Are you looking to extend your trip along Hwy 395? If so, we have the perfect place – Carson City, Nevada. Continuing on with the cute Americana theme of Hwy 395, Carson City is a bit bigger than the other towns along this beautiful route, but offers a whole lot more. Read on for our list of great things to do in Carson City for a weekend or extended trip to the area.
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Top 10 Magical Things to Do in Carson City Nevada
This fall I had the opportunity to visit Carson City as an extension of our road trip along Highway 395 in California and along the Eastern Sierras. This is a favorite fall trip of mine to see the leaves changing colors around Bishop, to soak in hot springs as the weather turns colder and after the first snow fall to ski in Mammoth or June Lake. We had never driven further along 395 than to Bodie Ghost Town, so we were excited to see what lay ahead as we crossed the border into Nevada. What we found was a perfect holiday escape with plenty of nature, small town vibes, history and unique fun.
Go Waterfall Chasing
One of the things we loved most about visiting Carson City Nevada was the abundance of outdoor adventures. One of the top things to do in Carson City has to be visiting local waterfalls. The favorite of the area is King Canyon Waterfall. This is a short walk uphill to a small beautiful waterfall. In the summer, get ready for some water play. In winter, prepare yourself for a winter wonderland scene with beautiful icicles and snowy scenes.
For those that need a bit more of a workout, on your way back down, you can veer off on the Upper Canyon Trail that wraps up the mountain and around the back of the waterfall. It’s beautiful and scenic. During our visit some of the trail was a bit snowy on the side of the mountain away from the sun, but it was still fine to walk through. Use your best judgement on your level of comfort and safety! Regardless of which season you visit, this short nature escape is perfect when you need a little green in your day!
I’m from the South so when I see BBQ I have to try it. In Carson City there is no better place to sample delicious BBQ than Red’s Old 365 Grill. This classic Hwy 395 restaurant serves up everything from BBQ to pizza and burgers, offering something for everyone. However, I highly recommend checking out the BBQ with cornbread and sweet beans. I won’t lie, I ate here several times during our short visit. It is *that* good. Save room for dessert if you can – they are just as good as the main dishes!
For those wanting to socially distance, arrive outside of mealtimes or opt for outdoor seating on the patio with the fire pits. If you do opt to eat inside, the restaurant has put up barriers between the booths and make sure to space guests around to avoid too many people in one area.
Soak in Hot Springs
I cannot be in the vicinity of hot springs without giving it a go. We love the natural hot springs near Mammoth along Hwy 395, so I was excited to check out the Carson City Hot Springs while in town. The hot springs consist of piped in super hot spring water into one large pool as well to smaller individual pools in private rooms. The main pool can get busy, so we suggest visiting during the week in the middle of the day if possible.
Due to current COVID restrictions, lockers are not available so either wear your suit in under your clothes or bring very little with you. Also note that towels are $2 extra.
For families, consider bringing a floaty or pool noodle for the kiddos as the pool’s depths go from 3 feet to 6 feet with the lower levels being close to the pipped hot water area. This means the water is hottest and typically most crowded!
My favorite part was hanging out by the “hammer”, the piped hot water spout where you could get a lower back or head massage with the hot water pouring over you. Heavenly!
Do a Carson City Triathlon
OK, I know you didn’t come here to full on exercise, so don’t worry a Carson City triathlon is pure enjoyment. Have a soak in the Carson City Hot Springs, eat some delicious food next door at the cute restaurant Sassafras and then pop over to the Shoe Tree Brewing for a night cap. And there you go, you just completed the Carson City Triathlon! It was my first triathlon, but it was mighty fun!
While at Shoe Tree Brewing Company, try their homemade root beer. It is the best I’ve had and somehow I have turned into a bit of a root beer aficionado of sorts. The local beers (of course!) and special lemonade is also worth stopping in for.
I was pretty proud of myself for completing my first triathlon. I know you can do it too!
Learn All About Nevada
Carson City is the state capital of Nevada if you didn’t know that yet, and as such it holds a ton of history in it’s small town confines. We were super excited to check out the Nevada State Museum that is just a few steps down from the capitol building. However, due to bad luck, the state had just issued a closure order for all indoor museums. If the museum is open, we highly recommend a visit. For us as homeschoolers, there is nothing better than opportunities to learn about the local animals, history, geography and people of a location. This museum is said to offer all of that and more. If you make it in, let us know how you like it!
Take a Walk on the Kit Carson Trail
A perfect way to orient yourself to town is to start off strolling along the Kit Carson Trail. The Kit Carson Trail is a partially marked path through Carson City’s downtown historic district. The trail beautiful Victorian style homes, the Nevada State Museum and various landmarks that retell the story of the city. Some of our favorite stops were the Ferris House – yep, the person who invented the Ferris wheel lived here and the Governor’s Mansion. My 10 year old that it was so cool to see where an actual governor lives and that it was right in the middle of a neighborhood with other families. Grab a coffee to go from Old World Coffee Lab and begin your walk admiring the beautiful buildings and history of Carson City.
Ride the Rails
One of the coolest things we have done in years was ride the rails at V&T. Here they have kitted up cool 4 person sit down quad bikes that you pedal along the railroad tracks. Don’t worry, this is an unused section of track so there is no danger of getting hit by a real train.
