Stunning vistas. Snow-capped mountains. Shimmering lakes. Majestic horses roaming free and wild. This is Carson Valley, Nevada: a totally underrated and overlooked hidden gem in northwestern Nevada. Carson Valley sits just east of South Lake Tahoe, nestled between the Eastern Sierra and the Great Basin. It’s the meeting point of the high alpine and the high desert, surrounded by rugged peaks. And it’s an incredible destination for outdoor adventure lovers and hikers. Carson Valley is a quick day trip from Reno or Lake Tahoe and a fantastic weekend trip from the Bay Area. The area includes the towns of Minden, Genoa, Gardnerville, as well as beautiful Topaz Lake. But if you’ve never heard of any of those, don’t worry: you’re about to find out why Carson Valley, Nevada is a must-visit destination for adventure junkies and nature lovers alike. From adrenaline pumping outdoor adventures to hiking to wildlife spotting to camping, Carson Valley has everything to offer for adventure travelers and lovers of the outdoors!
Here’s what you’ll find in our outdoor adventure travel guide to Carson Valley, Nevada.
Table of Contents
- Outdoor Adventures in Carson Valley, Nevada
- 1. Camping (not Glamping, the regular kind)
- 2. Mountain Biking in the Eastern Sierra
- 3. Horseback Riding
- 4. Take a Wildlife Photography Tour & See Nevada's Wild Horses!
- 5.Off-Roading in an ATV or OHV
- 6. Go Hiking in Nevada's Rugged Wilderness
- 7. Hike (Part Of) the Tahoe Rim Trail
- 8. Water-Skiing, Jet Skiing, Tubing, & More Water Sports
- 9. White Water Rafting
- 10. Soarin’ Over Nevada
- 11. Take a Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
- 12. Skydive Over Carson Valley, Nevada
- 13. Skiing, Snowboarding & Snowmobiling
- 14. Soak in Nevada's Natural Hot Springs
- Where to Stay in Carson Valley, Nevada
Outdoor Adventures in Carson Valley, Nevada
A quick note on the whole adventure thing. Between the two of us, we’re split between loving high-octane adrenaline pumping adventure sports (Jeremy) and preferring more calm, relaxing outdoor activities (Lia). Ever since that minor incident with the waterfall and the panic attack and the rescue in San Gil, Colombia, Lia’s put her foot down on trying out
new exciting fun scary things. But we’re both obsessed with the outdoors and lovers of all things adventurous. So, we each picked a few outdoor activities in Carson Valley to represent both of our preferences.There’s a pretty even split in this list between stuff that makes you go “AHH!” and stuff that makes you go, “ahhh,” if you get my drift. There’s a little something for everyone in Carson Valley, Nevada, y’all!
1. Camping (not Glamping, the regular kind)
As with most adventure towns and outdoor activity destinations, Carson Valley has several fantastic opportunities for camping! Set up your tent, hammock, or RV in a campsite next to Topaz Lake and jump in. Or how about camping on the shores of Lake Tahoe at Zephyr Cove Resort?
If hot springs and pools are more your speed than lakes, head to Grover Hot Springs State Park, where you can you relax in a swimming pool or a natural hot spring in the shade of sweeping granite mountain vistas. With campsites and 3 excellent hiking trails, you can visit Grover Hot Springs State park and soak in its warm waters year-round. Hot springs in the snow? What is this, Iceland? Awesome!
2. Mountain Biking in the Eastern Sierra
The varied terrain in Carson Valley – from mountains to high desert and everything in between – allows for some incredible opportunities for mountain biking. Take a ride on the Pine Nut Trail in Gardnerville or the Genoa Loop in Genoa, perfect for beginner or intermediate riders. If you’re a more advanced mountain biker, give the Sierra Canyon Trail a try. Don’t have a mountain bike handy? Don’t worry, you can rent one in South Lake Tahoe.
3. Horseback Riding
Channel your inner cowboy as you straddle a horse and ride off into the sunset to live your very own Brokeback Mountain fantasy. Wait, what? No, this is a lot more PG than that. But you’ll be on a horse, and there will be mountains, and you can pretend to be a cowboy if you want, I guess. There are tons of options for horseback riding in Carson Valley. Don’t worry – you’re not riding the wild horses that also live in Carson Valley. Because they’re wild, and you are NOT an actual cowboy.
