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When Nevada Tourism offered me the chance to visit several cities near Reno, I jumped at the opportunity. Other than Las Vegas, I was unfamiliar with the state and looked forward to visiting Western Nevada for several days. Each of these cities is in close proximity to Reno yet has diverse topography and cultures -- the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe, desert plains, mining areas, rivers, hiking trails, and a waterfall -- making for a delightful tour of the area.

Fall colors at Sparks Marina Park.

1. Sparks

Only a 12-minute drive from Reno, Sparks is a suburban community where you can get away from the city and enjoy the outdoors.

Head to Sparks Marina Park to relax on the beaches or spend the day boating on the water.

Train enthusiasts will enjoy touring the Sparks Heritage Museum with outdoor exhibits of a steam locomotive, a caboose, and a Pullman business car. Step inside to learn about Nevada history and the journey from ranching to mining and the introduction of the railroad.

Sparks’s Seven Troughs Distilling leverages mid-19th-century processes to produce all their spirits, including using a direct fired pot still and open fermenting in wooden hogsheads. The owner, Tom Adams, told me, “Our bourbon is enormous and has a myriad of flavors and textures. That’s what you get from following old-style methods. Wonder what cowboys were drinking in the 1850s? Come and find out.”

Sunset over North Lake Tahoe.

2. North Lake Tahoe

Take a spectacular drive to North Lake Tahoe, about a 45-minute drive with increasing altitude and a winding but breathtaking ride as you start to glimpse the lake. Luckily, there are allocated spots where you can pull over and get a photo of the lake from above. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,645 feet. The area is known for skiing and lake adventures. North Tahoe has a reputation of being more laid back than South Tahoe, so prepare for a relaxing visit.

I only got a taste of the charm the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa, and Casino has to offer as my visit was short, but I enjoyed a luxurious facial treatment at the Stillwater Spa and Salon that helped me refresh after a long travel day and left my skin glowing for the duration of the trip, plus a three-hour sunset dinner at the lakeside Lone Eagle Grill.

The Hyatt Regency is unlike any Hyatt I’ve experienced; there’s a ski lodge vibe with wood beams and high ceilings in the lobby. In addition to the spa and casino, you’ll enjoy North Lake Tahoe’s hiking trails. Hyatt even offers lakeside cottages for those wanting an even more intimate space.

Kayaking tour of South Lake Tahoe.

3. South Lake Tahoe

If you want a combination of outdoor activities and more nightlife and gambling opportunities, head to South Lake Tahoe, about an hour drive from Reno. You can choose to stay at one of the major casinos: Hard Rock Hotel, Harrah’s, and Harvey’s, to name a few. Or you can check in at the Edgewood Tahoe, still a newcomer since it opened in 2017. This property has consistently won awards including Hotel of the Year and World’s Best from Travel + Leisure. In addition to the lakefront views, you’ll find a spa, golf course, three restaurants, and outdoor gear shops.

While in South Lake Tahoe, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of my best memories from the trip. Geoff Miller with Clearly Tahoe took me on a two-hour kayaking tour. The temperature outside was only 40 degrees that day, but the sun was vibrant and I was comfortable in a long-sleeved shirt and hat. Lake Tahoe’s clear waters, which you can supposedly see to depths of 60 feet, were perfect in one of Clearly Tahoe’s transparent kayaks. Prepare to be amazed by the rocks and wildlife beneath you as you paddle the tremendous lake.

Two deer in Genoa, Nevada.

4. Genoa

Carson Valley, not to be confused with Carson City (the capital of Nevada), consists of four cities. One of them, Genoa, is about a 50-minute drive from Reno. Genoa is an unincorporated town located at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range. The historic charm of this small town draws tourists to its quiet beauty and history.

Genoa is home to the Mormon Stations Memorial Park, which commemorates the 1851 settlement. It’s a quaint area with local shops, the Genoa Courthouse Museum, the Genoa Cemetery, and the Hanging Tree. It is the state’s oldest town and home to the state’s oldest continually operating “Thirst Parlor,” which has been there since 1863. Deer sightings are frequent and I saw two does and later a buck crossing the main street.

