Under the vibrant Nevada sun, mountains and valleys of mineral temptation spawned forth colorful western communities into existence. This economic energy is best seen today in these 11 underrated towns, each possessing a unique past and presence that forms the greater Nevada society. 19th-century wagon trail rest stops and the rare oasis provided idyllic platforms for these municipalities to spring up, and today those heirlooms still carry on proudly. Therefore, to miss out on these towns is to miss out on the heart of Nevada itself.
Located in Central Nevada, Austin is a speck on the radar at first glance but should not be discounted without first considering its rural charm and fascinating countryside.
Initially settled in 1862 and vitalized during a silver rush, Austin is a testament to the fact that central Nevada was a hotbed of geologic activity. Old Stoke’s Castle is a monument to the eccentric wealth that once occupied the land, a three-story roman tower just on the edge of this resuscitated ghost town.
Hosting a small population, a homely bunch surrounded by scenic hills and valleys, Austin has been kind to those who stuck it out and chose to stay.
With 18,000 residents, Elko has all the amenities needed to keep the citizens happy. On top of that, Elko regularly hosts the National Festival of Cowboy poetry for the like-minded.
Visitors should be ready to test their luck at the many luxurious casinos the town is famous for, and hopefully, it is not a tale of riches to rags. The Northeastern Nevada Museum has collected a trove of vintage firearms and art, not to mention a collection of life-size wildlife dioramas. Several grills and pubs are kept in good condition around the town, which can be a perfect way to end an afternoon at Ruby View Golf Course.
From discovering Western history to outdoor activities, Elko has it all for those seeking it.
Founded in 1851 and hugging the western border of Nevada, Genoa is a Douglas County town with a population hovering around 1,000 inhabitants. However, at less than an hour’s drive from Reno to the north, Genoa possesses the perfect mix of solitude and convenience. The location was historically valuable, operating as a rest stop for pilgrims voyaging across the country.
Today, mule deer inhabit the lush forests around the Mormon state historic park, a common sight to guests. A small hike away will bring trekkers to the edge of Lake Tahoe, which is just one of Genoa’s many hidden joys.
To the north of Las Vegas on the southeastern edge of the state, Caliente is a modest but pristine town of 1,100 residents. At 4,000 feet above sea level, temperatures reach around 95 degrees Farehenhiet in the summer. Winter is when Caliente shines brightest at spots like the Caliente Hot Springs Motel and Spa, where guests enjoy all-natural hot spring soak rooms.
At Dixon Park, the ball game sounds tend to echo throughout the town, and players enjoy stopping at the Knotty Pine Restaurant and Lounge to rejuvenate. The original train depot of 1923 still stands, and county offices and museum exhibits now reside within. With the wildlife-rich Kershaw-Ryan State Park nearby, Caliente offers the perfect expedition away from the city bustle.
Currently the county seat of Pershing County, Lovelock is a quiet town of 2,000 residents in the northeast of Nevada. The area was a common settler crossing in the 1800s, with no less than 250 wagons passing through at all times. Part of the reason, as far as the cattle-herders of 1849 are concerned, is due to the verdant meadows that stand in contrast to the more arid regions of Nevada.
The Marzen House Museum contains information about that early area, alongside vehicles and appliances, and other historical relics. Mining activity, particularly the search for gold in nearby ranges, also brought treasure hunters to the area. The heat of the Nevada sun is balanced by the Humboldt river basin, which still provides lush relief to Lovelock’s townsfolk and wildlife.
At nearly double the population of Lovelock, despite a later founding in 1878, Ely can be found in western Nevada, about 180 miles north of Las Vegas. The Nevada Northern Railway Museum paints a better picture of 20th-century travel, which is leisurely when compared to going by foot or wagon to such a remote destination. Like many hillside settlements, Ely first began as a gold mining boom and continues to this day as a copper operation.
