Updated March 21, 2017
The old west lives on in Nevada’s Virginia City ghost town. Duck into the Bucket of Blood Saloon to escape a boardwalk shoot out. Watch your step! Don’t trip over that brass spittoon, pilgrim!
Immigrants can’t hail a New York City Yellow Cab here. It’s a mule town with buggies for hire where ore loving miners belly up to the bar looking for a good game of poker.
Dance hall girls adorn the historic ambiance, distracting rambunctious ramblers and charming gamblers. There's nothing like a pretty face and flaxen ringlets to part soused miners from their caches.
If it’s old-time entertainment you’re looking for, well partner, Virginia City ghost town had it all and you’d find the finest at Piper’s Opera House where East Coast troops used to perform to a full-house of society’s silk laden upper-crust.
If it weren’t for the paved streets and modern vehicles parked at the curb, you’d think you had been transported back in time to the heyday of the Comstock Lode, the richest, most notorious period in United States mining history.
There’s no doubt Virginia City ghost town is an unforgettable ghost town and a memorable road trip destination!
Step back in time, a page in old west history, when Virginia City ghost town was a mining camp isolated from civilization in an unforgiving dessert deep in Nevada.
It all began with . . . GOLD.
Imagine it’s 1859, and adventurous men flock here to make their fortunes mining rich mineral resources from the historic Comstock Lode, named after miner Henry T. P. Comstock. It was the first major silver ore discovery in the USA and the next largest rush since the California Gold Rush in 1849.
The flash of silver and gold beckoned rugged individuals, who travailed in this inhospitable place. Huge fortunes were made, putting Nevada on the map.
Renowned western author, Louis L’Amour, aptly depicts this famous era in his fabulous historical novel, Comstock Lode, one of my favorite reads.
The silver and gold rush lasted until 1874, when, the take from the mining operations declined, and then ceased in the 1920s. Today, remnants of mines from those early days dot the barren landscape along with current day operations.
In its heyday, Virginia City ghost town sported a whopping 150 saloons and a notorious red-light district to served the leacherous out of a population of 30,000 residents.
In contrast, the vast fortunes made here led to great commerce and development making the town a culinary and cultural hotspot rivaling San Francisco, California and Denver, Colorado.
Theatre, music halls, fine dining and world class hotels rose from the dust and the affluent openly flaunted their wealth by building beautiful mansions, importing furnishings and the latest fashions from Europe.
The momentous buzz reached the ears of then President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, in Washington D.C., who needed the riches to pay for the Civil War. Political influence rocketed Nevada’s political status from a barren dessert to a U.S. Territory, and then statehood in record time, a short 3 years.
It was here the legendary author Samuel Clemens coined his pen-name, Mark Twain; and George Hearst, father of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearts, made his millions, along with William Ralston and many others, whose influence left their mark on American history.
This frontier boomtown’s wild and wooly past continues to live, carefully preserved in those buildings still standing. So historical is this place it was awarded the distinction of a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
The town’s flashy culture is celebrated in annual events and festivals, to which visitors are invited. Enjoy parades, saloon crawls, the International Camel Race, foodie festivals and much more. Check the calendar of events when planning your road trip.
Virginia City ghost town is an easy 30 to 40 minute drive east from Reno and Carson City.
From Reno, Nevada, take I-580 South to exit 57B/US-395 South. Drive to NV-341 East to Virginia City ghost town, about 14 miles.
From Carson City, Nevada, take US-50 East to NV-341 West. From NV-341 West continue on NV-342 North, and then continue on NV-341 West to Virginia City ghost town, about 7.5 miles.
Perched on the precipice of a desolate mountain tumbled by the Washoe Zephyr, Virginia City is a living ghost town, once home to sourdough prospectors, cutthroat claim jumpers and bonanza mine owners with the Midas touch.
From tents, shanties and dugouts, to lavish boom town structures, this place made an indelible impression.
Gold fever kept restless fortune seekers on the move.
They came from just about every country on Earth, most from the California Gold Rush. When their Comstock Lode claims failed to prosper, they went on to the Klondike in the Northern Territory.
Behind them, they left their mark . . . mines, historic and early 20th century, are everywhere.
For over 150 years, this native stone structure served the needs of the Virginia City area when it was not abandoned. Built in 1861, the Riesen House, as it was known as back then, was originally a boarding house (rooming house).
It withstood a lot of history!
Once a saloon and a brothel, by 1907 it was converted to a private residence following the cycle of booms and busts in the late 1800s, until, by the 1930s, only a few hundred residents leftover from the glory days, occupied Virginia City. The building survived as most of Virginia City fell to ruins.
By 1950, Virginia City boasted less than 80 residents. The Gold Hill Bar and Hotel did bleak business and the town fell off the map when the local post office closed.
Following extensive modernization, restoration and renovation, today, the Gold Hill Hotel serves tourists lodging needs and houses a restaurant and a saloon.
The great fire of 1875 ravaged the town, but undeterred fortune seekers rebuilt it; this time, using masonry instead of canvas sheeting and gnarled wood.
Originally, this brick structure, known as the Comstock House, served as a hotel, off and on, until 1965, when hippies from San Francisco bought the place, went psychedelic and branded their business with edgy rock ‘n roll entertainment. Janis Joplin joined up and “Big Brother and the Holding Company” was born.
Another era faded and gone, the building was sold and renamed, Kitty’s Long Branch, a tourist shop. The building sold again in the 1990s and after yet another makeover was dubbed Red Dog Saloon.
