Nevada is so much more than Sin City, Reno 911 references, incredible lakes and mountains, and the Grand Canyon. Sure, those highlights already make it a top contender as one of the best USA states to visit, but don’t forget to give Nevada’s small towns some well-deserved attention too.
Nevada is a diverse state both culturally and topographically, as it has more mountain ranges than anywhere else in the United States. And though we often imagine the sizzling heat of Las Vegas, Nevada actually means “snow covered” in Spanish, taking its name from the ice capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
From towns that might make you think you’ve time traveled back to the days of shootouts and outlaws of the wild west to small towns walking distance from natural wonders, Nevada’s small towns are nearly always cling tight to what makes them unique from the rest.
The best way to see Nevada is to stop in many of the small towns on your way to seeing the state’s major touch points. If you’re driving along Highway 50, nicknamed the World’s Loneliest Highway, you’ll want to see some smiling faces.
Lets explore the best small towns to visit in Nevada:
Do you want to be a cowboy? Want to learn to rope and ride? Then head to Alamo, a small town known for its rich history of the cowboy days of the Wild West. It once hosted over 300 different cattle brands in the valley, making it a thief’s hotspot where rustlers and their horses would head to California.
Alamo is also a destination to discover interesting artifacts from Native American heritage, that are often scattered among the terrain.
Alamo makes a great base for the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, a major stop for thousands of migratory birds that head south for the winter each year.
If interested in the extraterrestrial, you’ll also enjoy using Alamo as your home while you search for aliens as the town is very close to Area 51.
Despite its small size, you’ll have a hard time fitting in all there is to do in Ely. Located at the base of the Great Basin National Park, you can explore the Lehman Caves, walk the Island Forest Trail or Bristlecone Pine Trail, the Lexington Arch, summit Wheeler Peak, and more. The entire region is renowned for its prime sky views, so stargazers and astro-photographers can’t miss this stunning area.
There is also fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, and other outdoor activities close by.
Ely, a lively community, has free events all year long no matter the weather. There are often fishing derbies, sheepherders’ galas, runs, food and art festivals, and sculpture competitions. Visitors often rave about the 11-block art walk that weaves through the small town, highlighting paintings and sculptures that tell the tale of the region’s history.
Travel down the Loneliest Highway, Highway 50, and you’ll eventually reach Austin, a small town with friendly faces and an interesting past. Austin was once an old silver mining town that drew prospectors and miners from around the world. Today, the town has community events, hotels, caravan parks, and restaurants for hosting any visitor taking respite from the lonely road. Some favorite stays include the Cozy Mountain Motel and the Pony Canyon Motel. Time your visit with the Prospectors Dream Wine Walk, where you can go back in history with a glass of wine in hand.
You can easily go wandering, biking, hiking, and more in the Toiyabe Mountain Range, a beautiful park with wildflowers, trees, and steep climbs.
Halfway between Reno and Nevada is Tonopah, a small town with so much to do and see.
First, Tonopah is one of the only open turquoise mines in the country where visitors can head off on a tour and keep what they find. It’s not uncommon to go home with a bright blue gem in hand after a day of manual labor.
And if freaky sights are your thing, be sure to stay at the Clown Motel where a Chucky doppleganger bids you goodnight from a portrait on the wall. It’s often cited as being so creepy that it’s interesting. If you’re easily freaked out, don’t bother entering the venue at all as the lobby is filled to the brim with clowns.
Aside from the freaky stay, Tonopah is also near the Table Mountain Wilderness, a region perfect for travelers itching to stretch their legs outdoors.
Rachel, population of a whopping 75 people, appeals to travelers interested in what exists beyond our planet’s atmosphere. Visit the “Earthlings Welcome” sign at the town’s Little A’Le’Inn, a hotel, restaurant, and hub for UFO chasers and those passionate for the paranormal to tell stories that are, bluntly put, out of this world. Due to its proximity to Area 51, Rachel has an eerie vibe that can only be experienced in person. You can pick up all types of alien themed souvenirs and evidence capturing devices.
And when eyes are not peering into the sky for UFOs, people go geocaching, one of the best places to look for modern treasure in the state.
Rachel is also a home base for exploring Mount Irish Wilderness area, a 28,000 acre park with limestone formations and home to bighorn sheep.
Less than 100 miles east from Reno, Lovelock is a small railroad town that was once a favorite stop for settlers making their way to the west coast of the country thanks to its grassy meadows and generous water sources.
The main reason tourists come to Lovelock is to lock their love. Apparently, a Chinese custom that is supposed to bring good fortune to those looking to bind their souls together for life. Here, you can purchase a lock, scribble your names onto it, lock it, and throw away the key. There are green pillars in the city where you can link your lock and enjoy the good luck that comes your way.
Lovelock also has one of just two round courthouses in the United States that was built in the early 1900s and
7. Virginia City
Step back into time in Virginia City, a small town that’s preserved its wild western heritage. It’s the host of Comstock Lode, one of the largest mining camps in the United States and still holds tightly to the old west mining atmosphere.
