Nevada

Beyond Vegas: 8 Places That You Need to See in Nevada

On this list, you'll find everything from luxury by the lake to ghost towns and casinos in the state

Nevada is one of the largest states in the union, but also among the least populated. There’s a lot of open space out there. Most of the action is in Las Vegas and Reno, and despite the perception of the two being sister cities, they’re about 500 miles apart with no interstate to make the drive between them any easier.

Nevada’s desolate nature was apparent to me when I first made the seven-hour drive between Vegas and Reno about eight years ago. Nothing but endless stretches of highway with few small towns to break up the monotony—and little of the natural beauty that helps define other more scenic parts of the state. Even the gas stations were few and far between. Those hours behind the wheel made me appreciate not only Nevada’s big cities, but also other compelling destinations within the Silver State that are generally tucked out of the way.

Since then, I’ve made a point to see and experience as much of Nevada as possible. The most engaging destinations cover a lot of ground, but share a common sense of excitement and adventure underneath the desert sun. Check them out:

Incline Village: Luxury Among the Pines in Lake Tahoe

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Any corner of Lake Tahoe is beautiful, but there’s something especially enticing about Incline Village. Located on the northeast corner of the lake behind Crystal Bay, locals often joke that it’s really “Income Village” due to its pricey real estate and reputation as a tax haven for wealthy Californians. Yet despite its affluent image, the destination manages to mix waterside luxury with small town charm and a hunger for exploring the outdoors. You’ll love the hotels, spas and dining, but the boating and kayaking on the lake are what really draws return visitors.

The sandy beaches and miles of pine trees contrast sharply with the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Skiing is a big part of the culture with Diamond Peak and Mt. Rose the two closest resorts for hitting the slopes. As for hiking, the high-level Tahoe Rim Trail goes deep into the wilderness around the lake, while the Tahoe East Shore Trail is suitable for all experience levels along the coast of the bay. The Lone Eagle Grille is a beachside fine-dining restaurant that’s popular with both tourists and locals. The wine list is deep, but beer lovers will likely prefer the taps at Alibi Ale Works or Brewforia.

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Virginia City: A Trip Back in Time in Northern Nevada

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Virginia City is a historic mining town preserved in the architecture and culture of the mid 1800s. No chain restaurants or neon lights to see here. Located in Northern Nevada, just south of Reno, Virginia City is popular for ghost tours, mining tours and getting lost in history at one of 12 different museums, including Mackay Mansion and the Piper Opera House.

Keep in mind—Virginia City isn’t an amusement park or historical recreation. It’s the real deal. A place where history is preserved, rather than imitated. Plus there’s just something about the creak of the wood when walking down the boardwalk that adds to the authenticity.

The 20-minute trolley tours are the quickest way to get familiar with Virginia City. For something more dramatic, hop on board a vintage train on the Virginia & Truckee railroad line. Routes include quick, scenic trips to Gold Hill and longer excursions to and from Nevada’s capital, Carson City. Back in the day, Virginia City had more than 100 saloons. Now there are about 15. Bucket of Blood and Red Dog are popular with tourists, while Silver Dollar is a more understated locals hangout.

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Laughlin: Rolling the Dice by the River

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Tucked in the tight, southeast tip of Nevada, Laughlin hasn’t changed much over the past few decades, which is just fine with return visitors who find comfort in familiar, friendly service. With its share of hotels, casinos, and concert venues, Laughlin is often viewed as a smaller, less expensive alternative to Las Vegas about 100 miles north. However, the town’s identity is also shaped by the Colorado River, which separates Nevada from Arizona.

When not playing a round of slots or blackjack, visitors love to take dinner cruises, ride jet skis, or stroll the Riverwalk between casinos. Water taxis are also an easy and inexpensive way to get around. Most of the hotels in Laughlin are a good value with free parking and low resort fees. Regardless of where you stay, the town is a great base for outdoor excursions like exploring the petroglyphs of Grapevine Canyon or taking a trip to Oatman, an old Arizona ghost town where burros famously wander the streets.

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Ely: A Remote, Easygoing Mountain Lifestyle

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The mountain mining town of Ely is small, but rich in history. Located in Northwest Nevada, it was long known as a stopover town on Route 50, famously dubbed the “loneliest road in America.” However, Ely is growing into a destination in its own right with some of the best fishing and hunting in the state. The community is best known for the Hotel Nevada, a property that was once the tallest building in the state and saw its share of movie stars booking discreet vacations away from the public eye. It’s still a cool hangout but these days, the best hotel in Ely is the Prospector.

