If you ask someone to name a city in the state of Nevada, most people will think of Las Vegas. The sparkling lights of the Strip and the non-stop jangling of casino slot machines are synonymous with Nevada, but that’s only part of the state’s allure. If your interest is in the historic buildings, museums, and activities that don’t need to gamble, Carson City is ideal. In this video, we’re going to look at some of the best things to do in Carson City, Nevada.
A Brief History of Carson City, Nevada
Carson City found over 160 years ago, in 1858. Its name is for the famous frontiersman and scout Christopher “Kit” Carson. Its location at the base of the famous Sierra Nevada mountain range offers places to see and activities to try.
The surrounding Carson Valley is one of the most scenic parts of the entire country. It’s also close to fun places like Virginia City or Reno. The best time of year to visit Carson City is between May and October. There is a range of special events and outdoor activities during these months. You can still have fun in the winter, mind you, when fishing, golfing, and hiking are replaced by winter sports.
Carson City started out as a stopover point for people heading to California to find fortune in the Gold Rush. But in 1859, prospectors ended up uncovering the largest silver find in history in the hills outside of Carson City. Before Carson City become an important economic hub and its name, Nevada’s capital when it become a state in 1864.
Its rich history means there are lots of fun and interesting things to do in Carson City, Nevada.
Nevada State Museum
The Nevada State Museum is an entertaining and educational place to visit. It’s a great place for families with children but kids of all ages will enjoy it. The museum’s focus is on the natural and cultural heritage of Nevada. You’ll learn about local wildlife and pre-historic creatures, and you’ll even see how silver coins are expensive.
The museum is an extensive collection of rocks, dinosaurs, and ancient mammals that uncovers the area over the years. You’ll also find a section devoted to settlers’ houses and handicrafts and the evolution of modern-day Nevada we know and love.
In the museum’s basement, you’ll find a recreation of an underground silver mine. Mannequins with actual mining equipment line the path and demonstrate each step of the mining process. The museum is also home to the Carson City Mint. The amount of silver generated by the local mine let Carson City build its own mint, which produced silver dollars with a “CC” imprint in the late 1800s.
Nevada State Capitol Complex
Since Carson City has been the Nevada state capital since 1864, there are plenty of historic buildings in town. The most important ones are the Capitol Building, the Governor’s Mansion, and the Courthouse. You can see them from the outside by strolling along the promenade between the Supreme Court Building and the Capitol Building. You’ll also see plenty of beautiful statues in the green spaces alongside the promenade.
If you prefer, you can visit each of the buildings separately as well. Walking tours have an opportunity on Saturdays, but you can also request a guided tour at any time.
The Capitol Building has an interesting history. When Carson City is original, the founders set aside 10 acres that are popular as the Plaza. At that time, they believe that Carson City will be the one as the capital of western Utah Territory. Instead, it ended up becoming the capital of Nevada.
After becoming a state, it took another 10 years for the Capitol Building to be erected. For one thing, the constitutional convention had a provision that three legislative sessions had to pass before a state capitol was built. And many people expected the state capital to move to a more central location rather than Carson City, which is on the border between Nevada and California.
The Governor’s Mansion is the official residence of the Governor of Nevada. It is built in 1909 in a residential neighborhood, surrounds by typical middle-class houses. Being home to the Governor and his family, the mansion is only open for public tours on select days and holidays.
If you’re looking for some outdoor things to do in Carson City, Nevada, be sure to check out Fuji Park. The 14-acre park is next to the Carson City Fairgrounds and Baily Fishing Pond. A creek also passes through the park, with willows and cottonwood trees on either side.
The park is a perfect spot for anyone traveling with a dog, giving them plenty of space to burn off some energy. There are two are enclosed play areas for dogs and a large grassy area in between where they must be on a leash.
In the center of the park, you’ll find a building that’s home to events like auctions, indoor archery, dog training, and more. There’s also a spot for fishing near highway 395, but warning, that you’ll need a license to fish here.
Another great activity for outdoor enthusiasts is visiting some of the many waterfalls near Carson City. Our favorite of the bunch is King Canyon Waterfall. You’ll take a short walk uphill to the beautiful falls. In the summer, you can cool down with some water play and in the winter, you’ll be treated to a winter wonderland with amazing icicles and snowy scenery.
If you want a bit more of a workout, take the Upper Canyon Trail on your way back down from the falls. The trail takes you up the mountain and around the back of the waterfall. During cooler times of the year, the trail could be a bit snowy on the side of the mountain that doesn’t get much sun, but it’s still a reasonable hike with the right footwear.
Take a Soak in the Hot Springs
The Carson City Hot Springs pipes super hot spring water into one large pool and several smaller ones in private rooms. The main pool can get pretty busy so if you can visit during the week, aim for the middle of the day when the crowds are smallest.
The pool’s depth ranges from 3 to 6 feet, with the shallower end being closest to where the hot water is piped in. That spot is typically the most crowded so be sure to bring pool noodles or other floaties if you’ve got younger children who are too short for the deeper spots.
The Kit Carson Trail
This is partially marked trail that goes straight through the heart of the historic downtown district of Carson City. You’ll see beautiful Victorian-style homes, the Nevada State Museum, and various landmarks that tell the story of the city. Be sure to check out the Ferris House, which was the home of the person who invented the Ferris wheel. You’ll also see the Governor’s Mansion along the trail.
Carson City Dining
Carson City has a variety of local and international restaurants. You’ll find everything from American cuisine to Mexican, Chinese, Indian, and more. You can grab a quick bite at a fast-food joint or dine in style at one of Carson City’s fine restaurants.
We’ve got a couple of favorite spots to eat in Carson City. If you’re into barbecue, Red’s Old 395 Grill is a must. They’ve got the best beef brisket in town and offer several other barbecue specialties, all at reasonable prices. It’s also got a great ambiance, with a rustic vibe and many funky decorations.
If you’re more into English-style restaurants, check out The Fox Brewpub. It’s located inside the historic St. Charles Hotel, which was built in 1862. The Fox serves an American and Mexican fusion menu with nachos, tacos, burgers, chicken wings, and beef stew, to name a few of the highlights.
Nevada Railroad Museum
One of the best things to do in Carson City, Nevada, is the Nevada Railroad Museum. If you’ve only got time to visit one museum, make it this one. You can tour the depot/museum grounds, which is an operating train yard, and check out the engine house to see other steam engines. This is one of the few railroad museums you can visit that allow you to walk around the shop. It’s up-close-and-personal enough that you might have to stay out of the way of moving engines.
You can take a ride on a historic steam train that takes you into the mountains where the original silver mines were built back in the early days of Carson City. You can choose from different types of train cars for the ride, whether a passenger car with indoor seating or a platform car where you can hear the train whistle and see the smoke pass overhead.
Ride the Rails
If you want to try a bit more historic method of rail travel, try riding the rails at V&T – the Virginia Truckee Railway. You can hop onto a cool 4-person sit-down quad “bike” that you pedal along the railroad tracks. It’s not quite the same as the old-fashioned handcars you see in pictures of the early days of rail travel, but it’s about as close as you can get.
You’ll pedal along an unused section of track so there’s no danger of meeting a real train. In its early years, this stretch of track went through the main part of the gold and silver mining operations. You’ll see remnants of those mines along the 6-mile route.
Which of these things to do in Carson City, Nevada, is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!