WHY VISIT NEVADA
Deserted semi-arid plains, extensive deserts, stunning mountain ranges, scenic highways, thrilling ski resorts, and devilish gambling meccas: welcome to Nevada.
Think of this state and most likely it’s the neon lights and notorious debauchery of Las Vegas that comes to mind. The world’s premier gambling hotspot, Las Vegas isn’t nicknamed ‘Sin City’ for nothing. Recklessly gamble away those dollars in one of the many super casinos on the Strip, get married on a whim, or saunter off to a strip club, safe in the knowledge that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Las Vegas isn’t the only city you should visit in Nevada. Another major city to explore is Reno, affectionately known as “the Biggest Little City in the World”. A fascinating metropolis, it has all the gambling attractions of Vegas plus a thrilling whitewater park and quick access to a host of outdoor pursuits amid blockbuster scenery.
The state capital Carson City is an authentic, small-town stopover, boasting interesting museums, unique antique shopping, and an impressive Capitol Building with a silver-painted cupola.
Jump aboard the V&T Railroad in Virginia City for a trip back to the 1800s. And don’t miss the spectacular beauty of nearby Lake Tahoe, an expansive, glistening lake along the border with California. It’s heaven on earth for kayakers, hikers, windsurfers, and swimmers, not to mention skiers, who have more than a dozen ski resorts to choose from in the winter.
If you fancy hitting the highway, go on a 4,800 km (3,000 miles) journey down US Route 50, known as the ‘Loneliest Road in America’, which offers one of the last opportunities to experience the Old West. Head south of Route 50 and you can trace the story of Nevada’s rich gold and silver mining heritage. Head even further south and you’ll witness the dramatic forms and vivid hues of Red Rock Canyon, just a 30-minute drive from the Strip.
WHAT TO SEE IN NEVADA
- Las Vegas: sin City is easily the top draw in Nevada. Party people, A-listers, and gamblers head to the Strip all year long to try their luck in the dozens of casinos and over-the-top themed resorts. But there is a lot more to do in Las Vegas than gambling. The evening entertainment is among the best on the planet, the dining scene lined with celebrity chefs, and the clubbing world-class. If you don’t want to spend wads of cash, Vegas can be done very cheaply as there are many free shows and family attractions and good hotel rates can always be found off-season.
- Lake Tahoe: the main mountain resort area of Nevada is in the northern corner of the state that borders California. Reno is just one base for exploring the natural beauty and outdoor recreation of Lake Tahoe along with smaller towns like Incline Village. This massive alpine lake is a buzz in summer with boating, hiking, and mountain biking. In winter, the slopes fill with snow and the 18 resorts rev to life. Plenty of posh lodges and great dining make Tahoe one of the American West’s most popular snow destinations.
- Virginia City: outside of Las Vegas’s neon lights, the rest of Nevada is pure Wild West. The state has always been a land of cowboys, ranchers, and pioneers. Most of the mining towns up north have a heavy western atmosphere, and many retain their cool Victorian-era look and feel. Virginia City is the best old-time town to explore with a slew of oddball museums like the Bullette Red Light Museum devoted to brothels and a great historic downtown. The city is as quirky as it gets, and a lot of fun to visit for a day or two.
- Great Basin National Park: this beauty of a national park is as pretty as anything in the West, but no one seems to know it’s here, which is fantastic for outdoorsy types who want to hike, camp, rock climb, and summit peaks in near solitude. Great Basin is home to Nevada’s highest point at Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet) with pristine little lakes like Stella and Teresa hugging its base. The hiking is magnificent, and below ground, the Lehman Caves are well worth arranging the two-hour guided tour.
- Reno: Las Vegas’ little brother lives in the northern corner of the state next to Lake Tahoe. Reno is a severely calmer version of Vegas, but still has all the casino resorts and gambling fun found in Sin City. To make up for the absence of high-powered glitz and star-studded entertainment, Reno offers visitors the beauty of its natural surroundings. Lake Tahoe is just minutes away, with outdoor fun for every season. The Truckee River runs right through town, popular with tubers and kayakers. There are also several interesting museums devoted to the wild silver and gold mining era of the 19th century.
- Elko: another great western town in northern Nevada is Elko. Popular with cowboys and outdoor lovers who have discovered the majesty of the Ruby Mountains, Elko makes a great stopover for a few days. The Wild West spirit is on full display in this historic railroad town, especially each January when the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering convenes. The Ruby Mountains, known as the Alps of Nevada, is right on their doorstep offering winter heli-skiing and comprehensive summer recreation both motorized and man-powered.
- Hoover Dam: America’s largest and most impressive dam is located right outside of Las Vegas. It makes a great day trip away from the hustle of the Strip and is much more interesting than you might think. Built in the 1930s, the Hoover Dam was a marvel of engineering and provides all the power that lights up Las Vegas. Visitors can tour the power plant or the entire facility. Another memorable way to see the Hoover Dam is from the air on a 30-minute helicopter ride.
WHEN TO GO TO NEVADA
The best period to visit Nevada is from March to April and September to November.
