11 Ways Nevada Has Blown my Mind

You guys, Nevada may just be the most fascinating state I’ve ever visited. And my fascination with it begins with its name, which is actually Spanish for “snow covered.” Did that just blow your mind? Because I bet when you think about Nevada, you don’t exactly thing snow-covered mountains. And did you know, too, that while California may be the “Golden State,” that Nevada is one of the largest sources of gold in the world? Oh, but I’m just getting started.

I’ve actually been fortunate enough to spend more time in Nevada than any other state that I haven’t lived in. And I know what you may be saying right now, “Spencer, why would you spend that much time in Nevada?” Well why wouldn’t I? I've been perhaps more surprised by it than any other U.S. state. So let me tell you all about it, and then follow me and a bunch of other travelers this week as we travel Nevada's loneliest road, U.S. Route 50, with Travel Nevada.


1. Nevada is the most mountainous state in America. Yes, mountainous. You probably naturally associate Nevada with the desert, yet it has more mountains than you can shake a stick at, with more than 150 mountain ranges and more than 50 peaks that are at least 11,000 feet tall. Among my personal favorite peaks in Nevada are Mt. Rose, near Reno (and the nearby Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, which is actually on Slide Mountain), and Mt. Charleston, one of my favorite Nevada hikes, and less than an hour from Las Vegas.

2. Nevada has its own Basque country. Basque is just kind of fun to say, is it not? Basques, if you're not familiar, are typically associated with the Basque Country of France and Spain, located in the western end of the Pyrenees. However, I recently found myself at a Basque restaurant and bar, Louis Basque Corner, in none other than Reno, Nevada, for what was one of the single most fun nights I've had in Nevada. Go for the experience (and go hungry), but stay for the Picon punch, a Basque cocktail that dates back to the early 1800s. Beyond Reno, however, Nevada has its own Basque country, largely associated with Northern Nevada, and particularly Winnemucca and Elko, both of which have their own Basque festivals.

3. Nevada has more ghost towns than populated towns. No, not ghost towns as in haunted towns, but rather abandoned towns. But stick with me here. Nevada's many ghost towns have an allure and preserved history that you can't just find anywhere in the U.S. Nelson (45 miles from Las Vegas), for example, still shows remnants of its mining history with Techatticup Mine, one of the oldest and richest mines in Southern Nevada, which you can actually tour. Elsewhere, halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, is Gold Point, which maintains the 1800s-era feel of many of Nevada's ghost towns, but with some modern amenities, such as a bed and breakfast.

4. You can snowboard and surf in one day in Lake Tahoe. I know what you may be exclaiming aloud right now, "Silly Spencer, you can't surf in a landlocked state like Nevada." But actually you can. That's because when the wind is right, you can surf on Lake Tahoe. But even if you're not a surfer, there are a lot of other great Lake Tahoe double sports days you can do, all before lunchtime, such as snowboarding and paddleboarding (among my favorite things to do in Nevada) or cross-country skiing and mountain biking.

5. Nevada has sports you can't do anywhere else. No, I'm not talking sports like snowboarding, but rather sports you've probably never heard of or didn't even know that you could do. Perhaps the best examples being that of the World Championship Outhouse Races (yes, as in old school porta potties) and International Camel & Ostrich Races, both of which take place in Virginia City. For less in the way of unusual sports, and more in the way of unique outdoor activities in Nevada, there's Sand Mountain, located along the Loneliest Road in America, Highway 50, where you can sandboard down the tall sand dune. Now those aren't your everyday things to do in Nevada.

6. The tallest rock climbing wall in the world is in Reno, Nevada. Not only can you climb the tallest rock climbing wall in the world, but you can do so outside on the exterior of the Whitney Peak Hotel, overlooking the Reno Arch. Easily one of the most unique things to do in Nevada, this rock climbing wall isn't your local gym's climbing wall, coming in at 164 feet tall. Additionally, Whitney Peak Hotel's BaseCamp climbing facility includes a 7,000-square-foot indoor bouldering facility.

7. You can drive excavators and bulldozers in Las Vegas. Childhood dreams reached! Welcome to Dig This, just off the Las Vegas Strip, where shortly after a safety demonstration, you'll be in an excavator or bulldozer of choice, living out your Tonka dreams. Dig This has a number of different experiences, several of which involves things like building mounds and digging trenches. It's just a big 'ole adult playground.

8. Award-winning craft beer Reno's craft beer scene. You guys, Reno, Nevada may just be my new favorite food and drink city. First, and perhaps foremost, you have a number of breweries and distilleries that are within a short distance of one another, some of which are close enough for a walking brewery crawl, such as Pigeon Head Brewery (European-style beers for the win) and Under the Rose Brewing Company (pictured below), which is the man cave of breweries. Elsewhere, there's The Depot, which is part brewery and part distillery in a building that actually was a depot in the early 1900s. A number of Reno's breweries and distilleries have won major beer awards, including Brasserie Saint James for Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year (Great American Beer Festival), and Great Basin Brewing Company, which has won a number of awards at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup.

9. Nevada's Virginia City is the largest historic district in America. If you think Nevada's ghost towns are cool, you haven't seen nothing yet. Enter Virginia City, which is the largest federally designated historical district in America. It's got haunts, it's got a 155-year-old hotel, it's got saloons, it's got gin, and it's got a helluva lot of history, such as being where writer Samuel Clemens got his start. You may know him better, however, as Mark Twain.

10. One of my favorite neighborhoods in all of America is in Nevada. Not only is one of my favorite U.S. neighborhoods in Nevada, but it's in Las Vegas. And no, it's not the Strip. But it is downtown Las Vegas. Downtown Las Vegas has shaken off its old pretenses, characterized by many as "Old Vegas" or the "Glitter Gulch." Take a stroll through Fremont East and you'll probably be surprised at what you find, from a hidden speakeasy bar to an entertainment district made out of retrofitted shipping containers to a local Thai restaurant and cocktail bar combo to a bar lined with old school arcade games, and further afield, a craft brewery. That's without even mentioning some of the other perks of downtown Las Vegas, like the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum (where Las Vegas' retired neon signs live on).

11. The greatness of Great Basin National Park. Great Basin National Park is basically the Disney of national parks, featuring a laundry list of amazing features, and one of the most underrated things to do in Nevada. First off, it's home to the oldest living things in the world (which scientists debate), the bristlecone pines, which are believed to be thousands of years old. Great Basin National Park is also home to the second-tallest peak in Nevada, Wheeler Peak, which is prominent for a number of other reasons, too, including Lehman Caves and Wheeler Peak Glacier, both of which are located at the base.

What are your favorite things to do in Nevada?