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For a long weekend or cool summer vacation, these five mountain towns are easy to get to and even easier to love

Virginia City, Nevada

A couple racing camels
Photo: Kaitlin Godbey
Illustration: Ryan Vellinga

The Silver State’s origin story is full of character and characters

Like the 1960s TV series “Bonanza,” Virginia City, Nevada, is built on a storyline of colorful characters and settler lore that few mile-high cities can compete with. The lore is best enjoyed during lively saloon banter, while the characters were the throngs of hard-scrabble miners, speculators, and developers who flocked to the region beginning in 1859 to stake claim in the now infamous Comstock Lode. The sparkle of precious metals caught the eyes of folks in Washington, D.C., as well; within a few short years, the fledgling territory was on its way to becoming the Silver State. Virginia City’s present-day charm is built on its rough and rugged past, made famous by Henry T. Comstock, Mark Twain, George Hearst (father of media mogul William Randolph Hearst), and countless other treasure hunters. Travelers of all ages and interests will enjoy this high desert destination.


For an immersive Virginia City experience, stay at the Tahoe House Hotel and Bar which, according to legend, was home to Mark Twain. A former boarding house, this Victorian-style 16-room boutique inn features well-appointed guest rooms, period antique furnishings, and locally sourced guest amenities. Proprietor Paul Hoyle and his team offer a friendly and personalized experience, giving recommendations for local activities. The Tahoe House also offers the only public balcony on the main street — perfect for enjoying a sunrise coffee, or one of the bar’s specialty cocktails in the glow of a western sunset ($139 and up,


The Virginia City Mexican Kitchen serves up rustic taqueria-styled dishes for a quick and satisfying meal. The diminutive café also proudly boasts the best churros on the planet (775-583-6039). For more of a linger, enjoy live music on the patio and local artists’ work on the walls at The Canvas Café ( For a craft beer or a late afternoon cocktail — as well as a million-dollar view — head to the legendary Bucket of Blood Saloon ( And for dinner, make a reservation at Café del Rio, where inventive southwestern cuisine mixes with American comfort food like Gospel Fried Chicken or house-made chili relleno. Don’t pass on the seriously decadent apricot-ancho chili cheesecake (

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The town’s population swells on weekends with plenty of family-friendly activities drawing lively crowds. A robust year-round events calendar attracts more than a million visitors a year to take in one of many festive parades, car shows, motorcycle gatherings, and legendary races (who knew racing camels and outhouses were such popular sports?). A high ratio of saloons to people makes bar crawls another popular attraction. Families and history buffs can enjoy riding the rails of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad or ghost hunting in one of the town’s popular haunts (


For a small town, Virginia City has a lot to see. Poke around the hilly streets and admire the Victorian-styled mansions and historic sites, or take in the sights and sounds of the once bawdy and bustling main street boardwalk, where saloons seem to outnumber residents. What isn’t visible are the hundreds of miles of tunnels under the street. The Ponderosa Saloon and Mine Tour delivers on the promise of “underground mining exhibits,” which, as the dry-witted guide notes, generate more revenue than the mine ever did (775-847-7210). The Chollar Mine, by contrast, yielded an estimated $17 million in silver and gold during its 80 years of operation, and its tour offers an authentic historic experience ( Attracted to paranormal activity? The Washoe Club Saloon has guided ghost tours and overnight investigations (, while docents at the Mackay Mansion will introduce the current “residents” of Nevada mining legend John William Mackay’s former home (

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