There is much more to the state of Nevada than deserts and Vegas. Travelers who venture beyond the bright lights of America’s gambling capital will find a whole other world of charming communities just waiting to be explored, each offering an opportunity to experience a more authentic side of the “Silver State.”
From the lovely Lake Tahoe setting of Incline Village to the impressive desert vistas of Moapa Valley, and from the historical sites of Genoa and the living ghost town that is Austin, these seven most quaint small towns in Nevada are well worth including on your Western United States travel itinerary.
Its location on the shores of Lake Tahoe just a few miles from the state border with California, has ensured Incline Village a place in the hearts of all who visit. Most visitors are here for the town’s popular beaches, including Incline Beach and Sand Harbor Beach, both of which offer great swimming. The surrounding area is also renowned for its hiking trails, including the Flume Trail, which can be accessed from the town and provides spectacular views of the lake and surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains.
Winter in Incline Village is equally enticing, with the Diamond Peak Ski Resort offering a variety of slopes as suitable for beginners as they are experienced skiers. Golfers like it here, too. The Golf Courses at Incline Village, comprising the Championship Course and the Mountain Course, offer challenging play in a stunning alpine setting and are as much fun for professionals as they are for casual golfers.
Its location an hour east of Las Vegas along the I-15 highway makes Moapa Valley an easy, fun day trip destination. This small town serves as a gateway to some of Nevada’s most stunning scenery, including the must-visit Valley of Fire State Park, so named for its stunning red sandstone formations. Spread across 40,000 acres, the park is as popular with hikers as it is with photographers and nature lovers, with an extensive trail network that meanders through ancient petroglyphs and unique geological features, including the Fire Wave and Elephant Rock.
The Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge is another great Nevada sightseeing location and has a sanctuary for the endangered Moapa dace, a rare fish species native to the area, as well as numerous bird species. Another highlight is the Lost City Museum, with its artifacts and ruins of the ancient Ancestral Puebloans who once inhabited the region.
Ely is in eastern Nevada near the state border with Utah (it is marginally closer to Salt Lake City than it is to Vegas). This charming historic town is home to the family-friendly Northern Railway Museum, a well-preserved snapshot of early 20th-century railroading. Visitors can take a step back in time with a scenic ride on a vintage train (go for the steam option if it’s running!) and explore its sizable collection of locomotives, rolling stock, and railroad artifacts.
Ely also celebrates its mining heritage at the Renaissance Village, a collection of historical buildings furnished to reflect a different nationality’s contribution to the community, highlighting the town’s multicultural roots. Prefer the outdoors? Great Basin National Park, located an hour’s drive from Ely, offers activities such as hiking, stargazing, and cave tours, with highlights including the Lehman Caves and the summit of Wheeler Peak, Nevada’s second-highest mountain.
Tonopah, situated halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, has made a name for itself not only for its rich mining history but also as a stargazer’s paradise. Clair Blackburn Memorial Stargazing Park is a big draw and capitalizes on the area’s clear skies, which are free from light pollution and provide an unparalleled opportunity for night sky observation. The town’s mining history is showcased at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park on the original site of the silver discovery that put the town on the map in the early 1900s. Visitors can explore over 100 acres of this historic site, including mine shafts, a miner’s cabin, and the original mining equipment.
Tonopah’s World Famous Clown Motel offers a unique and supposedly haunted lodging experience. Situated next to the Old Tonopah Cemetery and as much a museum as it is a quirky place to stay, the motel’s a magnet for thrill-seekers and ghost hunters and is filled with thousands of clown figurines and memorabilia, adding to its eerie charm.
Genoa rests in the scenic foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is the state’s oldest settlement. An easy drive from Lake Tahoe and Carson City, a focal point here is the Genoa Courthouse Museum. Housed in the original county courthouse built in 1865, this interesting attraction highlights the area’s history, from its Native American roots to its development into a thriving community through artifacts, photographs, and exhibits.
Another must-visit, Mormon Station State Historic Park, features a replica of the original trading post built by Mormon settlers in 1851. The park’s well-manicured grounds are ideal for picnics, and there is a fun interpretive center offering insights into Genoa’s pioneering days.
Austin’s a must-visit for fans of the Old West and cowboy movies. Often described as a “living ghost town,” the town’s location amidst the Nevada desert and the Toiyabe Range only adds to its appeal. Highlights include the quirky Stokes Castle, a three-story tower made of native granite that was constructed in 1897 by a wealthy mine developer. Today, it boasts panoramic views of the Reese River Valley and is a favorite spot for photographers.
The town’s historical core is home to numerous well-preserved 19th-century buildings, including old churches and the Lander County Courthouse. Outdoor adventurers should head to the Toquima Caves for its ancient Native American rock art, while the surrounding mountains and valleys provide ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and exploring the rugged beauty of central Nevada.
Known as “Rose City” for the wild roses that flourish in the area, Caliente is a delightful destination for visitors to explore. Standout attractions include the Caliente Railroad Depot, a restored building featuring mission-style architecture, and Kershaw-Ryan State Park, just a short drive from downtown. Set against the backdrop of rugged canyon walls, the park’s lush greenery offers a stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscape and is a great spot for a picnic, camping, and hiking.
The area’s numerous trails cater to mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders, and offer great views of the Nevada countryside. The nearby Delamar Ghost Town is another fun place to visit in this part of Nevada.
Exploring Nevada’s quaint towns is a fun way to get to know the “Silver State” and its special cultural and natural attractions. From the pretty setting of Incline Village to the historic streets of Genoa, and from the starlit skies of Tonopah to the stunning desert beauty of Moapa Valley, each community contributes a great deal to the state’s unique story. Whether seeking adventure, tranquillity, or a glimpse into the past, these seven quaint small towns in Nevada embody the charm of Nevada’s less-trodden paths.