I love the antique character of this building housing the current day Comstock Firemen’s Museum. It was built in 1876 following the Great Fire that burned the original structure in 1875.
Many businesses inhabited its brick walls . . . brokerage, meat market, saloon and brewery, until it turned fire house early in the 20th century.
Sometime between 1962 and the mid-1970s, new firehouses were built to better serve the region. At some point near the turn of the 21st century, all historical fire fighting equipment was moved to this building, now home of the Comstock Firemen’s Museum.
The Fourth Ward School is one of the few of its kind still standing in the United States. The 1876 Second Empire, four-story state-of-the-art wooden school preserves the real story of life in a booming Old West mining town.
Wooden relics of this era are extremely rare out west, even more so those built in the Second Empire architecture style. Constructed in 1876, this state of the art building contained cutting edge innovations of its time, central heating and interior plumbing complete with self-flushing toilets.
From its inception, educating grammar and high school students, Fourth Ward School operated continuously until its closure in 1936. For 50 years the building stood empty until its restoration and subsequent reopening as a museum featuring Comstock’s history.
Valued as an historical treasure, Fourth Ward School was awarded the distinction of placing on the National Register of Historic Places and receives grants and funding via the National Park Service for its continued preservation.
Another grand Second Empire style structure graces Virginia City ghost town, the Savage Mining Company Office.
The elegant architecture misleads visitors into thinking the building is a marvelous mansion. Constructed in 1861, the top two floors were originally designed as a residence for the mine superintendent; the building was a commercial endeavor and the first floor office space bustled with business.
Like the Fourth Ward School, the Savage Mining Company Office has been awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places for its historical and architectural significance.
Molinelli’s Hotel was a Virginia City ghost town original. Upon completion of construction, the hotel opened its doors to business in 1879 and served visitors’ lodging needs for decades. It still does, though with a new moniker, the Silver Queen Hotel & Wedding Chapel.
Constructed in 1859, the Tahoe House Hotel is a living testament to Virginia City ghost town history from the beginning. This restored relic of bygone days continues to operate in the spirit of its origins.
Built in 1876, Nevada’s first steam press was installed while this brick structure was under construction.
One of Samuel Clemens earliest writing jobs was as a journalist for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper at the Virginia City ghost town office. He, along with author Dan DeQuille, shaped the colorful reputation of Nevada’s notable publication.
It was here, he first published under his famous pen-name, Mark Twain.
The Territorial Enterprise was widely read and endeavored to engage its growing readership with embellished Virginia City ghost town news stories teetering on the edge of legendary tale telling.
Yet, these flamboyant accounts record the spirit of those intrepid souls who labored in this illustrious mining camp.
George Hearst, father of renowned newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, built this brick building in 1860 as the Curry Mining Company Office.
Comstock “Silver King”, John MacKay, later purchased the building and renovated it creating an extravagant residence, a showplace of his immense wealth and prominent social position.
Currently, the property is operated as the MacKay Mansion Museum.
Theme Trains and Wild West routes make this Virginia City ghost town railway adventure appealing to everyone!
"Step back in time at the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada with David John and the Comstock Cowboys, where Western Music is Alive and Kickin'."
"Our monthly dinner Murder Mysteries are held the 3rd Saturday of each month at Lili's Restaurant and Bar."
"Enjoy the Virginia City of the 1860's Enhance your visit by staying in period accommodations at Virginia City's finest Country Inn. Edith Palmer's Country Inn was established in a Victorian home built in 1863. Originally, the home and a rock building to the rear were used as a cider factory. Edith Palmer, a renowned cook and innkeeper, started the Inn."
"Silverland Inn & Suites is a Victorian style hotel. Situated on a wide expanse of land, it is located in close proximity to the Comstock Arena, the downtown district, attractions, and the Virginia & Truckee (V & T) Railroad Depot."
"Part of our motel was originally built in the 1800's as a boarding house for miners. Guests can choose to stay in rooms that have original brick walls and cast iron shutters. At one time, according to local legend, the motel may have been used as a jail for some of the more lawless inhabitants of the south end of town, then known as the 'Barbary Coast.'"
"Virginia City, Nevada has lots to offer. Your West Coast trip would not be compete without visiting the very much alive Wild West.
Gun toting sheriffs, outlaws and ladies. This large historical district is sure to put a smile on your face while you enjoy this living history preserved. Events abound all year long.
High season is May through September. But the winter is also a great time to visit. Roads are clear and well maintained year round. Take a break from the slopes and "Step Back in Time" with Virginia City Inn."
"Explore the rich geological and cultural history of one of the great mines of the Comstock Lode! Go deep underground and discover how the miners of the great Comstock Lode of Virginia City mined the wealth that brought thousands across America to risk it all and seek their fortune. With its riches first located in 1859, Virginia City's Chollar Mine (later the Chollar-Potosi) was one of the leading producers on the Comstock. Over the next 80 years, miners blasted and carted out some $17 million in gold and silver. Learn how the mines were built, the geological signifigance of the rocks and what it meant to the men who dug here."
"Virginia City's mining history comes alive with two original restored stamp mills from the 1850's Comstock Lode. Tour the working gold stamp mill and historical mining equipment and see gold processed from ore to recovery."
"A 2-1/2 mile, 20-minute narrated tour of Virginia City on a trolley or tram. Get a brief sneak at the history of Virginia City while seeing the landmarks and views the historic town has to offer. A great place to start your day in town!"