Here, you can experience tens of historical attractions like riding on the V&T Railroad, going into the old Chollar Mine, walking through town on an old walking tour, and even taking a trolley around the city. You could also easily spend hours in the Virginia City Museum.
Another great reason to visit Virginia City is that it’s often cited as being one of the most haunted towns in America – thanks to its rich history of being a major town of the wild west. Ghosts are often spotted gambling, drinking a few beers too many, cleaning their guns, and engaging in other saloon debauchery.
Panaca is a small town near the Utah border that was initially settled by Mormon pioneers in the mid 1800s. It makes a great base to visit five Nevada state parks like Cathedral Gorge, Kershaw, Ryan, Beaver Dam, Spring Valley, and Echo Canyon. It’s the perfect small town for getting away from any semblance of a big city – and then getting away even further. It’s preserved the old style architecture, with the first general store of Panaca still standing.
Be sure to visit during Pioneer Days, where you can experience life and learn the tips and tricks of American Pioneers. Guests love staying at the Pine Tree Inn and dining on fresh goods at their bakery.
Be careful when visiting Genoa – its proximity to the beautiful Sierra Nevada Range and small town beauty might make you not want to leave. Despite having 250 residents, Genoa is anything but simply sleepy. There are many historical sites to visit like the Mormon Station State Park Museum, the Courthouse Museum, the cemetery, and the Hanging Tree. In between sightseeing, there are hearty meals to be had at any of the town’s restaurants.
In Genoa, you can go wildlife watching (spotting mule deer is very common), and explore the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. There are a variety of tails, lakes, and streams nearby to visit when you crave some fresh air.
Visit during the end of September to experience the Genoa Candy Dance Arts and Crafts fair, where residents sell homemade candy and dance the night away after dinner. This event even attracts artists from all over the state.
Back in its heyday, Pioche had one mean reputation of being filled with outlaws running town. It’s even said that 72 people died in shootouts and crime before one died from a natural cause. Today, Pioche residents are the friendliest you can find, but still, the wild vibe of living during the days of cowboys and colt revolvers lives on. It once hosted a mining camp, which is what lured scoundrels and old time entrepreneurs over in the first place.
Pioche has typical old west architecture and is the perfect town for looking back in time. You can spend the day walking around visiting interesting sites like the Thompson’s Opera House, the St. John Lodge, the jail, the old courthouse, Boot Hill, and the unmarked graves of many of those who were murdered here.
Minden is a small town with so much to offer anyone who stops by. It was founded all because the V&T Railway station stopped near the edge of Minden’s perimeters. The local inn back in the early 1900s was even a popular stop for Hollywood starlets, who loved the unique vibe that the town had going for it.
Today, visitors will love spending the day wandering around the carefully-planned town of Minden and testing their luck at the COD Casino or Carson Valley Inn Casinos, taking a flight with SoaringNV over the plains, visiting the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park that has always been an important cattle ranch, and even go skydiving.
Caliente is another small town with a lively history linked back to the days of the wild west. Today, you can use Caliente as a wonderful base to see the Nevada State Park, where its common to see all types of wildlife and participate in outdoor adventures. It initially was named Calientes because of the plethora of nearby hot springs.
Now, the Union Pacific Train Depot is the main attraction for those visiting this interesting small town – where you can dine and spend the night in one of the building’s fifty rooms. Adjacent to this intriguing inn is an old railway switching yard, now the site for the town’s government offices. Everywhere you look, depending on the time of year, there are roses in bloom. The vibrant flowers coupled with the old architecture make Caliente the perfect muse for artists of all types.
Gardnerville is one of the best small towns in northern Nevada to visit at any time of the year.
Artists and photographers often head to Gardnerville to be inspired, as there are many art galleries and community art theatre performances to be inspired by. There are also a variety of antique stores, restaurants (Sharkey’s Nugget is a favorite), and other fun venues to relax at.
This picturesque town is set to the backdrop of an untouched wilderness. Outdoor and adventure enthusiasts can go gliding along the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, swimming, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, and so much more. There’s even hot air ballooning!
Right in the center of Nevada is Winnemucca, the self-proclaimed “Friendliest Town in Nevada.” There are casinos, ranches, restaurants, and all types of community events that nod back to the good ol’ days, like the Fifties Fever car festival and Shooting the West photography display.
Interestingly, the small town is heavily influenced by the Spanish Basque culture – and there are restaurants, dances, and events that reflect this. Who would’ve thought that the Basque region could influence a small town in one of America’s great states so much?
For the full experience, go to Winnemucca for the Ranch Hand Rodeo Weekend, a festival featuring barrel races, stock horse challenges, pee wee events, and trade shot. Nearly thirty teams compete to win the town’s top prizes.
With no traffic, fresh air, panoramic mountain views, there’s a lot to love about Eureka, a small town in central Nevada with just a hair over 600 residents.
As for community events? There are plenty. Take part in the Eureka County Fair or come during the fiddlers contest for a weekend of action-packed family fun. When not trying your hand at roping or fiddling, check out the Opera House, the Sentinel Museum, and be sure to grab a drink at the local Irish pub.