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Reno, Nevada. A town that’s been spittin’ gold for more than a century in more ways than one. Its place in history and on travelers’ radars has shifted constantly since before its founding, when it served simply as a pit stop where pioneers on their way west could stock up before taking on the rugged Sierra Nevadas by way of the Donner Pass. (Unfortunately for the members of the Donner Party, the trading posts didn’t spring up until a few years after they passed through). It didn’t take long for the settlers to discovergold in the hills surrounding what would soon become Reno, and the area solidified a spot it still holds as a destination for those looking to make a quick buck. As the mining boom waned in the 20th century, attention turned more toward the city proper.

In 1931 when Nevada made open gambling legal and passed some of the most liberal divorce laws in the country, Reno shot to the top of destination lists for a whole new demographic. Intercontinental railroads and then highways made travel to Reno simple. It became “The Biggest Little City In The World.” The people kept coming and the casinos kept being built.

Of course now the old mining villages are all but ghost towns, divorce laws are liberal everywhere and “Reno 911” isn’t even filmed there. But the casino industry is still going strong, and Reno continues to hold plenty of appeal for travelers, especially those on a budget. It is far cheaper than Las Vegas and its history is debatably richer. Here are some sure-fire ways to do Reno right and cheap.


Hot August Nights in Reno

The Hot August Nights celebration in Reno, Nevada. Photo: Rick Cooper – Flickr

Hot August Nights — When it was founded in 1986, this hot rod festival set out to celebrate America’s love affair with rock ‘n’ roll and cars, and to fill a tourism hole in August. Hot rods from around the country spill into the city for an event-filled week in August (this year’s festival is Aug. 2-7). Cars parade down Virginia Street and music fills the dance halls and restaurants. Most of the events are free to attend, and proceeds from the festival go to charity.


Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Photo: Don Graham – Flickr

Strayaway from Lake Tahoe — One of America’s premier outdoor destinations is less than 40 miles from Reno. Lake Tahoe is full of classy outdoor activities at any time of year, drawing constant crowds from around the world with a little extra money to spend on their getaways. The crowd it attracts is a tasteful one, and many who vacation there make a day trip out of visiting Reno. Driving into Reno provides a cheap activity, giving people an excuse not to spend money that day on the boat rental or ski pass. Plus, if they’re lucky, they might just bring home more loot than they came with.

The Great Reno Balloon Race.

The Great Reno Balloon Race. Photo: Ken Lund – Flickr

 Spectate the Great Reno Balloon Race — Held at Rancho San Rafael Park just west of the University of Nevada, Reno, this is one of the largest free hot air balloon festivals in the world. More than 125,000 spectators and 100 hot air balloons turn out for the three-day spectacle, which includes daily balloon glows and launches. Next year’s festival is scheduled for Sept. 9-11.


The National Bowling Stadium

The National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada. Photo: Bryce Edwards – Flickr

Visit the National Bowling Stadium — This is where things get quirky in Reno. “Bowling is kind of a big deal in Reno,” the stadium’s website says. Clearly, if they need a whole stadium for it. Created with the tournament bowler in mind, the National Bowling Stadium has 78 championship lanes and is the only facility of its kind in the world. Ithosts a slew of events and championships, or people can just pop in for a game. If you’re going to bowl, you might as well do it right.


Washoe County Courthouse

The Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, Nevada. Photo: Ken Lund – Flickr

Pilgrimage to Washoe County Courthouse — It’s always important to pay homage to the history of the cities you visit, and that’s especially true with Reno. The Washoe County Courthouse, built in 1910, was the hub of America’s divorce industry during the first half of the 20th century. Divorcing couples were spending $5 million a year in Reno. More than 4,800 divorces were processed in Northern Nevada in 1931, the majority of them through this courthouse. So go visit the courthouse and pay homage to the place that facilitated the end of thousands of unhappy marriages.


Peavine Peak

Peavine Peak near Reno, Nevada. Photo: MikeJamieson(1950) – Flickr

Traverse Peavine Peak — Peavine Peak, named so for the pea vines early prospectors found growing on the northeast flank of the mountain, is one of the most dominant geological features of the Reno area. Miles of hiking and bike paths cover the mountain, and its varied geography creates plenty of challenge for the outdoor enthusiast. The mountain is under stewardship of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, but access to its trails is free.

Tagged: Cheap Tips, Festivals, FREE!, Tips & advice

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