Home #WHERETONEXT USA Experience Limitless Outdoor Adventure in the Rugged West

Experience Limitless Outdoor Adventure in the Rugged West

A couple enjoys the scenery while resting on an ATV ride in Carson Valley, Nevada | Photo: Visit Carson Valley

The Pinterest Summer 2024 Travel Report is out, and adventure is in: Searches for “adventure activities” are up 45% year over year, as prospective travelers are trading the mundane for the exhilarating, swapping office cubicles and Zoom calls for wide-open spaces and immersive experiences in nature.

In other words, Carson Valley, Nevada, is calling. The destination’s soaring mountain ranges and plunging valley create an open-air playground for adrenaline junkies looking for their next adventure high. This is the rugged West, located just 45 minutes south of Reno and 12 miles east of South Lake Tahoe. The choices here are as wide open as the landscape — and a spare tire is always a good idea.

Travelers hoping to choose their own adventure can discover just a few pulse-pounding ways to explore the region’s four communities of Genoa, Gardnerville, Minden, and Topaz Lake below.

Have the Glide of Your Life

Thrill seekers chasing fun might find themselves strapped into a sleek Soaring NV glider, departing from the Minden-Tahoe Airport in the heart of Carson Valley. A confident tow plane hoists passengers and their glider up and over the Sierra Nevada range, granting views of glistening Lake Tahoe below, before they’re cut loose — thermal waves radiating from Jobs Peak and the Eastern Sierra keeping them aloft, sometimes with climb rates exceeding 1,500 feet per minute. While it feels like 100% high-octane adventure, it’s powered by nothing but air.  

Air sports are all the rage in this place of natural wind wonders. Whether tourists are tempted by a tandem skydiving experience from Skydive Lake Tahoe or a lofty view from bubble windows courtesy of Tahoe Helicopters, the region is an ideal destination for high-flying adventure. Even those who prefer a milder thrill can enjoy an early morning bird’s eye view of the valley with Balloon Nevada, offering rides in their colorful hot air balloons with breathtaking views of the valley below.

Hit the Dirt with Some High-Desert Off-Roading

For adventure seekers who require a little throttle therapy, Carson Valley’s Pine Nut Mountains epitomize rugged beauty, and exploring the region by ATV or side-by-side UTV is an exhilarating way to witness it first-hand. Crawling through tight sand washes and cruising the Great Basin dirt simply requires a rental from the fleets of off-road vehicles available to adventure travelers — including the ever-popular Polaris RZR. Better yet, cleaning the vehicle is not required before returning it!

Options include self-guided tours for those who want to explore independently, or guided tours are available for visitors looking for a bit more direction. Full Access Tahoe and Lake Tahoe Adventures are just two outlets offering tours and rentals.

Get Wet and Wild at Topaz Lake

For those who prefer actual water over seas of sagebrush, Topaz Lake’s 90 acres of shoreline and crystal turquoise waters beckon outdoorsmen for some of Carson Valley’s best boating, fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing.

Visitors to Topaz, which is a quick and picturesque 20-minute drive south of Gardnerville, can kayak or canoe the turquoise waters — making use of a new, convenient self-serve kayak kiosk to secure their rental. Topaz Lodge RV Park is another destination featuring abundant recreational activities, including hiking, swimming, fishing, water skiing, paddleboarding, bird watching, and stargazing, with ample trails and paths for off-road activities. Anglers can catch prized rainbow trout from shore, boat, or kayak thanks to seasonal stocking from the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Channel Your Animal Instincts

Perhaps nothing reminds Carson Valley visitors of the region’s untamed roots like a wild animal sighting, and those who train their eyes on the not-so-distant horizon have the potential to spy a variety of creatures. Venture out with a knowledgeable local guide to view everything from wild horses to raptors, learning from an expert about those who inhabit the valley’s backyard. Or take advantage of wildlife/bird viewing destinations and insider tips and tricks about safely interacting with the region’s native animals. 

Go Wheels (or Heels) Up with Biking & Hiking Fun

Yet another action-packed source of outdoor adventure is the region’s top-tier trails system, with more than 70 miles of trails (and counting) across six vast networks. Trailblazers can access this fun on foot or wheels and even on hoof — as some of the trails are designed for equestrians.

Perhaps most regionally iconic is the 165-plus-mile Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), which circumnavigates the ridge lines of the Lake Tahoe Basin and crosses six counties (including Carson Valley’s Douglas County), four national forests, three wilderness areas, two states, and one state park. The highest point on the TRT is Relay Peak at 10,338 feet, and some sections have significant climbs over 9,000 feet. Underscoring its adventure appeal, the trail ranges from moderate to strenuous, with a total gain/loss of 24,400 feet over the entire 165 miles. Offering a direct path to Carson Valley below is the Sierra Canyon Trail, with its trailhead that intersects the Tahoe Rim Trail and sits at an elevation of nearly 8,500 feet. From this vantage point, cyclists can see the entire Lake Tahoe basin to the west, the span of Carson Valley to the east, and Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister peeking out from the southeast. To reach Genoa, the trail’s destination, riders descend 3,500 feet over the course of 10 miles of singletrack. Sound like a leg-burner?