Virginia City is a wonderful place - it's a step back in time to a wild west town that is shockingly authentic feeling. This isn't some movie set like other "ghost towns" you might have met, it's a real town that was once the richest place on earth and still has more than its fair share of colorful residents, saloons with names like "Bucket of Blood", festivals ranging from outhouse and ostrich racing to the "testicle festival", mini tours, and of course haunted hotels you can stay in ... if you dare.
I've had the opportunity to visit a few times and it's one of those areas where I just can't wait to return to and see a different angle. Here are some of my top picks that a father and son can do together.
Take a Ride Back in Time on the V&T Railway
The V&T Railway runs from Carson City to to Virginia City (there is also a Carson Canyon route). This 24-mile route takes guests up the steep grade to Virginia City and not only is it a fun ride with plenty of history and a chance to go through tunnels, past abandoned mines, and watch wild mustangs, it also means you don't have to find a parking spot once you get to the top!
This route was originally established during the boom time of Virginia City and opened in 1870. By the mid-1807s 30-45 trains operated daily on the route that once ran all the way to Reno. Today though, it has been completely turned into a tourist railway and guests can ride on one of the two steam locomotives - No. 18 or No 29, or the diesel engine. Read more about our visit to the V&T Railway.
Take a Cemetery Tour And Find Gravesites of Heroes and Outlaws
Virginia City has two main cemeteries that date back to the 1860's. Initially theses were organized by fraternal, civic, and religious groups and so you'll find groupings related to firemen, masons, "Improved Order of Redmen", as well as others. Today, the cemeteries are being renovated and improved by a grant from the National Park Service but a tour through here is a great opportunity to see some unique gravestones. Plus, since most people who resided in Virginia City during the boom years were from someplace else, you'll find that most grave markers list their home town.
Learn About the Comstock Lode on a Mining Tour
Virginia City was the home of the Comstock Lode and that means that the ground beneath your feet is quite literally a maze of mine shafts. While most mines have been closed long ago, there are still a couple minds still open for tourists wishing to explore them on a tour. This includes most prominently the Chollar Mine and the Ponderosa Mine, which is located right inside the Ponderosa Saloon located on the main road through town.
Grab a (root) Beer and Go on a Saloon Crawl
There are tons of saloons in Virginia City, with most located along the main strip. With names like Bucket of Blood they might seem scary but don't worry, most are very family friendly.
Festivals and Events Galore!
Virginia City always has something going on. From the famous "Testicle Festival" aka the Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry and Ball Breaker Saloon Crawl to the World Championship Outhouse Races, Ostritch and Camel Races, Grand Prix, Classic Car Cruises and more. Virginia City very well could have been a ghost town like so many others but they've done an amazing job of keeping it fun and not taking things too serious.
Stay In a Haunted Hotel
The Gold Hill Hotel in Virginia City is probably the most haunted hotel that I've ever enjoyed staying in. While some hotels work to bring a classic or vintage look to it's guests - the Gold Hill Hotel IS vintage. While the rooms are comfortable and modern, you can't help but wonder if you'll find a ghost lurking in the shadows as you walk down the hall or to the saloon in the basement.
In fact, this property that has been around for more than 150 years does have its share of ghosts. Some are said to come from the proximity to the Yellow Jacket Mine and others are simply former guests. Rooms 4 and 5 are the most haunted and are in the oldest part of the building. Room 4 is said to have the scent of roses and be visited by the entity known as Rosie - a former housekeeper. Room 5 is sometimes visited by William a dark haired man with a mustache and accompanied by the scent of cigar smoke. Other odd occurrences have also occurred throughout the property on various occasions.
In my case, I stayed in room 8 and encountered a previously unknown entity. While this sounds a bit strange - I typically bring a black light to survey rooms in hotels where I stay. This stay was like any others and so I turned the light off and begun to shine the black light around the room to find whatever I might find.
Almost immediately I felt and ICE COLD set of fingers poke my leg. The ghost wasn't mean or angry ... it was simply trying to say, "please turn that light off - you are shining it in my eyes."
For the rest of the night however I couldn't turn the light off in the room. Yes ... a grown man who was afraid of the dark.
The next morning I find that two of my other friends also resisted turning the lights off that night!
While this might not be the experience that is right for everyone ... it's certainly an experience that will bring a father and son closer together. Ultimately, shared experiences like this are what a guys getaway is all about!