Here’s a comprehensive guide to several exciting things to do in the Carson Valley that need to be on your radar. Tucked between the Nevada desert and the soaring peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the Carson Valley paints a picture of natural splendor that is as captivating as it is serene.
If you’re a wanderlust-stricken soul or a road-weary traveler looking for a new horizon to explore, the Carson Valley is the perfect escape. I was smitten with it in no time. After spending a few days in Virginia City, Reno, Tahoe, and Carson City directly following, I grew more fond of the unique and incredible Carson Valley.
With a list of attractions that read like a travel enthusiast’s bucket list, this destination caters to history buffs, outdoor adventurers, and those simply wanting to relax amid breathtaking vistas.
Direction to Carson Valley and Essential Travel Information
You’ll find the Carson Valley in Douglas County, Nevada, conveniently located just south of the state’s capital, Carson City. To reach this oasis, take a scenic drive south on US RT. 395 from Reno or north from Mammoth Lakes, California. Placed between the metropolitan Reno and the wilds of Yosemite, the Carson Valley is the ultimate crossroads for many travelers.
Whether planning a short stay or a more immersive exploration, the Carson Valley welcomes you with open arms, winning casinos, and endless possibilities. Plan your next trip, and make this slice of heaven along the Sierra Nevada Mountains your ultimate destination.
After all, there are few places where you can sip a whiskey in the morning, play a round of golf in the afternoon, and stargaze at nightfall, all while surrounded by the timeless beauty of the Old West.
Historic Revelations and Pioneering Spirit
Walk in the footsteps of Nevada’s early pioneers at Mormon Station and the Town of Genoa. As the first permanent non-native settlement in Nevada, the town’s historic structures are a testament to the perseverance and spirit of adventure that Carson Valley fosters.
The Mormon Station State Historic Park is lovely and informative; I learned a great deal from reading the storyboards throughout the property.
Sip History at Nevada’s Oldest Bar
Raise a glass at the legendary Genoa Bar & Saloon, the oldest watering hole in the state. A place that has hosted both the famous and the infamous, with walls that could tell tales few have lived to tell. This bar is an iconic stop and a must for anyone tracing the history of the West. I must have had a dozen friends tell me I had to go there, and they were not wrong.
Try the peanut butter whiskey drink; it’s pretty tasty. And don’t forget to find Raquel Welch’s bra and learn the story behind it.
The Allure of Small Towns and Their Stories
Carson Valley isn’t just one location; it’s a tapestry of charming towns telling their tale. Explore Gardnerville, Minden, Genoa, and their quaint Main Streets, which delight shoppers and history enthusiasts.
Walk through time in these towns, where every building has a story to tell. Though I didn’t get to visit them, there are also quite a few dive bars if you find that appealing.
Gastronomic Adventures in Historic Genoa
One of the things to do in the Carson Valley that you surely won’t want to miss is having a memorable meal. Savor the hand-picked dining experience in a hundred-year-old building when you visit the Pink House in Genoa, which has excellent pizzas and salads.
Make sure to reserve your table in advance; this is a highly popular eatery. Weekends offer live musicians on the front porch.
Other places I ate noteworthy food were Woodett’s Diner (the best breakfast!), Minden Meat and Deli (great sandwiches), Schat’s Bakery and Restaurant (high-end sandwiches and pastries), and J.T. Bar & Dining Room (Basque food).
Get in Harmony with Nature
Embark on a soul-soothing hike at River Fork Ranch, a Nature Conservancy gem where the East and West Forks of the Carson River meet. This slice of wilderness allows you to step into the heart of nature with its diverse ecosystems and tranquil landscapes.
Watch for world-class birding opportunities and perhaps even glimpse a majestic bald eagle. If you can, join a docent-led nature walk so you won’t miss a thing.
Pro Tip: Wear mud boots or shoes that can get dirty.
Epic Scenic Drives
Our list of exciting things to do in the Carson Valley wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the scenic drives that envelop you in the valley’s picturesque beauty. Carson Valley’s diverse landscapes promise a drive that’s not just a commute but an adventure.
