For a road trip path that offers plenty of entertainment opportunities for the whole family, northern Nevada boasts a great array of destinations all within an hour of each other.
With its vibrant historic cities and rugged landscapes, the Reno-Tahoe territory is ripe with state parks, alpine lakes, Old West towns, Basque dining and overall natural splendor.
My family and I recently split our time between South Lake Tahoe, Genoa, Virginia City and Reno. All four stops have plenty to offer when traveling with kids of all ages, and Lake Tahoe is the perfect starting point for the road trip. As one of the most popular places to visit in Nevada, this all-season destination welcomes millions of visitors every year.
However, there’s tons more to do and see beyond Lake Tahoe. For a driving tour, I suggest visiting Genoa and Virginia City to experience the quaint pleasures of small-town living. With so much variety, it’s no wonder the Reno-Tahoe territory is often called “America’s Adventure Place.”
Spectacular South Lake Tahoe
Getting to South Lake Tahoe from the Los Angeles area takes about seven to eight hours by car. I recommend taking the U.S. Route 395 east of the Sierra Nevada Ridge since it’s one of the most scenic roads in California that offers sweeping views of the Sierras.
One of the first things I always want to do while visiting Lake Tahoe is get on the water. The clear kayak tour we booked through Tahoe Paddle Sports was just the ticket for fully immersing ourselves in the lake’s emerald-green majesty. We got to spend an hour and a half kayaking down the rocky coastline of Sand Harbor State Park all the way to Bonzai Rock. The transparent kayaks allow you to see straight down to the shades of blues and greens merging in and out of each other. It was heaven on earth not only for our family, but also for our friendly tour guide, Marco, whose enthusiasm for Tahoe’s enchanting beauty is contagious.
If you’re traveling with older kids, I suggest renting a four-seater Slingshot (a car-like motorcycle) for the ultimate joyride around Tahoe’s coastline. Rolling Freedom Motorcycles has an awesome selection of Slingshot rentals that will allow the whole family to enjoy Tahoe’s beauty with a dose of speed. We cruised down to Incline Village and were rewarded with amazing sunset views along the way. There are also plenty of hiking trails around the area, and I would recommend Spooner Summit, Van Sickle Bi-State Park or Rabe Meadows Trail.
Captivating Carson Valley
With just a 30-minute drive from Lake Tahoe, you can discover the region between the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Great Basin high desert known as Carson Valley. This area is where you’ll find some of Nevada’s best-hidden gems, including the state’s first settlement, Genoa.
This is a must-stop for any family since it offers an old-fashioned rustic charm and the opportunity to infuse a little bit of education and history into the mix. Step back in time at the oldest “thirst parlor” in Nevada, the Genoa Bar & Saloon, which was built in 1853.
For a relaxing family-friendly activity, I suggest spending an afternoon in Mormon Station State Park. Its sprawling tree-lined lawns make it the perfect place to enjoy a picnic and see a reconstructed version of the town’s original 1851 trading post. Then, you can head to the Mormon Station State Historic Park Museum, which is only $1 for entry and features an interesting showcase of original pioneer-era artifacts.
No visit to Carson Valley is complete without partaking in an authentic Basque-dining experience at JT Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville, Nev. This family-friendly establishment has been serving up delicious cuisine for more than half a century. The menu has stayed roughly the same over the years, and its generous portions are served family-style.
Virginia City and Reno
From Genoa, you can drive 45 minutes following the U.S. Route 395 to historic Virginia City. There are tons of places to entertain little kids on this tourist-tantalizing stop. Home of the Comstock Lode, historical charm reigns supreme at every turn. Our family adored the Old West vibes and all the Victorian buildings that were built during the 19th-century mining boom.
We enjoyed some delicious pizza at Red Dog Saloon and took a hilarious family old-time photo at Silver Sadie’s. If you’re visiting Virginia City, you absolutely must set aside time to do this! Silver Sadie’s has ample amounts of costumes, and the owner, Greg, is kind and patient.
Next, we stopped at Virginia City Jerky Company and bought every kind of beef jerky we could (eight packs in total) to bring back home for a gourmet jerky tasting.
We checked out the Storey County Courthouse and stopped at Bucket of Blood Saloon for a quick refreshment before our 30-minute drive to Reno. I would highly recommend staying at Whitney Peak Hotel in Reno. Kids of all ages will love the hotel’s indoor bouldering park or the world’s tallest outdoor rock-climbing wall along the main strip.
Margot Black is a Los Angeles-based travel writer, mom and founder of Black Ink PR.