Back in the old days, this stretch of track was making history with gold and silver mining operations. Now, along your 6 mile route, you can see remnants of this past, search for wild horses as well as get out for a hike on select rides.
This is a perfect family adventure, although note that if you expect help from your kiddos, they probably need to have long enough legs to reach or be around 10 years old. My son was all over it and pedalled like mad, but his feet just barely reached the pedals while sitting back. For those not sure if they can handle the biking back up the hill, there is a pedal assist function to help smoothen the ride!
Take a Day Trip to Lake Tahoe
One of the best things to do in Carson City is a little bit outside of the city itself – a day trip to Lake Tahoe. Only 25 minutes away and still mostly in the “rural area of Carson” is this beautiful gem. Luckily for you, you don’t have to venture to North Lake Tahoe or South Lake Tahoe to see what this lake is famed for – head to Sand Harbor State Park and you will have everything you need on a day trip visit. Pack a lunch, hike down to the beach for a picnic or hike from several lookout spots along the highway where you can jump rocks, hike to secret beaches or just stare out at the beautiful waters.
Try to visit on a sunny day – the lake presents itself in such a different light! The turquoise waters pop and the massive lake often is perfectly still. In the Fall and winter, the wind can be wild and the water rough, but the beauty is still there, just remember to bring some layers!
On your way to or from Tahoe, make a stop at Summit Lake for a beautiful stroll around the lake. It is an easy 2.5 mile hike around the lake offering views for days, possible bear sightings and lots of birds singing. If you have more time to spend in here, check out our list of epic things to do in Lake Tahoe in all seasons!
Visit the Nevada State Railroad Museum
The Nevada State Railroad Museum is another museum that was on our to do list, but was closed right before our arrival. I’m including it as well so that you can visit for me and let me know how amazing it is! We heard that this is the place to go for train buffs, with a collection of photos and artifacts from Nevada’s rail history. From the outside we can see actual rail equipment and locomotives! There might also be a train ride during non-COVID times, but that was not on the cards during our visit.
Go for a Walk in the Park
Literally. One of our favorite things to do in new destinations is seek out things that the locals like to do. One of the best things to do in Carson City Nevada to live like the locals is to walk along the Carson River at Riverview Park. This is where locals come for a late afternoon stroll, to walk their dogs or even ride their horses. This walk can be as short or long as you like with several loop trails on offer. We opted for the loop that kept us near the river’s edge. The river was dried up in sections, offering plenty of fun hopping around the sand bars and taking reflection photos.
This is really a beautiful locals walk and a perfect way to get out some wiggles if you have had a long day of visiting museums. PS – Along the way, look out for the bat boxes and see if you can hear them chittering away inside.
Where to Stay in Carson City Nevada
Carson City Nevada is an adorable little town in the downtown historic area surrounding the capitol building. However as you venture out of this area, Carson City resembles most of what sprawling towns in the US look like these days – big shops, clusters of hotels and highways taking visitors to and fro. Even though many of the hotels are centered in the outskirts of the historic district, we highly recommend staying downtown if possible. This area is highly walkable, offers all the cute, local restaurants and shops that you will want to visit.
During our visit we stayed at the Wyndham Garden Max Casino. Even though it’s a casino, it’s great for families. The casino was almost always empty during our visit, so we didn’t run into many people as we walked through the lobby area to the elevators. We loved the spacious room, plentiful parking (yes we are from LA!) and convenient location.
For those interested in COVID protocols, the rooms are not cleaned during your stay unless you request and only once you are out of the room for a minimum of 3 hours.
Outdoor Dining / Take Out Options in Carson City
During these crazy days of COVID our sense of what is acceptable is constantly being altered. Upon our arrival to Carson City we had not eaten inside a restaurant in more than 9 months, so we perused the town searching out the best options for eating outdoors or for easy takeaway.
Our tips on dining during this time is to eat during off periods if possible. For our family that means dinner at 4:30 (which is pretty normal for us anyway TBH!), breakfast early and lunch on the go.
These days most restaurants offer take-away and or delivery options, so feel free to try any place you would like! These are just some of the places we explored during our visit.
- Red’s Old 365 Grill – Spacious, open feeling indoor dining as well as an outdoor patio with firepit (mostly available on the weekends, but you can always ask!)
- The Fox Brewpub – Indoor dining with an outdoor patio with firepit. The firepit is only turned on during the evenings, but you can sit outside even when it’s off
- Old World Coffee Lab – This cute coffee shop is the perfect spot for a hot chocolate or morning coffee with a large outdoor patio and gloriously hot firepit!
- LA Bakery – Indoor dining with a small outdoor patio in the back and a few outdoor tables in the front. Everyone must order through the line, inside.
- The Basil – Indoor dining only at this delicious local Thai restaurant, but they provide excellent take-out options!
So What Do You Think?
Does it surprise you to see all of this great stuff to do in Carson City? Before our visit I didn’t know a ton about Carson City, other than it was where a friend of mine was from and that it was the capital of Nevada. I was surprised at how much fun we had here. For an adults only getaway, you can also venture into the casinos to play the slots and bar hop in the cute downtown area. This is a fun stop for families and adults alike. If you make it up, let us know what you think!
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