The Reno-Tahoe territory in California is an eclectic mix of awe-inspiring contrasts and dramatic landscapes that range from pristine lakes to rugged mountains to expansive desert valleys. An impressive diversity of activities and attractions are in this area, all within a short distance of one another, which makes for an adventure road trip unlike any other.
In fact, some of Nevada’s best-kept travel gems lie between the shimmering shores of South Lake Tahoe and the bright lights of Reno. From kayaking on Lake Tahoe to flying high on a glider ride in Carson Valley, there are so many ways to unplug and get your fill of outdoor adventure in some of the best wide-open spaces Nevada has to offer.
As one of my favorite places on planet Earth, South Lake Tahoe made for a great start to our road trip. And to make the most of our time in this adventure playground, we headed straight to the lake. The clear kayak tour we booked through Tahoe Paddle Sports was heavenly, and we got to enjoy the lake’s vibrant blue and green hues at every sun-kissed turn. Our friendly guide, Marco, took us down the coastline out of Sand Harbor State Park all the way to Bonsai Rock.
Since we were traveling with a teenager, I wanted to infuse a little speed into the mix. Going on a Slingshot ride along Tahoe’s shoreline delivered this in spades. Our rental from Rolling Freedom Motorcycles was next level -- like a convertible on steroids. We rolled through Incline Village with our son playing DJ throughout the entire ride. After our gorgeous drive, we had some time by the water to enjoy the sunset over the lake.
We certainly worked up an appetite after our action-packed day, and our dinner at Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen restaurant was phenomenal, especially after watching every season of “MasterChef Junior.” Because we were traveling in the summer during high season and rooms were sparse, we wound up staying at the Hard Rock Hotel. I was nervous about staying in a casino; however, our teenage son loved the hotel’s musical history, and we had easy access to everything we needed, including in-house dining at Alpine Union. The next morning, we went hiking around the beach. You can find bountiful options for a hike in this area, including Spooner Summit, Van Sickle Bi-State Park and Rabe Meadow to Nevada Beach.
We hit the road again and drove 12 miles east to explore our next road trip destination, Carson Valley. This “land of legends” offers a gateway to the authentic American West, bringing rustic adventure to experience in the town of Genoa. While Carson Valley and Virginia City are often overlooked regions in northwestern Nevada, they are incredible destinations that are steeped in history and certainly merit a few days of exploration.
We couldn’t visit Nevada’s first settlement without making a stop at Genoa Saloon, Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor, where we met some charming locals and soaked in the quaint splendor of old-fashioned Genoa. Then we picked up some deli sandwiches for an idyllic afternoon picnic on the sprawling lawns of Mormon Station State Park. The park’s charming little museum that’s packed with artifacts from the pioneer era costs only $1 and teaches more about the town’s early settlers.
We had an unforgettable dinner at JT Basque Restaurant in Gardnerville. Thanks to their hearty portions, we did not leave this place hungry. Their menu has been the same since they opened well over a half-century ago, and it includes some unusual dishes like pigs’ feet and beef-tongue stew.
The next day in Minden we got a chance to experience the Carson Valley from an elevated new perspective on-board a soaring glider ride. Our pilot gave us the smoothest ride of our lives. After we got into a tiny cockpit, a tow plane cut us loose and we glided along in the quiet serenity of this soaring aircraft without an engine. It was like flying in the safest toy plane in existence, and it checked off all the boxes of a bucket-list adventure.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring historic Virginia City, Nevada. Being in this colorful and lively historic town was like taking a step back in history. We took an old-time photo at Silver Sadie’s, got some jerky from Virginia City Jerky Co., checked out the Storey County Courthouse and stopped for a refreshing drink at the Bucket of Blood Saloon before driving to Reno.
The highlight here was our stay at Whitney Peak Hotel, which offered stunning decor, a wonderful in-house restaurant -- Cafe Whitney -- and a huge gym. It’s home to the “World’s Tallest Artificial Climbing Wall” as designated by the Guinness Book of World Records. Our son had a blast dangling nearly 50 feet over the famous Reno arch. This 164-foot outdoor climbing wall was an unexpected and fascinating travel treat and a great way to cap off our memorable road trip adventure tour.