Step into the healing hot springs at 1862 David Walley’s Resort. It was 27 degrees the day I visited, and the brisk walk to the water was chilly but made the experience all the more pleasurable once I slipped into the warm waters.

Heritage Park in Gardenerville, Nevada.

5. Minden And Gardnerville

Also located in Carson Valley, about a 50-minute drive from Reno, are the sister cities of Minden and Gardnerville. Tucked in the valley of the Sierra Nevada mountains, you’ll pass by grazing cows on the drive there and see how grass-fed beef really lives.

Set inside historic stone buildings that once produced flour, milk, and buttermilk, Bently Distillery creates spirits using only grains they’ve grown themselves. On the nearby Bently Ranch, they grow sustainable crops, raise grass-fed beef, and compost in what they call the tradition of the Old West. Their beef is legendary, and I got the chance to sample some in an enormous French dip sandwich at a restaurant called Gather in Carson City.

If you’re interested in Basque culture, visit JT’s Basque Bar and Dining Room for a unique dining experience.

Kings Canyon Waterfall in Carson City.

6. Carson City

About a 34-minute drive from Reno takes you to Carson City, the capital of Nevada.

There’s a gorgeous hike nearby that takes you to Kings Canyon Waterfall. It’s easy to reach, albeit a slight climb in altitude to view the 25-foot falls. You can hike the .3 miles to the waterfall, or there are 1- and 4-mile loops if you’d like to explore further. The city’s drinking water originates from this spring and the views from above are worth the short hike.

The Nevada railroad has deep-rooted history in the area, and the Nevada State Railroad Museum is in Carson City. You can also consider a Capitol Building Tour. The building, constructed of native sandstone, is the oldest capitol building west of the Mississippi River.

Downtown Virginia City in Nevada.

7. Virginia City

Step back in time in Virginia City, about a 40-minute drive from Reno. The drive there is breathtaking as you make the steep incline past abandoned mines. The area is steeped in mining history, plus a tale or two about Mark Twain’s time as he lived there and there are numerous stories about where he could be found drinking. The Victorian buildings in Virginia City were built during a 19th-century mining boom. Once home to more than 25,000 residents, there are currently about 800 Virginia City residents.

Walk along the wooden boardwalk sidewalks, shop at the touristy Wild West and gem shops, or stop into one of the taverns for a cocktail.

While you’re there, take a ride on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, a scenic railroad built in 1974.

The Silverland Inn and Suites offers traditional rooms, but I stayed in one of their apartments. With a faux fireplace, a full kitchen, and a view from the living room and bedroom of Six Mile Canyon, it was memorable indeed, especially during sunrise the next morning.

View from the Amtrak in Virginia City.

Tips For Getting Around

Fly or drive into Reno, or opt for Amtrak as Reno has a depot along the California Zephyr route. From Reno, it’s easiest if you have a car to make day trips; however, if you’re visiting Lake Tahoe there are a few shuttle options. Once there, you’ll find shuttles around the lake, making it easy to get around Lake Tahoe without a vehicle. Many of the cities are close enough to take an Uber, and all are within an hour drive from Reno.

More On Reno

Reno, affectionately called the Biggest Little City, has an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, making it the ideal destination for both winter and summer outdoor activities. Gambling enthusiasts will appreciate the city’s abundance of penny slots.

With the revitalization of its Midtown District, you’re not confined to casinos and shows. The area now boasts trendy restaurants, boutique stores, art galleries, and a burgeoning craft distilling and craft brewing scene.

While in Reno, I stayed at the Grand Sierra Resort, which was a playground in and of itself. With 80,000 square feet of gambling, several restaurants and coffee shops, plus live shows and entertainment, you wouldn’t ever need to leave the hotel. But you should venture out to see the revitalized midtown area.

Before you leave Reno, visit The Depot, located inside an old train station, to sample their house-made spirits, then stay for dinner. I tried their smoked trout grilled cheese and the red pepper soup, which felt like a grown-up version of a grilled cheese and tomato soup and paired perfectly with an Old Fashioned made with The Depot’s Biggest Little Bourbon.

Want to eat well during your day trip to Lake Tahoe? Read up on eating local in Lake Tahoe: the best restaurants to try.

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