Alternative Nevada - BookitList

Alternative Nevada

Breaking away from the usual tourist hot spots.

Reno is a small city tucked away in Nevada. It has all the glitz, glamour, bright lights, hotels, resorts, and casinos as neighbouring Las Vegas, but on a much more manageable scale. I didn’t need a chauffeur driven Mercedes or Uber. Reno was small enough to explore on foot. Perhaps that’s where it gets its name from: ‘The Biggest Little City in the World.’

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Reno Nevada River Rafting

After breakfast, I was in pursuit of adventure that didn’t involve gambling and alcohol and decided to rent an inflatable kayak (which I was not responsible for filling with air), from Truckee River Rafting. Fortunately for me my booking included a life-saving guide. He came in especially useful as the two of us tackled the 5.5 miles river from Mayberry Park back to downtown Reno, through scenic meadows, mountains and boulders that seemed to appear from nowhere.

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Scary Times!

There I was rowing and attempting to look like a professional kayaker and all-round fit man in front of the female filled inflatable kayak behind us when we crashed straight into a boulder. I was thrown straight into the water and swept downstream, crashing into more boulders with my pride in tatters. Due to the great training provided earlier I eventually managed to grab hold of an overhanging tree branch and waited it out until the kayak and my guide could get close enough for me to get back on board.

My original plan was to head back to Reno, but after chatting with my guide all morning I decided it was time to explore a little bit further and hired myself a car.

Stepping back in time

I first stopped in a town called Genoa just 45 minutes south of Reno. Founded in 1851, it’s the first settlement in Nevada, I took a tour of the town with a guide and learned about its history and ghosts' stories.

After a great turkey sandwich and beer at The Pink House gourmet cheese and charcuterie shop, I headed to The Genoa Bar, Nevada’s Oldest Thirst Parlor for a beer. The bar has kept its historic charm and was full of motorcyclists on their way to Lake Tahoe, tourists, hikers, and nature lovers heading to Carson Valley. I left with many tips on places to see and continued on to Carson Valley.

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Carson Valley

Carson Valley is surrounded by the Sierra Nevada range, the Great Basin, the West Coast, and the Wild West. The bartender back at The Genoa Bar said it was the ideal destination to take a walk, so I threw on my hiking boots and wandered along the valley while staring in awe at the 10,000 feet (about twice the elevation of Denver, Colorado) peaked mountains. In three hours, the only people I encountered were two female rangers on horseback.

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Lake Tahoe

I knew that my next destination Lake Tahoe was hidden in these mountains, but from where I was standing it didn’t seem possible. Could these mountains really hide a lake 22 miles long? I was about to find out.

Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is partly in California and partly in Nevada. It’s popular in both summer and winter with either beach lovers or skiers.

I fell in love with the overwhelming beauty of Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America surrounded by snow-capped mountains. My preconception of Nevada being a desert plain was blown straight out of the water.

And speaking of water, undeterred by my previous white water rafting incident I agreed to go kayaking on the north shore of the lake with a bunch of excited college students on summer break, with the Tahoe Adventure Company.

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It was such a terrific way to discover the beauty of the lake, exercise, enjoy the peace, reconnect with nature, and most importantly not fall in. I was very keen not to go overboard after our guide told us that a recent estimate suggested that around 200 bodies lay at the bottom of Lake Tahoe, all preserved because of the cold temperatures. Nobody told me that Nevada was cold! Occasionally, an intact body floats to the top. I had no intention of becoming number 201. Back in 2020 the body of a diver was identified from 17 years before.

After our tour of the lake, we had lunch on the beach, hit bars in both California and Nevada (across the street from each other) and camped under the stars for the night.

Sampling the Wild West

The following morning, I said goodbye to my new friends, as I wanted to explore the former mining town of Virginia City, dating back to the 1860s, before heading back to Reno for the night.

I started with a ride on the scenic V&T railroad, on a whirlwind tour of the city, a useful introduction to gain my bearings before I decided to explore on foot.

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Virginia City

Author Mark Twain used to live in Virginia City, and little has changed since then. I walked into someone's kitchen (the door was opened) and was taken around their house. Everything is as it was, and even the residents dress in fashions from the 1860s.

My favorite watering hole was the historic Bucket of Blood Saloon, where a fight once ensued after a poker game. It was so intense that the people that ran the bar spent the next day emptying buckets of blood out onto the street. It’s much calmer these days, but like everywhere else in Virginia City, and indeed Nevada, it has a story to tell.


UK-based travel journalist and writer, specializing in the great outdoors and sustainable tourism.

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