Exploring the mines that helped to fund the Civil War and establish Nevada as a state, Virginia City is only about a 45-minute drive from South Lake Tahoe. With its wooden boardwalk, historic landmarks, including the last school of its kind in the U.S. and most expensive courthouse built in the state for 50 years, Virginia City, Nevada, offers a real glimpse to what life on the Comstock was all about.
Virginia City itself includes a mile-long strip filled with shopping centers, restaurants, saloons, souvenir shops and historical venues that could easily give you a perfect day trip. Some say it has the largest concentration of bars for the town’s mile street – at one point in its history, it boasted more than 110 saloons. Several have sordid pasts including many ghost stories. Some say Janis Joplin, who played at the Red Dog Saloon, haunts the stage there today. Virginia City is a mecca for ghost hunters with noted ghost sightings at the Washoe Club and, in fact, offers ghost tours especially for adventuresome visitors. This tour includes not only an interesting take on the paranormal activity but a great look on what the buildings looked like back in their time, for anyone who is curious of the building structures. You can also stay the night with a group of 6, if interested, in the Washoe Club for some spooky scares.
Another great highlight located within the main strip of Virginia City is their visitor center. The staff provides information, direction and ticket purchases for any of the fun activities you may be interested in doing, while the building has historical artifacts, portraits, and memorabilia to catch the eyes of the visitor.
One of the most popular activities to get involved in are the tours. A tour is a perfect way for visitors to become engaged in the city’s glowing history. Located in the Virginia City Trolley Tours Bus Parking, is the trolley tour. The trolley tour is a 20-minute narrated ride that takes you along the historical landmarks.
Another great tour to take is the V&T Railroad ride and tour located at the “Virginia and Truckee Railroad Depot.” This tour makes you feel as though you’ve gone back in time with a narrated trip while enjoying the scenery around you. The V&T railroad train transported gold and silver ore from Virginia City to Carson City and beyond. Virginia City’s minings amounted to millions of dollars during their time era. In today’s world, their millions would now equal our billions. For a real rush, hop on the TNT Stagelines. It’s the only operating stagecoach in the U.S. that tops out at speeds of 25 miles per hour or more. It’s the original thrill ride.
Other tours that you may be interested in include mine tours and historic walking tours. For sure, Virginia City has its share of museums with all 17 operating from May to October with a slight decrease during the winter months. In fact, each May to October (excluding July) the museums host a free museum day the first Friday of each month – Flashback Friday’s Free Museum Days. It’s your chance to learn all about the history of the Comstock. Donations are recommended.
Other activities to round out your day trip include taking an old-time family portrait at Priscilla Pennyworth’s Old Time Photos or let the kids pan for gems at the Virginia City Mining Company. Venture off the main road to find even more unique Virginia City history like the only operating gold stamp mill in the state or the Chollar Mine tour, an authentic mine journey.
A visit here really allows you to step back in time. At its peak, Virginia City was a thriving metropolis of 25,000 people. The bountiful discovery of the Comstock Lode in the late 1850s drew men and women from around the world to live and work in this high-desert community. At its peak, Virginia City became one of the most important industrial cities this side of Denver with the silver from the mines helping to build San Francisco and, most importantly, help finance the Civil War and thus propelling Nevada into statehood.
Today, not a whole lot has changed on the Comstock, and that’s okay. Virginia City isn’t an amusement park. It’s the real deal. Visitors can get a taste of history and see what it was like living and working here in the 19th century. For instance, you may have heard of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Virginia City is where he first penned the name Mark Twain while working at the local paper, The Territorial Enterprise. The Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise offers a look into what it was like working for the paper when he was there. Tour the Ponderosa Mine in the back of the old Bank of California building to see the underground workings of a real mine.
To conclude, Virginia City’s history is vibrant as ever all year long. It’s quite the gem within the area to visit. To start your adventure, begin at the Visitors Center, located at 86 South C Street. For more information on Virginia City, visit online, check out their Mobile App or call 775-847-7500. Be sure to ask about the Comstock Adventure Pass offering packages and discounts on local attractions.