4. Take a Wildlife Photography Tour & See Nevada’s Wild Horses!
Prefer to see horses from a distance – maybe through the lens of a camera? How about photographing not just wild horses, but raptors too – and maybe, if you’re lucky, a lynx … or a bear?! Wait, I thought this was supposed to be one of the “relaxing” outdoor activities… John T. Humphrey offers a wildlife tour that will get you up close and personal with wildlife – from a completely safe, eco-friendly and respectful distance, looking through your camera, that is. If you’re a birder, the Birding Under Nevada Skies tour is right up your alley. Again, there will be no riding of wild horses on this tour, or any other tours. This isn’t “how to become a cowboy for city slickers,” y’all.
5.Off-Roading in an ATV or OHV
If mountain biking is a bit too intense, maybe a joyride in an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or OHV (off-highway vehicle) is more your speed. Take a ride through one of the many ATV & OHV trails in Carson Valley and explore the high desert like you’ve never seen it before. Never driven an ATV before? Take a tour! Psst: keep an eye out for wild horses. Just don’t try to ride them! Remember: you are NOT a cowboy.
6. Go Hiking in Nevada’s Rugged Wilderness
There’s an incredible amount of fantastic hiking in Nevada, and Carson Valley is no different. The best hiking in Carson Valley covers the slopes of the eastern Sierras as well as the valley and high desert below them. You’ll be treated to everything from stunning mountain views to aspen groves to fir trees to alpine lakes high in the mountains above Carson Valley to sweeping vistas of the valley below. Here are just a few of the numerous options for hiking trails in Nevada near Carson Valley.
7. Hike (Part Of) the Tahoe Rim Trail
This incredible hiking trail in Nevada (& California!) gets its own section, because it’s that epic. The entire 165-mile Tahoe Rim trail crosses six counties, four National Forests, three wilderness areas, two states and one state park. But you don’t have to go thru-hiking or even backpacking to enjoy this amazing hiking trail around beautiful Lake Tahoe. There are several day hikes along the Tahoe Rim trail right in Carson Valley, Nevada. Important: some sections are currently closed – please check this site for more information.
- The 12-mile section Spooner Summit to Kingsbury South hiking trail, studded with ancient fir trees and aspen groves, passes right through Genoa, with stunning views of Genoa Peak and of course, Lake Tahoe. Keep an eye out for wild marmots!
- The Kingsbury South to Star Lake section hike is a high-elevation hike beginning and ending at Heavenly Resort in Lake Tahoe. The trail leads to Star Lake, an alpine lake sitting at nearly 11,000 feet of elevation. You can also access Star Lake via this 11-mile trail beginning near South Lake Tahoe.
8. Water-Skiing, Jet Skiing, Tubing, & More Water Sports
Who can resist a high-speed water sport? Although, if we’re being totally honest, I’ve tried water skiing a handful of times and have never been able to actually stand up. So major kudos if you’re an Olympic athlete or Amazonian or whatever it takes to successfully water ski.
You’ll find all kinds of water sports from wake boarding to tubing to jet skis and more at Topaz Lake. Topaz Lake is a stunning reservoir on the Nevada-California border, only 20 miles south of Gardnerville, Nevada and close to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park. Check out Topaz Lake boat rental and jet ski pricing.
9. White Water Rafting
Swimming and kayaking too tame for you? Hit the East Fork Carson River for a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure! Take in mountain views (quickly) as you hurtle past them in class II & III rapids on a half day, full day, or even 2 day ultra adventure! We both love white water rapids, as long as they’re class II or under (Lia) or class III and up (Jeremy).
10. Soarin’ Over Nevada
Hey, that one was a throwback reference to where Lia worked when she was a cast member at Disney World! Did you catch it, or did it go right over your head? I’ll wait. Carson Valley is actually known for its unique air pockets, which are real cool if you’re a nerdy pilot type (or just someone who’s into science and planes and geothermal dynamics or whatever, I guess). I’m not going to attempt to explain the science behind it, but suffice to say that you can ride the Sierra Wave like you’re an amazing sky surfer in a sailplane glider that flies without a motor. Again, magical science things. Come along for the ride or try your own hand at riding the wave! Head over to Soaring Nevada for information and pricing.
11. Take a Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
I wanted to label this “Balloonin’ Over Nevada,” so you’re welcome for sparing you … this time. If you want to experience the unique thermal air pockets above Carson Valley but aren’t quite the adrenaline junkie type, a hot air balloon ride is the perfect way to experience the gorgeous views from above Carson Valley in an *ahem* calmer environment. They even give you mimosas afterwards to take the edge off. Now that’s Lia’s kind of tour! Get more information about Lake Tahoe Balloons or check prices here.