The dark skies are free of major light pollution and ideal for stargazing. The effect is especially dramatic when camping in nearby Great Basin National Park, one of the most quiet and least-visited national parks in the country. Anyone with a hunger for the outdoors will also make a point to tour caves, explore mines, and pull garnets (or clumps of minerals) from rock formations. Don’t leave town without riding a vintage coal-fired steam locomotive at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.

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Lake Las Vegas: A Waterside Retreat Beyond the Strip

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Lake Las Vegas is one of the quickest and easiest ways to escape from the chaos and bright lights of the hotels in the Strip. The relatively new community, built around a 320-acre artificial lake in a remote area of Henderson, struggled during the 2008 recession, but is slowly making a comeback with recent home developments and a few reliable hotels still in place.

The Village is a small collection of shops and restaurants with a grassy hill for enjoying waterside concerts and food festivals. Hop in the water for paddle boarding or take in an evening yacht cruise on board La Contessa. Swimmers of all ages will love bouncing around the Water Sports Aqua Park, which is like an inflatable obstacle course. If you prefer to stay out of the water, play a game at the Reflection Bay Golf Club, where you’ll discover a sprawling yet scenic golf course personally designed by Jack Nicklaus.

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Reno: An Evolution in Casino Culture

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As Northern Nevada’s largest city, Reno has traditionally been a big draw for visitors from right across the border in California, but for the most part, the casinos aren’t as glamorous and clean as their counterparts in Las Vegas. A major exception is the Grand Sierra Resort, which has gone through so many renovations, it almost feels brand new.

The Freight House District is fast becoming known for its bar and beer scene. To the immediate west is Downtown, home to historic casinos and the iconic Reno arch that straddles Virginia Street. It’s just steps from the Riverwalk, which provides an up-close look at the parks and shops by the Truckee River. Yet the most excitement is in the emerging Midtown neighborhood, where street art, restaurants, and cocktail bars are drawing younger demographics.

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Boulder City: A Unique Energy Near the Hoover Dam

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Boulder City is just southeast of Las Vegas, but doesn’t quite share Sin City’s “anything goes” mentality. The community is quiet and residential with older neighborhoods and lush, comfortable parks. Gambling isn’t allowed—a rare distinction in Nevada—although there are plenty of slots just outside city limits at the Hoover Dam Lodge and Railroad Pass casino. Otherwise, stick to the historic district in the center of town for hangouts like the wine bar at Milo’s Inn and The Dillinger, a speakeasy designed from an old bank vault.

Yet Boulder City is really meant for those eager to spend time outdoors, whether kayaking at Lake Mead, hiking canyons, touring mines, or spotting bighorn sheep at Hemenway Park. Thrill seekers will love the Bootleg Canyon zip-line complex while history buffs will enjoy the Southern Nevada Train Museum and self-peddled Rail Explorers railroad tour. Of course, no trip is complete without visiting the Hoover Dam itself, an imposing 726-foot-tall structure that holds back the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona.

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Amargosa Valley: Get Lost in the Desert Near Area 51

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If you need to get away from the rest of the world for a while, book a stay at the Longstreet Inn—an unexpected sight on a lonely highway about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The boutique resort is full of surprises, including a backyard lagoon, sparkling swimming pool, and petting zoo. You can even get married at an outdoor chapel. The Old West decor, which includes vintage mining equipment and statues, adds an eclectic touch while making the lobby and casino feel like a cowboy saloon.

Despite its remote location, the Longstreet Inn is actually surrounded by a wide variety of activities. Head west and explore the deep elevation and colorful rock formations of Death Valley National Park. Drive north and you’ll reach the ruins of Rhyolite, an abandoned ghost town near Beatty. Otherwise, you can rent a buggy to explore the Amargosa sand dunes, check out the natural wonders of the National Wildlife Refuge, and revel in the unique sense of mystery surrounding Area 51. The secretive government test and research site is off limits to visitors, but you can pay a visit to the Alien Research Center or have a burger at the Little A’Le’Inn.

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Cover picture by Sydney Martinez / Travel Nevada.