t want to miss the 11-block art walk that winds through, highlighting sculptures and paintings that tell the tale of Ely’s history.
The largest community in Eureka County and one of the best-preserved of Nevada’s mining boom towns, Eureka offers fresh air, mountain views, historic sites and more. While it has a population of just over 600, most of it can be found in the Eureka Historic District which is home to an 1880 opera house and two museums, the Wildlife Museum and the Eureka Sentinel Museum. The Eureka Saloon is a great place to pop in for a drink, and you’ll find a handful of eateries to enjoy too.
The tiny town of Austin is home to less than 200 residents, a place where you’ll see friendly faces while enjoying the opportunity to discover its interesting past. A former silver mining town that once attracted miners from across the globe, today it makes a great base for enjoying remote Spencer Hot Springs, hiking, biking, wildflower viewing and more. If you can time your visit to attend the annual Prospectors Dream Wine Walk in mid-September, you’ll be able to stroll back through time while sipping wine.
At its height, Goldfield had a population of over 30,000 as Nevada’s largest town, thanks to its gold mine that propelled it to opulence around the turn of the 20th-century. But not long after its 1902 founding, the mines began to severely decline, and by 1910, most residents left for other boomtowns, with just 1,500 remaining until the 1913 flash flood. That was followed by a devastating fire a decade later, and today, less than 200 call it home. There are said to be plenty more existing in the ghostly form at the Goldfield Hotel, a place that’s been featured in many TV series focused on the paranormal. Be sure to stop for a drink at the Santa Fe Saloon, Nevada’s oldest continually running business, it’s been in operation since 1905.
The southern Nevada town of Caliente was established in 1901, with its name, which means “hot” in Spanish, originating from the nearby hot springs. Today visitors not only enjoy soaking in the naturally warm waters, but attractions like the Union Pacific Train Depot and an original row of historic railroad cottages. There’s a wealth of outdoor activities nearby too, like mountain biking and hiking on scenic trails.
Located halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, the charming town of Tonopah not only hosts multiple historic attractions like the Historic Mining Park and Central Nevada Museum, but it’s famous for its dark night skies as one of the best destinations for stargazing in the country. On a clear moonless night, look up to see countless stars and the Milky Way. This is also the home of the famously creepy Clown Motel which has a lobby filled with clowns.
The quirky town of Rachel is home to just 75 residents, but it’s famous among alien chasers. Take a picture of the Extraterrestrial Highway signs along the way, as well as the Earthlings Welcome sign found at the Little A’Le’Inn, a hotel, restaurant, and hub for UFO enthusiasts. Spend a little time at this popular gathering spot and you’re bound to hear a few interesting tales, like the woman who saw mysterious red lights appear in the sky before they transformed into a five-point star and then exploded into thousands of little lights.
Just a short drive east of Lake Tahoe and an hour south of Reno, Genoa is filled with historic charms and natural beauty. While only 250 call it home, you’ll be able to visit historic sites like the Genoa Courthouse Museum as well as the Morman Station Memorial Park and enjoy dining at a number of enticing eateries too. Outdoor adventure abounds nearby with lots of lakes to enjoy, trails to hike and wildlife to watch.
The only incorporated city in Humboldt County, Winnemucca offers a taste of cowboy country in northern Nevada, home to the Buckaroo Hall of Fame and Heritage Museum, highlighting Hall of Famers, primarily related to the Buckaroo lifestyle. That includes old-style bronc riding, horsemanship skills like roping and rawhide braiding. There are magnificent displays with traditional working gear like chaps and saddles, sculptures, paintings, sculptures, drawings, photos and more.
Pioche was once considered a dangerous place, filled with outlaws that ran the town. While residents today are some of the friendliest you’ll encounter, the wild early days of the cowboys and miners still live on through its Old West architecture. Take a stroll to visit interesting sites like the old jail and courthouse, Thompson’s Opera House and a cemetery with unmarked graves of the many who were murdered here during the town’s early days.
Established in 1868, Lovelock may be tiny, just two square miles in size with only 2,400 residents, but it’s famous for romance. At Lovers Lock Plaza couples come to symbolize their love by attaching a padlock to an endless chain. You can also visit an old restored train depot, check out Lovelock Cave and enjoy the outdoors at the Rye Patch State Recreation Area.
The small, peaceful town of Minden sits in the heart of Carson Valley and was founded in 1906 as a stop on the V&T Railway station. Today visitors can enjoy the historic ambiance, and visit the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, the site of the ancestral home of the town’s founding family and a long-time important cattle ranch, in addition to testing their luck in the casinos. Topaz Lake State Park nearby offers boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing, swimming and fishing.
A favorite among many Nevada visitors, Gardnerville is an artsy town with loads of art galleries, antique stores and performances to enjoy at the community art theater. This picturesque town boasts a backdrop of stunning unspoiled wilderness terrain, while a wealth of outdoor adventure awaits in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. In the summer enjoy fishing, swimming, kayaking, biking and hiking, and in the winter, fantastic skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.
The quiet community of Alamo, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas, offers historic charms that make it feel as if you’re entering a town from another time while being close to the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, a bird watchers’ paradise with thousands of migratory birds and waterfowl. There are also petroglyphs, including the legendary Pahranagat Man, and other rock sculptures left from native people who lived in the area thousands of years ago.