Lincoln Highway passing through Ely, Nevada. Image credit trekandphoto via

6 Most Idyllic Small Towns in Nevada

As anyone who has traveled to Nevada extensively will tell you, there’s far more to “The Silver State” than casinos and sand. Nevada is also home to some of the most interesting small towns in the United States, each boasting unique attractions and distinct personalities that contrast dramatically to the state's large urban centers like Las Vegas and Reno.

Those who do spend time exploring smaller communities like Gardnerville, popular as a jumping-off point for exploration of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, or the equally fun places to visit in Nevada like Ely, Rachel, and Genoa, are in for a treat. Find out more with this practical list of six most idyllic small towns in Nevada that are just waiting to be discovered.


Genoa Courthouse Museum in downtown Genoa, Nevada
Genoa Courthouse Museum in downtown Genoa, Nevada. By Brent Cooper - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1851 and Nevada's oldest settlement, Genoa is a must-visit destination. Akin to a scenic postcard come to life, this idyllic small town is popular for its scenic setting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just a short drive east of Lake Tahoe. The attractive downtown area is the place to begin exploring and is home to the Genoa Courthouse Museum, housed in the original Douglas County Courthouse built in 1865. Highlights include displays relating to the area's history, including Native American artifacts, pioneer life, and the development of Genoa.

Genoa also boasts the oldest drinking establishment in Nevada, the Genoa Bar and Saloon. Dating back to the 1850s, it's a must-visit for those wanting to experience a piece of authentic Old West history with original fixtures and memorabilia. Another significant landmark is Mormon Station State Historic Park, home to a replica of the original 1851 trading post and fort that put Genoa on the map. The park includes a museum and a well-maintained park area and is perfect for picnics and leisurely walks.


Route 50 and Main St. in Ely, Nevada.
Route 50 and Main St. in Ely, Nevada. Image credit Sandra Foyt via Shutterstock.

Situated in the northern Nevada region, Ely is home to several first-rate attractions. Topping the list for train buffs is the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, a fascinating collection of historic engines and rolling stock that also offers the unique experience of riding a century-old steam locomotive through the scenic Nevada countryside. Another attraction worth visiting is the Renaissance Village, a collection of restored historical buildings that present a glimpse into the lives of early Ely residents.

Notable among them are a blacksmith shop and a schoolhouse, as well as several interesting murals including one depicting the famous Pony Express. The town's proximity to Great Basin National Park is another highlight. This 77,000 acre park is home to the Lehman Caves, a marvel of underground limestone and marble caverns that can be explored via fun guided tours. The park also boasts Wheeler Peak, the second-highest peak in Nevada with challenging hiking trails and spectacular views.


Little A'Le' Inn hotel in Rachel, Nevada
Little A'Le' Inn hotel in Rachel, Nevada. Editorial credit: Nick Fox /

A two-hour drive due north of Las Vegas will plunk visitors in the middle of the tiny community of Rachel. But don’t be misled by its size (only 75 people call it home). Tiny Rachel is known as the UFO Capital of the World for its proximity to the mysterious Area 51. While this secretive military base itself is off-limits, the surrounding area has become a hotspot for those hoping to catch a glimpse of something otherworldly.

Situated along what’s been named the Extraterrestrial Highway (Nevada State Route 375), must-visits here include the town's famous Little A’Le’Inn, an alien-themed inn and restaurant that has become a hub for UFO enthusiasts. Dubbed by its owners as “Earth’s best landing location,” a visit here is a hoot for its displays of articles and photographs of UFO sightings and other extraterrestrial phenomena. And yes, there’s a gift shop. Visitors can also explore nearby natural attractions such as the Mount Irish Wilderness area and partake in outdoor activities like hiking and geocaching.


Downtown Gardnerville, Nevada
Downtown Gardnerville, Nevada. Image credit: Jasperdo via

Gardnerville is a picturesque small town located 16 miles south of Carson City close to the state border with California and just a 30-minute scenic drive from Lake Tahoe. In addition to being a popular spot for those wanting to explore the Sierra Nevada Mountains, its position on the eastern shore of the East Fork Carson River certainly adds to its idyllic setting.

Townsfolk are justifiably proud of their community, with attractions like the Carson Valley Museum extending a warm welcome to visitors. In addition to its displays of artifacts and exhibits relating to the history of the town and the surrounding county (including its Native American heritage), this former high school serves as a visitor center and community hub. Other notable things to do in Gardnerville include picnicking in Lampe Park or having a flutter at Wa She Shu Casino.


Winnemucca, Nevada: Retro neon sign for The Griddle restaurant in the downtown area.
Winnemucca, Nevada: Retro neon sign for The Griddle restaurant in the downtown area. Image credit melissamn via

Its location on the I-80 highway connecting Salt Lake City with Sacramento makes Winnemucca an ideal place for a road trip stop-over. In addition to wandering its attractive old downtown area (all the more idyllic thanks to its backdrop of the nearby Winnemucca and Sonoma mountain peaks), check out the fascinating Buckaroo Hall of Fame and Heritage Museum. A must-visit for those interested in the Wild West, this fun museum celebrates the cowboy tradition with exhibits on bronco riding, roping, and other rodeo skills, along with fascinating displays of traditional working gear like chaps and saddles, as well as sculptures, paintings, and photographs that capture the essence of the cowboy spirit.

Winnemucca is also known for outdoor recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, and exploring the natural beauty of the nearby Humboldt River.


Downtown Caliente, Nevada
Downtown Caliente, Nevada. Image credit travelview via Shutterstock

Located near the state borders of Utah and Arizona and only a two-hour drive northwest of Vegas, Caliente has been a popular Nevada getaway destination for years thanks to its hot springs (as its Spanish name suggests). Other great excuses for a visit include the historic Caliente Railroad Depot. Built in 1923, this beautiful building now houses an art gallery and the offices of City Hall.

Enjoy the great outdoors? If so, Caliente is an ideal base for exploring nearby Kershaw-Ryan State Park which boasts activities such as camping, swimming, and boating. The town's location in the heart of the Nevada desert region means that visitors can enjoy activities like hiking and mountain biking under the vast, open skies Nevada is so famous for.

The Final Word

For those adventurous enough to venture a little further afield than the usual Nevada tourist spots of Las Vegas and Reno, The Silver State has no end of other wonderful places to visit. In fact, some of the most interesting small towns in the Western region of the USA are to be found in Nevada. From Genoa to Rachel, Ely to Gardnerville, and Winnemucca to Caliente, these six most idyllic small towns in Nevada are well worth exploring.

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