Are you looking for a scenic and relaxing drive to take in the incredible natural beauty of Lake Tahoe? If so, consider taking the Lake Loop route from Reno around Lake Tahoe, visiting Carson City and Virginia City. The route is breathtakingly beautiful. You’ll see incredible scenery, take in some history, and enjoy some lovely small towns that are great places to stop and explore.
Another couple joined my husband and me during the first 4 days in Carson City, and then two other couples joined us during our time in North Lake Tahoe. We visited during the month of August. It was warm but not terribly hot. Late spring into early fall would be great times to visit unless you are into snow sports and want to ski.
Most people who travel between Reno and Lake Tahoe tend to stick to the interstate, which is understandable given its convenience. However, taking the scenic Tahoe Loop is worth considering if you’re looking for something different. It is a fun road trip you won’t regret.
Visit Carson City and their partners hosted our four-day visit and activities in Carson City and surrounding areas. All opinions are my own.
Reno is like a mini Las Vegas. There are casinos, and gambling is available everywhere, including the airport. But there is so much more to this town. Reno offers much, from outdoor adventure to art to award-winning restaurants.
The Riverwalk along the Truckee River is beautiful. There are several eateries along the walk with tables overlooking the water, and we enjoyed just walking along the river. You can find boutique shopping and world-class entertainment along the Riverwalk district. Plus, they have a fun award-winning white water park.
One of the most popular and fun monthly events the 50+ traveler might enjoy in Reno is the monthly Wine Walk held every third Saturday of the month throughout the year. The walk is held along the Truckee River and on neighboring streets, and proceeds benefit local charities.
After a day in Reno, head south for a short 25-minute drive to Carson City.
2. Carson City
Carson City was our home base for most of our adventures in the area. It is the capital city with lots to see and do.
Downtown Carson City is walkable, with stops at the Capital Grounds, the Battle Born Memorial, several antique shops and bookstores, museums, and restaurants.
We enjoyed touring the Capital Building and Battle Born Hall inside the Nevada State Capitol Building when we visited. The public is welcome to tour two floors of the capital building, which was built in 1871.
The Nevada State Railroad Museum is full of memorabilia, locomotives, and other equipment that will take you back in time to when the railroad was the king of transportation. You can enjoy a historical train ride experience aboard the Virginia and Truckee Railway from Carson City to Virginia City.
A new railway experience is the Carson Canyon Railbike Tours. We were fortunate to be able to take this fun 2-hour tour.
During our visit, we hit the Kit Carson Trail, a self-guided walking tour with 48 stops, and each was identified with a marker. An audio tour is available to provide information about what you see as you walk through Carson City’s West Side Historic District. The landmarks included churches, museums, and Victorian-style homes that told a story of the town’s rich history.
Carson City also boasts hot springs, water adventures, an up-and-coming food scene, and numerous annual events.
A great place to stay when you are in Carson City, Nevada, is the Staybridge Suites. It is easy to get to and within close driving distance of everything. The rooms are lovely, and the staff is friendly and helpful. We especially enjoyed the free laundry area to wash clothes for the next leg of our trip. The outdoor space and pool were lovely, with lots of room to relax and enjoy the view. We had a two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen and living area. It was perfect for two couples traveling together.
Pro Tip: If walking downtown or taking the Kit Carson Trail or other hikes, be sure to stay hydrated and hike early in the day. The heat later in the day is intense.
3. Virginia City
While Carson City was our home base, we took a day to drive to Virginia City to take in the Old West action there. Virginia City is a 20-minute drive from Carson City on a very curvy and winding road that increases in elevation as you go.
You can ride the Virginia and Truckee Railway up the mountain on days the train is running.
We had planned to ride the train but found out a few days before our visit that the train was not running while we were in town.
Wild horses were out along the road when we left Carson City to drive up the mountain. They are native to the area and often even walk into town.
Spending a day in Virginia City is like being in a place where the hands of time stopped a hundred years ago. Millions of dollars from mining proceeds made Virginia City a boomtown back in the day. Today it is a tourist destination like no other.
Instead of sidewalks, there are boardwalks along the main street of town. Virginia City is home to unique museums, paranormal tours, train and trolley rides, historic churches, mining tours and exhibits, numerous shops, over a dozen eateries, some Old West hotels (no modern hotels with swimming pools and game rooms here), and a Wild West comedy show.
We visited many shops and purchased some old-fashioned candy and other items.
The Virginia & Truckee Railroad offers 35-minute round-trip rides from Virginia City to Gold Hill. The conductor narrates the history of how the town was once the wealthiest city on earth, how the railroad was built, where the mines were located, and more. The conductor had lots of information and obviously loved his job. We loved this ride.
Next time we visit, we want to do the Chollar Mine Tour. It takes you underground into a mine to see how miners in the Gold Rush times extracted the wealth Virginia City is famous for.
After our time in Virginia City, we drove further up the mountain to Geiger Lookout, which provided a scenic view of Reno and the surrounding area. The hotel manager suggested it in Carson City, and the view was worth the few extra miles.
Our 4 days in Carson City went by so fast that we could have easily spent an entire week there. But we were off to meet two other couples joining us in North Lake Tahoe.
We continued taking the scenic Lake Loop route and headed around the south end of Lake Tahoe.
4. South Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe sits on the Nevada and California border in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The water is crystal clear, and the scenery gorgeous and majestic. The largest alpine lake in North America is stunningly beautiful.
South Lake Tahoe is more commercialized than the other areas around the lake. The largest town around the lake, it has the largest variety of shopping and dining options. You will also find casinos, concerts, and festivals in South Lake Tahoe.
Along the lake’s southern end, you will find one of the world’s most beautiful and photographed locations, Emerald Bay. Known for the crystal clear blue waters and huge dramatic cliffs, visitors can park and enjoy picnicking, swimming, and hiking.
Emerald Bay also boasts one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area, Eagle Falls.
Once you hike down to the lake, you can stop at the visitors center and tour Tahoe’s hidden castle, the Vikingsholm Castle. Built in 1929, it is a replica of a Viking-era castle.
5. North Lake Tahoe
We met two other couples and spent the remainder of our time in North Lake Tahoe.
We stayed at the rustic River Ranch Lodge, which was on the banks of the Truckee River. The lodge also has a restaurant and counter service lunch on a huge patio overlooking the river.
There are miles of paved bike trails along the river. Both pedal and electric rental bikes are available.
We spent an afternoon horseback riding with Alpine Meadows Stables. The horses were well-trained and carried us along the rugged paths with ease.
We spent one day at Palisades Tahoe, where the 1960 Olympics were held. It is the largest ski resort in Lake Tahoe and has enjoyable year-round activities. We rode the aerial tram to the top of the mountain and enjoyed the breathtaking views. There is also an Olympic Museum, a skating and hockey rink, restaurants, and hiking.
Tahoe City is a charming town and home to the only outlet for Lake Tahoe. The water is released into the Truckee River. River rafting is a popular activity in the area. Tahoe City boasts numerous dining options, boutique shops, museums, and a beach area.
One of the highlights of our time in North Lake Tahoe was a dinner cruise on the lake.
Pro Tip: The area is also frequently visited by bears, so don’t leave food in your car.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable road trip experience, take the Tahoe Loop from Reno to Lake Tahoe. The drive will take you through some of Nevada’s most picturesque scenery, including Emerald Bay and Carson City. Make a stop in Virginia City to explore its Wild West history, then continue to beautiful Lake Tahoe. No matter what time of year you go, the views are sure to amaze.