Find Variety in Carson Valley 

By Withanee Andersen Milligan 

It’s my pleasure to introduce the 2006 graduating class of seven!” You read that right, seven graduates and I was one of them. Coming from the smallest high school in the state of Nevada to the University of Nevada, I have always felt an interesting tug between two lives: big city and small town.

Clear Creek in Carson Valley
Clear Creek in Carson Valley


Carson Valley is the spot for people who don’t want to be confined to singularity, who enjoy a little variety, who want to have their cake, and well, you know the rest.  

I love the conveniences and experiences of the city — something I never had growing up in a town with no grocery store, bank, pharmacy … you name it, we didn’t have it. At the same time, a yearning for open spaces and folks that still wave at passersby is rooted deep; alive and well within me.

After years of wrestling with this somewhat split personality trait, I discovered (and moved to) a place where I never have to choose one or the other. In more ways than one, Carson Valley is the spot for people who don’t want to be confined to singularity, who enjoy a little variety, who want to have their cake, and well, you know the rest.  

Elbow room but things to do

Carson Valley has more than a little elbow room. With over 50 miles of hiking/biking/running trails, there are a lot of options to order up a big gulp of fresh air with a side of freedom. I have a personal goal to experience every single step of all area trails and my sore feet will tell you, it’s a big mission.

My dog as sunset in Carson Valley. Photo Credit: Withanee Milligan
My dog as sunset in Carson Valley. Photo Credit: Withanee Milligan

When I’m feeling lazy but still itchin’ to roam, there is a smorgasbord of UTV trails for the taking. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that throttle therapy is a real thing, and it doesn’t really matter the type of throttle. My husband and I like to cruise the dirt roads with our beloved 13-year-old dog, stopping every now and again to set up a cornhole game or catch the sunset in the bed of our truck.

My dad always used to tell me, “At the end of the paved road is the beginning of a good day,” and, boy, was he right. Unlike where I grew up, having the luxury of wide-open space doesn’t mean sacrificing things to do. Rarely is there an open slot on Carson Valley’s events calendar.

From concerts and farmers’ markets to art shows and reenactments, there’s always something that nourishes my social butterfly streak before I get the hankering to be back out in the countryside. 

TJ's Corral in Carson Valley
TJ’s Corral in Carson Valley
Old and new: the best watering holes

Genoa is the oldest (and arguably the most charming) settlement in Nevada, founded in the spring of 1851 by Mormon pioneers. As a result, the Genoa Bar holds the honored title of “Oldest Thirst Parlor in Nevada” and feels like stepping into a time machine.

This place oozes authenticity, and I always half-expect Mark Twain to walk around the corner or see the Duke’s horse, Dollar, tied to the hitching rail. I’ve even been tempted to put on my grandpa’s heirloom spurs to clink along the wooden floors for the thrill of it.

Genoa Bar in Carson Valley. Photo Credit: Jeff Dowe
Genoa Bar in Carson Valley. Photo Credit: Jeff Dowe

The Genoa Bar is where strangers turn into friends and moments turn into memories, albeit hazy ones. (If you need an example, a firefighter buddy of mine once put out a women’s hair that was going up in smoke from standing too close to the firepit. She bought him a drink for it.) 

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the area’s newest thirst parlor, Bently Heritage Distillery. Bently opened its’ doors in 2019 and has perfectly married yesteryear and contemporary, and it is quite the union.

I went on a whim with two girlfriends and, truth be told, we had a hard time keeping our jaws off the floor and pinkies out of the air.

Bently Heritage Estate Distillery. Photo Credit Chris Dickerson
Bently Heritage Estate Distillery. Photo Credit: Chris Dickerson

I felt much more important than I am (I had my hair in pigtails, for crying out loud) and had a blast drinking in the polished details of the Public House, along with my cocktail.

It’s an extravagant experience that you would be hard-pressed to find even in the most bustling of cities. Both places never cease to satisfy my spirit with, well, spirits. 

carson valley
Bently Heritage Estate Distillery, one of the newest distilleries in Carson Valley
Instagram-worthy views/a place where you kind of want to put your phone away  

I probably spend way too much time on the ‘gram. I wish I could claim generational reasons, but honestly, I just like pretty pictures. The four towns that make up Carson Valley (Gardnerville, Minden, Genoa and Topaz Lake) are an all-you-can-eat buffet for Instagrammable moments.

The Pink House in Genoa. Photo Credit Whitney James
The Pink House in Genoa. Photo Credit: Whitney James

Places like Dangberg Ranch, the Pink House in Genoa, the incredible spiral staircase inside Bently, the dollar bills on the ceiling of JT Basque, the shores of Topaz Lake, to name a few, could offer the shot to make you go viral.

Or, take a selfie with wild horses or cows in the background … if that’s your thing. 

Viewing Wild Horses Carson Valley. Photo Credit Mona Molayem
Viewing Wild Horses in Carson Valley. Photo Credit: Mona Molayem

On the flip side, the air of the Old West and a slower pace always make me want to put my phone away and live in the present.

To truly experience everything this place has to offer, drink in moments and store them away in my memory bank not accessible by iCloud.  So, eat all the cake and go back for seconds.

Having it all doesn’t have to be a goal of mine anymore. In Carson Valley, I ride both ends of the teeter-totter and gleefully jump back and forth from opposite spectrum ends.  And, there is so much more: adventure but relaxation, close proximity to worldwide travel destinations yet feels like a million miles away, perks of the city with a quaint small-town feel.

Best yet, people still tip their hats at me in the grocery store (that I didn’t have to drive hours to get to!). If that’s not the perfect life balance, what is?  

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