Carson City was established in 1858 and was named after the mountain man Kit Carson. Carson has served as Nevada’s capital since statehood in 1864. Until 1969, Carson City was the county seat of Ormsby County; however, during this year the county was dissolved and the lands consolidated to make up the current 157 square mile municipality. Carson City is an independent city and is treated as a county-equivalent for census purposes. Located 30 miles south of Reno, and sharing a border with Lake Tahoe, Carson is home to 54,216 people (DETR, 2017).
Carson City’s history predates Nevada’s establishment in 1861. Ten years before, in 1851, the first settlement of Eagle Station trading post was founded by ranchers. By 1858, land was surveyed for a town site, and soon after, the valley was purchased for $500. With foresight, a capitol building was even erected three years before Nevada would become a territory.
The Comstock Lode and its abundance of gold and silver helped Carson City thrive between 1859 and the 1880s as a freight and transportation center. Since it was the capitol, however, Carson City did not completely depend on mining. The Warm Springs Hotel served as a meeting hall for legislature and was also leased out as a prison. Then, in 1869, the United States Mint in Carson City was completed (today, it is the site of the Nevada State Museum). The Virginia & Truckee (popularly known as the V&T) railroad was completed this same year and was operational through 1950. Now, façades for the Napa Valley wineries sit in its place.
Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into today, Carson City has been home to historic events. In 1897, the world heavyweight championship was hosted in Carson City, and a dozen years later, the first air flight in Nevada took place on June 23, 1910.
Landscape and Climate
Carson City sits well above sea level at 4,800 feet in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, and has an array of land coverage types throughout. Much of Carson is made up of shrublands (52%) with good chunks of grasslands (13%), forest (11%), and urban (11%) coverage (NASA Modis, 2006). Situated in a high desert river valley, Carson has warm summers and cold winters. Much of the precipitation in the city occurs during the winter and spring months, while summer and fall tend to be very dry. On average, Carson City experiences 250+ sunny days per year (Best Places, n.d.), which is well above 205, the national average.
Much of the water running through Carson City can be found flowing east of the downtown area in the shape of the Carson River. To the west, Kings Canyon, Ash Canyon, and numerous other creeks flow. Finally, the waters of Lake Tahoe sit on the western border of Carson. Around 12 square miles of Lake Tahoe fall into Carson City limits.
Community and Events
Carson City is home to a number of museums with a wide variety of topics. The Nevada State Museum focuses on the state’s natural history; it houses a replica of a walk-through mine and shows off the historic Carson City Mint. Educating about the expansion out west, Carson also houses the Nevada State Railroad Museum, which includes over 65 locomotives (many of which were built before 1900). Battle Born Hall, opened in 2018, showcases the Trailblazing Nevada exhibit, which honors individuals who found new and creative ways to help the state and nation grow. The city also has many pieces of public art. Some of these art pieces include “Inside the Mind of DaVinci” at the Community Center, the “Strings of Imagination” mural at the Brewery Arts Center, and the “Home Means Nevada” mural, which portrays six historical figures that impacted the state. There is no shortage of performing arts happening within Carson at any given time. The Brewery Arts Center hosts events in its theater, performance hall, and ballroom year around. Proscenium Players, Inc. is the longest running theater company in Carson City and has been in operation for over 50 years as well. The Wild Horse Children’s Theater and Youth Theatre Carson City both provide opportunities for children to participate in the performing arts.
Situated 25 minutes from Lake Tahoe (in the neighboring Washoe and Douglas Counties) and at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, Carson City provides no shortage of outdoor recreational opportunities. Kayakers, canoers, and rafters can get their fill with everything from beginner to expert range areas at Lake Tahoe and the Carson River. The Carson River Aquatic Trail is a 12.6 mile stretch of river that takes riders through a scenic canyon, while the Lower River trip from Morgan Mill to Dayton allows rafters to experience both Class II and Class III rapids. For those looking to experience the beauty of the Sierras in wintertime, and take advantage of the world class snowboarding and skiing opportunities, Heavenly and Mt. Rose ski areas are both short drives away from downtown Carson. Heavenly in the south boasts 26 lifts and 97 total runs, while Mt. Rose provides eight lifts and 60 total runs. Finally, for those looking to explore and take advantage of the sunshine, Carson City has no shortage of hiking trails. Riverview Park, near downtown, offers beginner trails and walking/biking paths in the form of 109 acres of natural recreation area. The more experienced hiker might adventure out to the seven-mile Ash to Kings Canyon Trail, which takes you past a waterfall and a variety of landscapes. The Flume Trail near Lake Tahoe is a haven for mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Many of the outdoor recreation opportunities are great for families; however, if you are looking for things suited specifically to enjoy as a group, Carson City has a number of them. The Bob McFadden Plaza offers a splashpad for families with younger children to enjoy in the summer months. The Nevada State Railroad Museum offers train and handcar rides while also offering many special events throughout the year. The Carson City Aquatic Facility offers a “Parents and Tots” pool, therapy pool, and an outdoor pool that operates May through September for families looking to cool off during the summer or enjoy the water during the winter months.
Carson City may not provide the opulence of Las Vegas, but those looking to enjoy an evening out can find great dining, shopping, and gaming possibilities. This, combined with a plethora of outdoor recreation activities, makes Carson City a great location to live or visit.
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