Whether winding through the mountains or cruising beside the Carson River, each vista is more Instagram-worthy than the last. Be on the lookout for wandering horses; wild horses are plentiful in this fertile valley and can be dangerous near the roads.
Want more horse content? Have you explored the Kentucky Horse Farm in Lexington?
FYI: The Muck Boot Company has excellent waterproof footwear for situations like this and is highly fashionable.
Taste the Spirit of Carson Valley
Discover the craft behind the spirits at Minden Mill Distilling. As you sample their renowned whiskeys, vodkas, and gins, take your taste buds on a journey. For those who wish to dive deeper, the distillery’s tour will enlighten you on the distillation process, local history, and the art of handmaking spirits.
Here, every sip tells a story of the valley. Stay for a craft cocktail after your Minden Mill Distilling tour. It is easily one of the most beautiful distilleries in the country. You’ll be amazed!
Horseback Riding in the Valley
There’s nothing quite like exploring the Carson Valley on horseback, and the region’s equestrian activities ensure riders of all levels can experience the area’s beauty. The Dangberg Home Ranch Historical Park (home) is a celebrated destination for history and horse enthusiasts.
Touring the home and hearing the stories of the lands once owned by Carson Valley’s original settlers is fascinating. The house also has original contents, which help tell the stories of this well-to-do family.
I also saw Dwight Borges’ Family Wagon and Sleigh Rides’ horse-drawn driving team from Gardnerville. If you ever opt for a sleigh or carriage ride in Lake Tahoe, chances are you will see his exquisite and magnificent animals. I got to see them in their natural habitat, and seeing their personalities was a real thrill.
Tee Off Against Stunning Backdrops
Swing your way through the heart of the valley at one of the award-winning golf courses. The scenic views of the surrounding mountains make for an unparalleled golfing experience. Carson Valley Golf Course offers challenging courses that blend seamlessly with the natural landscape.
For more award-winning golf courses, check out Mesquite (pictured below), where I live.
Journey through the Valley’s Cultural Heritage
The Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center in Gardnerville is where the past comes to vibrant life. Experience the rich tapestry of the valley’s history through engaging exhibits, historical artifacts, and interactive displays. This museum provides a comprehensive look at the valley from prehistory to the present day.
There is a basement, too, with room after room of displays guaranteed to spark a dose of nostalgia. The hand-painted murals inside are jaw-dropping!
A second historic site that should not be missed is the Courthouse Museum Genoa. I loved the paintings and priceless Washoe Native American Indian baskets. Both museums are open daily, 11 AM to 3 PM, with a $5 admission fee.
The Art and Science of Gastronomy
Take part in a culinary expedition by signing up for a cooking class at Sierra Chef. This was my most exciting find in the Carson Valley and one they don’t offer in many towns.
Delve into the art of food preparation and the science behind flavors in these engaging workshops in the heart of Genoa’s Main Street. For foodies, this can’t-miss experience bridges the gap between Carson Valley’s agricultural heritage and the art of fine dining. Sign up to learn soups, elegant entertaining, wine pairings, pasta sauces, and more.
You can also shop and take away gourmet food products from the upscale kitchen store that has been serving Genoa’s patrons for five years. Think Italian bakery, deli, gourmet cheese shop, high-end food products, a coffee bar, take & bake meals, and the list goes on and on.
Thanks to Visit Carson Valley for hosting my trip and accommodations. As always, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.
A Home Away from Home at the Carson Valley Inn
Whether you need a respite during a cross-country adventure or a home base for your vacation, the Carson Valley Inn Casino is the perfect place to stay. With a range of accommodations to suit every traveler, this Inn promises comfort, entertainment, and, of course, a little bit of luck at the casino. They also have a popular RV park.
One of my favorite inn features were the dual hot tubs in the pool area. I also appreciated the onsite restaurant and coffee bar.
Year-Round Festivities and Culture
Become part of the local scene by joining one of Carson Valley’s vibrant annual events and festivals. There’s always something exciting on the social calendar, from arts and crafts and the yearly Genoa Candy Dance Faire to hot air balloon races.
These events entertain and offer a unique insight into the cultural tapestry that is Carson Valley.