Touring Virginia City, Nevada with kids

Located thirty minutes outside of Reno Nevada, Virginia City takes families back in time to an era of unprecedented wealth in silver and gold mining history. The drive to the boomtown from either Reno or Carson City is scenic and dramatic (and kids should be on the look-out for wild horse herds…we were lucky enough to spot one).

Delta Saloon virginia city

Virginia City lies over the crest of a hill; the first thing you see if the pioneer-era graveyard followed by the tall steeples of the Catholic and Protestant churches. The main street of town runs along C Street, complete with false-fronts and boardwalks. Families can park on the street or in one of several lots, and will want to start their day at the Visitor’s Center, located on C Street. During the summer months, you can purchase one of several varieties of Comstock Pass to save on individual attractions, and in the winter, these options are available a la carte for a discount of 50 cents on each ticket for each attraction. Ticket prices for Virginia City tours and museums are very low: most average $5 for adults and many are free for kids as old as 11. The staff at the Visitor’s Center will point you in the direction of the tours that are best for your group: you definitely can’t see everything in one day at Virginia City!

Virginia City for families

Tours and museums:

As stated, there are more homes, mines, and saloons to tour than you could see in one day, but the following are not to be missed:

Trolley Tour: This twenty minute tour gives a great overview of the town and its operations during the late 1800s. We did this at the start of our day, and are glad we did. It kept everyone interested, and we all agreed we’d have been happy to ride longer. Pick up the trolley tour at the parking area next to the Bucket of Blood Saloon.

Mackay Mansion: Once the home of William Randolph Hearst senior, the Mackay Mansion served as residence and mining office. We found it fascinating to tour the office and dining room as well as the upstairs residence rooms of the Mackay family. This site is in the process of restoration, and the guide is passionate about this project. It was a joy to listen to him, and the tour is partially self-guided, so younger children can move along more quickly if needed.

Mackay Mansion virginia City

The Way it Was Museum: There are certainly more sophisticated museums out there, but The Way it Was is a fun stop that will help orient kids to the boomtown era. Outside, mining equipment is on display, including a display explaining how mules were used to grind rock and deposit ore. Inside, artifacts from the town range from newspaper clippings to a dentist chair, and kids can see buggies, household goods, and maps.

The Way it Was Museum

The Ponderosa Mine Tour: In the summer months, families can tour one of several mines, but if you’re visiting in the off-season as we were, definitely buy tickets to the Ponderosa Mine. Located at the back of the Ponderosa Saloon (check out the huge safe inside), the Ponderosa tour takes you into a mine shaft. Our guide was enthusiastic about his topic, and we learned about the working conditions in the mines, the pay, and the dangers. We wore hard hats, and the mine shaft did get a bit restricting; this tour only takes about 25 minutes, which makes it ideal for young kids.

Ponderosa Mine Tour

There are numerous additional tours of the schoolhouse (seasonal), churches, Washoe Saloon and club (this one is haunted), and Piper’s Opera House. There’s also a Mark Twain museum detailing his life in Virginia City (he got his start here). You can always pay at the door of any tours you didn’t purchase in advance at the Visitor’s Center.

Rides and other attractions:

During the summer months, visitor’s can ride a stagecoach, buggy, or the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. The railroad operates during the end of November and beginning of December as a Candy Cane Express as well, which is perfect for young kids. (Buy tickets in advance.) Walking tours of the town are always available; ask for a map at the Visitor’s Center.

Dining and Saloons:

If you’re planning to picnic, a nice public picnic area with clean bathrooms and great views is located at the start of town (you can’t miss it). Additionally, families are permitted to picnic on the Mackay Mansion grounds by the gazebo. If you want to eat a meal out, Virginia City has an array of options. We ate a family-friendly meal at the Palace Restaurant, located on C Street. Kids will like seeing the authentic saloon bar, and parents will appreciate that there’s no smoking (not the case in all Virginia City establishments). We ordered burgers and sandwiches, and the food was quick and good.

The Palace Restaurant

The Delta Saloon is worth a quick visit with older kids to see the infamous Suicide Table, said to be cursed by bad luck. Note: you’ll have to walk through the saloon’s many casino machines and smoky haze to get there. The Bucket of Blood Saloon is famous for the bucket’s worth of blood cleaned up after a barroom fight in the late 1800’s. It’s name is the most ominous part of the building, but it can be fun to peek inside.

Plenty of dessert and candy can be found along C Street, including Grandma’s Fudge, which we recommend. Barrels o’ Candy is located nearby; we found it to be overpriced and the candy less than fresh.

Barrels of Candy Virginia City

Souvenirs are everywhere, but even these are reasonably-priced. Stop at the Rock Shop for souvenir silver or gold flakes, or to pick out your own gems for just a few dollars. Old-timey photos can be taken, and The Way it Was Museum has a small selection of souvenirs at the counter.

Date last visited: November 2012

Distance from the interstate: 30 miles from Hwy 395 (580).

Directions: From Reno, take Hwy 580 to Hwy 341 (Comstock Highway). Follow signs to Virginia City.

As I disclose whenever applicable, our time in Virginia City was hosted by the Virginia City Visitor’s Center and Palace Restaurant. This generosity came with no expectation of a positive review.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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