Reasonable temperatures allow for snowfall in the winter and survivable summers. As a tourist town, Ely hosts plenty of state parks and gambling operations, as well as an annual cannonball-style automobile race dubbed the ‘Silver State Classic Challenge.’ These days, travelers may not find gold in Ely, but vivid memories are a worthy alternative.
At only 16 miles from Lake Tahoe with Washoe Lake in between, Virginia City is a true oasis, given Nevada’s desert reputation. The city takes pride in historical buildings and pioneer craftsmanship, with immaculately carved furniture and architectural styles on display around every corner. The allegedly haunted Mackay Mansion, built in 1859, is proud to host such original furnishings and festive holiday decorations. An old saloon museum is placed right next to the Virginia City Escape room.
From ten thousand residents in 1870 to just shy of a thousand today, Virginia City is the classic tale of a mining boom’s rise and fall. However, those former citizens made sure to leave plenty of history and scenery for the future generations of Virginia City to enjoy and marvel at.
Just north of Reno, Sun Valley possesses the ideal balance between suburban comfort and midwestern wild. Plenty of parks and shopping centers exist within an arm’s reach without the hassle of urban crowding. The approximately 15 square miles that the city comprises is called home by 20,000 citizens, with a remarkably younger median age than many other towns in Nevada. The schooling quality of the local districts is rated higher than average, establishing Sun Valley as a prime spot to raise kids.
The average home value is steadily approaching 200 grand, while the median rent is less than a thousand dollars. Both figures are less than their comparative national average. Therefore, with the economic advantages of Reno alongside the public infrastructure, Sun Valley is a top contestant for one of Nevada’s coziest towns to settle in.
As the sixth largest city in Nevada with 60,000 residents, Carson City is proud of what it offers the public in terms of history and comfort. Besides being the state capital, the town hosts several eateries and pubs, such as the Great Basin Brewing Company, which represents 170 years of red-white-and-blue easy-going excellence.
One can imagine how necessary public recreation is, in the form of parks and sporting, for a city that relied on industrial labor during eras of mining and lumbering. However, after a railroad circumvented the area in 1860, Carson City admitted to being “America’s smallest capital.” Travelers will delight to see the fruit of 20th-century revitalization efforts between visits to museums, beaches, and parks. With all that and more, Carson City has earned a second look from those who pass through the great West.
"The Friendliest Town on America's Loneliest Road" is the greeting all voyagers see when they enter the historic town of Eureka. In 1864, a silver discovery beckoned nearly 10,000 'entrepreneurs' to strike their claim, but market conditions quickly shrunk the population, and there are now fewer than 1,000 citizens.
The morning, when the air is cool, is the best time to discover the town before the midday heat sets in. A well-maintained swimming facility is available for those needing refuge from the sun, and the 140-year-old opera house is still poised to provide late-night festivity. The perfect time to visit Eureka is July 4th, during which the fire department puts on a parade and fireworks event, keeping the spirits in Eureka as high as ever.
The stoic shadow of Mount Butler hangs over Tonopah in southwest Nevada, a quiet town of 2,000 people. The story of George Wingfield is still popular today; he was a successful gambler in 1904 who invested in banking and mining in the area and increased his fortune fifteenfold! However, the ore veins' profit dried up, and Wingfield was one of the first to realize that the economic future would favor the gambling industry.
Today, (allegedly) haunted cemeteries and hotels are common stops for lovers of the occult, and many enjoy the monuments and museums that highlight Tonopah's turbulent past. Tonopah might not be the "Queen of Silver" that she once was, but the mountain bikers and wildlife watchers would happily contend that she is still the queen of plenty.
Under the great reputation of towns like Reno and Las Vegas, it is an easy mistake to neglect the humbler glories of Nevada’s western heritage. Each of these towns represents an aspect of Nevada excellence, with countless stories of fortunes found and fortunes lost. Quiet parks sit side by side with ancient mines, giving even the most casual of visitors an exciting lesson into the lives of the industrialists who built America. So, for inspiration or just the taste of a quality brew, all visitors to these parts tend to leave satisfied.