Navigating a Safe Reno-Tahoe Territory Adventure
Follow Along as the Family Explores the Reno Tahoe Loop
Before you dive into the story, please note:
This article was written and developed following COVID-19 guidelines in place at the time of writing. The Reno-Tahoe Territory and our local businesses and attractions are taking necessary safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during this unprecedented time. Before you make your plans to go to any of the locations listed in this article, please visit our Reno-Tahoe Territory’s Safe Traveler Guide here to familiarize yourself with our guidelines. And please, wear your favorite face covering while visiting any of our destinations.
When my husband, Steve, proposed a Reno Tahoe Loop winter road trip, I exclaimed, “What about physical distancing?”
Steve refers to me affectionately as a “helicopter mom.” And 2020 hasn’t dulled my cautious edge one bit. I watch our ten-year-old son, Alex, like a hawk. His straw-colored hair and gangly frame give me an easy advantage.
“We can make a loop from Reno to Lake Tahoe, then down through the Carson Valley into Carson City and Virginia City. By sticking to outdoor activities and traveling off-season, we’ll have plenty to do without crowds,” he replied.
Trepidation melted into excitement as I watched his finger trace a large loop on the map — our “cabin fever” escape route.
Exploring Eclectic Reno
After savoring Apple Wood Bacon and Spinach Omelets at the Stone House Café, we toured the Nevada Art Museum’s Western and Contemporary collections. The museum’s gift shop contained a tempting array of glossy coffee table books, unique jewelry, and eclectic souvenirs.
A sunny 62° F greeted us as we headed to the Reno Riverwalk for a stroll. Basking in the bright afternoon light, we explored the city’s impressive collection of murals and public art. Once debuted at the Burning Man Festival, these fanciful sculptures now embellished the “Biggest Little City in the World.”
As we tucked into a cozy booth at the Homegrown Gastropub for a late lunch of brick-oven pizza and brews, I remarked, “I had no idea Reno had such a diverse art and foodie scene. We’ve got to come back this summer!”
Steve smiled and nodded as Alex polished off the last of his root beer and pizza.
We chatted excitedly in the car during the hour-long trip to the Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa, equal-parts elegant and edgy, where we would spend two nights. Tahoe, the “Jewel of the Sierra Nevadas,” sparkled in the warm glow of sunset.
Sleigh Rides and Mountain Views in North Lake Tahoe
The next morning, we noshed on delectable Tahoe Benedicts and fresh-pressed orange juice at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort’s Lone Eagle Grille, a picturesque 30-minute drive from Stateline. Had our trip been longer, we would’ve enjoyed a day skiing at Diamond Peak, a resort renowned for pristine slopes and gorgeous lake views. After breakfast, a ten-minute drive south brought us to Sand Harbor State Park for a Borges Family Sleigh Ride.
Snuggled beneath blankets in a vermillion sleigh trimmed with honey-colored wood, a robust steed with a shaggy brown coat powered us along silvery paths. Past lush frosted forests, we glided through a peaceful meadow insulated by great drifts, like heaps of confectioner’s sugar.
Ice-skating and Bonfires in Tahoe South
During the 27-mile drive back to Stateline, we marveled at the thick stands of emerald trees punctuated by heady lake views.
After a mid-day lunch, we headed to Heavenly Village for a 2.4-mile ride on the Heavenly Mountain Gondola, affording expansive wilderness views. Avoiding crowds proved easy, though I showered Alex and Steve with a steady supply of masks and hand sanitizer.
As twilight approached, we hoofed it to Edgewood on Ice, a 4,600-square-foot outdoor rink bathed in a soft glow of lights. Afterward, we sat before a roaring bonfire, a star-jammed sky overhead.
Sightseeing Cruises and Snowball Fights at 6,000 Feet
Gliding across shimmering turquoise waters, I felt dwarfed by the breadth and width of Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. Halfway through a scenic two-hour Emerald Bay Sightseeing Cruise on the M.S. Dixie II, booked by Steve through the Zephyr Cove Resort, we cruised more than 6,000 feet above sea level.
Alex gave a play-by-play of the afternoon’s lake adventure and post-cruise snowball mayhem. “Remember how I got Dad in the back with that monster snowball?
I couldn’t help but giggle as Steve shot me a mock look of exasperation before shivering in remembrance.
Going Wild in the Carson Valley
While driving to the Carson Valley along scenic Kingsbury Grade, I reflected on what this trip was teaching me about the capable young man our son was growing into. Bittersweet pride filled my heart. Maybe I didn’t need to hover so much.
Evergreens and Aspens gave way to pastoral meadows on our descent into the Carson Valley. Suddenly, Alex cried, “Look at that cool bird!” Following his gaze, I caught the unmistakable form of a bald eagle, white-crowned with broad earth-toned wings. Enthused by this sight, I scanned the golden pastures for the rest of our drive. My reward was a curious coyote who briefly poked its dusty head above the grass.
Gardnerville’s Overland Restaurant & Pub provided a satisfying meal of Butternut Squash Bisque, Pappardelle Bolognese, and Smoked Pork Mac N Cheese. Afterward, we strolled the historic Main Street, lined with quaint historic shops. As temperatures dropped, we returned to the car, driving 5 minutes to the Hampton Inn & Suites in Carson City for another two-night stay.
Trains and a Silver-Domed Capitol in Carson City
The fourth day of our Tahoe Loop expedition proved jampacked. We took the easy 20-minute drive to the state’s capital and grabbed an early (and portable) breakfast of morning wraps and coffee at LA Bakery and Café before high tailing it to the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
Engaging with the locomotives that powered America into the 20th century proved transfixing. Two hours passed in a heartbeat.
As we strolled the Kit Carson Trail walk, I flipped through our guidebook, marveling at the many museums and historic sites Carson City boasted. “The Governor’s Mansion, the silver-domed Capitol Building, the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum… There’s so much we still haven’t explored!”
“We’ve got our walking shoes on,” Steve replied with a wink, delighted at my newfound spirit of adventure. “And if we don’t see it all?”
“We have to come back!” Alex chimed in, a phrase fast becoming our new mantra. A late lunch at the Squeeze In, an eclectic local hotspot, fueled us through a day jampacked with sightseeing.
Stepping Back in Time in Virginia City
On our way back to Reno the next morning, we took a detour through Virginia City. At the Bucket of Blood, one of Virginia City’s oldest saloons, we sipped orders of the “the best Bloody Mary in the world” while Alex downed a sarsaparilla. Large windows along the back wall provided unparalleled views of Six Mile Canyon and the Cottonwood-lined creek snaking through the mountains down to Dayton below.
Walking the wooden boardwalk of this historic mining town, we felt transported back in time. Almost. Locals in period costumes enhanced the city’s timelessness. Union soldiers, gunslingers, Victorian ladies, and a ragged prospector with a mule greeted us. If not for the masks we all wore, the effect would’ve appeared seamless.
Lunch at the Red Dog Saloon entailed spicy Sweet Heat Chicken Wings and a Tommyknocker Pizza piled high with fresh veggies. The Red Dog offered a surprising segue into another history, that of psychedelic rock. The early Counterculture scene coalesced at this spot in 1965, a flurry of Wild West costumes, elaborate posters, and acid-tinged music.
Our Tahoe Loop experience culminated on a Virginia City Trolley ride. Bundled against the chill, we surveyed the beauty of the Comstock Historic Mining District. Amid old structures and the high desert elevation, a mix of emotions took over. Steve wrapped his arm around me as I exclaimed proudly to Alex, “I think you’ve grown an inch since we started this trip!”