RVing the Rails – Excursion Trains in Nevada


Shelley Dennis

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Shelley Dennis is a travel photographer and writer who threw caution to the wind and gave up most of her belongings to travel the country in an RV. Her trusty sidekick for this lifetime adventure is her Golden Retriever, Sully. You can find them both at www.PhotoTrippingAmerica.com

Many times camping trips involve exploring new territory and discovering enticing attractions along the way. Passenger tour trains have that magnetic appeal for many RVers, providing a novel way to see hidden countryside not normally viewed from the road. Railroad passengers learn about local history, culture and the many colorful characters from the communities visited. Camping World wants to make sure you don’t miss the departing whistle, so we have created a series entitled RVing the Rails. You will find the most popular excursion trains to ride in each state, complete with any specialty trains they might offer.

Steam Engine Train on Track
Photo Credit: Skeeze on Unsplash

Today we will explore the most popular trains in Nevada:

Virginia & