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Most people immediately think Las Vegas when envisioning Nevada, and while no list of places to visit in the Silver State would be complete without Sin City, there are plenty of other fabulous spots to check out too.
Lake Tahoe straddles the border of Nevada and California, with both sides offering a wealth of attractions and outdoor adventures. Gaming happens in North Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side, where the casinos of 24-hour entertainment, including slots, table games and live music. During the summer, Incline Village is a great place to be with 55 acres of long sandy beaches, forested areas and rocky coves. The crystal clear waters and interesting rock formations make for outstanding scuba diving and swimming. In the surrounding mountains, there are miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. Of course, winter brings some of the best skiing and snowboarding on the planet.
Virginia City is one of the largest historical districts in the entire country. One of Nevada’s early mining towns, it was the discovery of the Comstock Lode in the late 19th-century that made it a booming metropolis, home to more than 25,000 residents. At its peak, it was a center for arts and culture. While the population has dwindled quite a bit over the years, not much else has changed. Visitors can enjoy strolling authentic boardwalk sidewalks, pop in for a drink at one of the many Oldest West saloons, and even ride a stagecoach or hop aboard a historic train. With 17 museums in town, it’s easy to delve into Virginia City’s fascinating history further. The Mark Twain Museum celebrates one of its most famous residents, Samuel Clemens was working for one of the notable newspapers here when he began using the pen name, Mark Twain.
The Way It Was Museum offers a trip back in time, revealing what day-to-day life was like during Virginia City’s heyday. It features Victorian women’s clothing, rare photographs, mineral collections, a fully-equipped blacksmith shop and more.
Carson City is Nevada’s capital, and it offers plenty for history buffs to see and do. At the heart of the city is the historic landmark Capitol Building with its silver-painted cupola, which is open for public tours. There are also a number of museums that showcase history, like the Nevada State Museum and the Nevada State Railroad Museum, where you can learn about the history of trains. If you want to experience them too, afterward, take a historic ride on the V&T Railway in nearby Virginia City. While Carson City doesn’t have the mega-casinos like you’ll find in Vegas, it does have smaller, friendlier Nevada-style gaming, as well as lots of opportunities for dining, shopping and antiquing.
Great Basin National Park, Baker
Great Basin National Park on the eastern border of Nevada is one of the least-visited and most remote national parks in America. It offers the chance to enjoy hiking scenic trails that wind through ancient pine forests leading to pristine mountain lakes, often without seeing another soul. It’s also home to Lehman Caves, a magnificent marble cave ornately decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, popcorn, flowstone and over 300 rare shield formations which can be visited by taking a guided tour. If you stare at the stars, due to the isolation of the park, the lack of light pollution results in some of the darkest night skies in the continental U.S. Meteors, countless stars and five planets all come into view after the sun goes down.
Ely is a true Old West town that came into existence a century ago after copper mining began in the area back in 1906. Today, it’s still a small town, home to just 4,000, but it offers a heap of activities and attractions. Learn what it was like to live here during Ely’s early days by visiting the Renaissance Village, which includes eight houses, a barn, an art studio and a general store, all furnished with period antiques. Visitors can take a tour and watch historical reenactments too. One of the most popular attractions here is the railroad. There are a number of steam locomotive train rides offered, including special event trains like the Haunted Ghost Train and the Polar Express train which runs around the Christmas holidays.
Grapevine Canyon Petroglyphs, Laughlin
While many come to Laughlin to enjoy laid-back gambling in a more relaxed atmosphere, there’s another reason to visit, the Grapevine Canyon Petroglyphs. Located on Spirit Mountain in the Grapevine Canyon of the Mojave Desert, the area is surprisingly full of life during non-drought years. A freshwater spring flows out of the canyon floor to nourish an array of plants and animals. By walking that trail that meanders along the edge of the Grapevine Wash, you’ll see the first petroglyph panels as you near the canyon mouth. They’re etched onto the boulders and cliff faces on either side. While their age has yet to be determined, they may be as much as 800 years old, or as recent as just 200 years ago.
While Great Basin National Park offers great stargazing, if that’s your goal, you may want to head to Tonopah. This town located 215 miles north of Las Vegas claims to be the No. 1 place for stargazing in the entire country. It even has mapped out roads known as “star trails,” from which over 7,000 of them can be seen in the dark night skies, including the Milky Way if it’s a clear, moonless night. Desert environments like this are generally where the world’s greatest observatories can be found, due to the frequent cloudless skies and dry climate.
If you have a fascination with all things alien, head to the lonely stretch of Nevada State Highway 375, AKA, the “Extraterrestrial Highway.” The scenic roadway passes lots of lakes, verdant valleys, and many free-range cattle are dotted throughout both sides of the road. It will bring you to the quirky town of Rachel, that just happens to be home to many alien enthusiasts. It’s the only town located along the highway and is just outside the gates of Area 51. If you want to stick around, the Little A’Le’Inn offers accommodations in an alien-themed complex that also includes a bar and a gift shop. The local watering hole doubles as a tourist attraction, and by popping in for a drink you’re sure to hear all sorts of interesting stories.
Valley of Fire State Park, Overton
Located just an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is an other-worldly place where fiery red sandstone formations look like fire spewing from the desert sands. It was also once a popular graffiti spot, about 3,000 years ago. The Native American petroglyphs that were left can still be seen today. The impressive features of the landscape were formed over 150 million years ago, through shifting sands, erosion and moving fault lines. By taking one of the hiking trails, you can get a closer look at the “fire,” ancient trees, and the fascinating petroglyphs. Between the striking natural beauty and the tranquil silence, it’s an ideal place to escape when you’re looking to get away from the noise and chaos of Vegas.
Reno is often considered the more affordable alternative to Vegas, and while it may not be as glitzy and glamorous, over the last decade it’s really picked up the pace, pumping in money into nightclubs, casino resorts, restaurants, hotels and gaming areas. It’s also got a slew of high-quality restaurants with menus based on locally sourced foods, lots of outstanding breweries and a number of interesting museums, like the National Automobile Museum which houses one of the largest collections of antique automobiles in the world. It includes horseless carriages, a Cadillac once owned by Elvis Presley, a copper Rolls Royce and the 1912 Rambler that appeared in the blockbuster film, “Titanic.”
Las Vegas is a year-round, 24/7 party. This is a place that really needs no introductions, home to luxury hotels, casino resorts, fabulous shows and wild pool parties. While many people travel here and spend most of their time drinking and gambling, it also offers the chance to enjoy some heart-pounding activities too, like the SkyJump at The Stratosphere Hotel, which is similar to bungee jumping, the world’s highest Ferris wheel known as the High Roller, the Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York, and even the chance to drive a real race car.