Nevada has the unpleasant title of America’s driest state. The desert climate is bone dry every season, wreaking havoc on your skin and lungs. It also suffers from extreme swings in temperature between summer to winter. There are a few months in between when the dry sunny weather conspires to create very pleasant conditions, but most of the year Nevada can be a tough place to be which is why most people choose to stay inside the pleasantly air-conditioned casinos that are all too happy to oblige.
Summers are extremely hot and dry. Daytime highs have been known to top 120°F and frequently stay above the 100°F mark from June through September. The sun beats down day after day, but nights are extremely comfortable. The average annual rainfall is just seven inches, the lowest in the US. Most of it hits the northern part of the state around Reno, which also enjoys lower average temperatures than Las Vegas in the south.
Winters are surprisingly cold and dry. The average daytime high in Las Vegas is 57°F in December and January, but at night it dips down into the 30s°F. Most days in winter are pleasant enough to wear a light sweater, but always bring a warm jacket when you head outside after dark.
WHAT TO DO IN NEVADA
Feel the burn
Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need an RV full of psychedelics to be blown away by Burning Man. The level of installation art and multistory puppeteering that creates Black Rock City every August is nothing short of a seven-square-mile museum. Set 100 miles from Reno, the outdoor festival is like living in another dimension for a few days. Every person you pass and art car that rolls by seems like a hallucination. There’s no cell service, no Wi-Fi and, despite staggering levels of organization and infrastructure, it feels a little like a “Mad Max” on edibles. It’s a place where you can be anyone you want for a few days with few repercussions. And, in an environment like this, that person can be sober and absolutely tripped out at the same time.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Nevada.
- Monster Jam World Finals: only America could dream up something like a monster truck derby where modified trucks weigh in at 10,000 pounds and 20 feet high. This is the country’s big annual event each March inside the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. The biggest and baddest machines converge to crush regular cars and anything else they can drive over.
- Reno Jazz Festival: celebrate the coming of spring with a series of jazz concerts sponsored by the University of Nevada at Reno. This popular event in April lures a solid lineup of musicians backed by workshops and other educational events. It’s a festival geared towards the true jazz aficionado, which is why it remains one of Nevada’s main annual events.
- Reno Rodeo: billing itself as the wildest and richest rodeo in the American West, Reno’s annual show is a really big deal. A lineup of top professional riders and rodeo folks head to the Livestock Events Center every June to compete for bragging rights as part of the Pro Rodeo Tour and attend a carnival on the fairgrounds.
- Las Vegas Bikefest: motorcycling culture is huge in Las Vegas, and every September Nevada’s main city hosts a gathering of like-minded folks at the Cashman Center. For four days, 250 vendors set up stalls and woo the thousands of bikers who come down for a long weekend of rides, contests, and merchandise.
- Burning Man: what started 20 years ago as an intimate party in the Black Rock Desert for a group of Nevada friends has evolved into a massive celebration of the weird and the alternative. Around 25,000 people create a city from the ground up in the empty barren desert every August for a week of sharing, partying, music, and ultimately burning a giant effigy of a man at the = end. There’s simply nothing else like Burning Man in the world.
- America’s Party: you would expect nothing less than a full-blown extravaganza for New Years’ Eve in Las Vegas, and Sin City does not disappoint. One of the nation’s hottest sites to ring in the new year closes off Fremont Street in the downtown core for a special ticket-holder party. Even if you don’t pay to enjoy the special events you can always watch the huge fireworks display that cascades down the entire length of the Strip.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH NEVADA
If you don’t plan to leave the Las Vegas Strip then you can easily get around using taxis and local transportation. But exploring other parts of Sin City or the surrounding natural attractions will require a car. This extremely underpopulated remote state simply does not have any other means of getting between cities. Fortunately, this reality is well understood. There are plenty of rental car companies to choose from, both at the airport and downtown. Nearly everyone arrives in Las Vegas, and the car rental firms at the airport keep a deep stock of cars.
Moving around the Strip and Downtown Las Vegas is fairly quick and easy without a set of wheels. You can walk virtually everywhere (depending on how high your heels are), or use the monorail that connects the top casinos. Failing that, it’s never hard to find a taxi along the Vegas Strip.
The only Amtrak service to Nevada is on the California Zephyr line that runs between Chicago and San Francisco. This train stops at Reno’s downtown station, offering a leisurely but scenic way to reach the northern part of the state. From Reno, it’s easy to rent a car and continue your journey around Nevada. Amtrak fares are comparable to domestic flights, though the best deals are often at the main airport in Las Vegas. Seats are comfortable and the California Zephyr line is one of America’s most popular routes.
The most flexible and affordable transportation is available on the Greyhound buses. They converge in Las Vegas, Reno, and a handful of other large towns in Nevada from destinations all over the US. Greyhound buses are very slow and the seats are not particularly comfortable for long journeys.
Within the Las Vegas Strip are several convenient forms of public transportation. The monorail covers a four-mile route that stops at a few places near major casinos and the convention center. CAT buses run 24 hours and are very affordable. They can get a bit crowded on The Strip at peak hours, but the bus is a useful way to get from one end to the other.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON NEVADA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-8 (-7)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN NEVADA
Typical food in Nevada
Souvenirs from Nevada