12. Skydive Over Carson Valley, Nevada
Why just look at beautiful jagged mountaintops – either safely from the ground, or serenely from a hot air balloon as you float by – when you could instead fling yourself out of a plane and free-fall through the air towards them!? Lia can think of a few reasons, but don’t listen to her.
We’ve actually skydived before, and I can tell you from my 1 and only experience (so my expert opinion, basically) that the better the view, the more enjoyable your skydive will be. So take in the entire Carson Valley and the Eastern Sierra mountain views and even giant Lake Tahoe from far above as you plunge towards the earth! Check out Skydive Lake Tahoe for pricing and more information.
13. Skiing, Snowboarding & Snowmobiling
Carson Valley has just as much to offer in the winter for outdoor adventure lovers as it does in the summer. I mean, it is next to Lake Tahoe, after all. Only 20 minutes away from south Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley serves as the ideal base camp to Heavenly, Kirkwood and other Lake Tahoe winter sport destinations. Or if you’re not quite athletic/coordinated enough to actually do those things (like Lia, who has yet to succeed at actually standing up on a snowboard) how about a guided snowmobile tour? All of the winter fun, none of the physical exertion. Perfect.
14. Soak in Nevada’s Natural Hot Springs
Speaking of the best things to do on a snowy winter’s day, soaking in a steamy hot tub is at the top of Lia’s list (with like, a mug of hot chocolate. Yass)!
Grover Hot Springs State Park isn’t the only place to enjoy the natural geothermal groundwater that creates the hot springs in Carson Valley, Nevada. You can also soak in hot springs at David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort & Spa. The resort is located in the town of Genoa, Nevada, and is surrounded with a 360˚ view of the majestic Eastern Sierra mountains. Soak in natural mineral spas while gazing at the stunning mountain views. Oh, and their pool is filled with naturally heated water. And they have eucalyptus steam rooms. Sign us up!
There’s nothing like soaking in a hot spring after a long day of adventuring and exploring in Carson Valley!
Where to Stay in Carson Valley, Nevada
Now that we’ve convinced you to get your outdoorsy self and your favorite outdoorsy friends to Carson Valley, where should you stay while exploring all that the area has to offer? You could always stay in nearby Reno, Carson City, or South Lake Tahoe, but these 3 hidden gems are right in the heart of Carson Valley. They’re as much fun to explore as the mountains surrounding them!
Don’t forget to download a copy of the Walking/Driving map of Carson Valley, which is chock full of interesting facts (like the story of Lucky Bill, the first man hanged in Nevada and winner of the Most Ironic Nickname award), history, and must-see stops in Carson Valley.
Genoa, Nevada is considered the oldest permanent settlement in Nevada, established in 1851. The town is a living history museum … and is said to be the most haunted town in Nevada. Oooh, creepy! Try not to think about it as you soak in the hot springs at David Walley’s Resort Spa in Genoa (check prices). But definitely do dive into the ghost stories and take a historic ghost tour of Genoa!
While you’re exploring historic Genoa, be sure to download the self-guided walking tour of Genoa. Oh, and if you happen to be visiting on the last weekend in September, you can’t miss the Genoa Candy Dance and craft fair! It’s one of the most famous things to do in Genoa.
The Carson Valley Inn in Minden, Nevada is a great place to stay for exploring the Carson Valley (check prices). One of the best things to do in Minden is to visit the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, a preserved historic ranch house that once housed the most prominent family in the area – the family that actually founded the town of Minden. You’ll learn about the history of Carson Valley!
In a historical town like Gardnerville, Nevada, you have to stay at the Historian Inn (check prices). And speaking of history, here’s a little tidbit about Gardnerville: Spanish and French Basques (who Jeremy is actually descended from, fun fact!) played an important role in Northern Nevada and eastern California history, initially as sheepherders and later as inn and restaurant owners. Sampling Basque cuisine is one of the best things to do in Gardnerville. You’ll find plenty of Basque restaurants in Gardnerville, like J.T Basque Restaurant. Be sure to try the lamb – a Basque specialty – beef tongue stew, and the staple cocktail: a Picon Punch!
Are you packing up your camping gear, lacing up your hiking gear, stuffing a go-pro in your Camelbak and scheduling a trip to Carson Valley, Nevada yet?! Save this post on Pinterest to reference later! Please note: you can pin full-sized versions of the images below by clicking the “Pin It” button.
Are you more of an adrenaline junkie like Jeremy or a more relaxed outdoor adventurer like Lia? What are your favorite outdoor activities? Leave us a comment below!
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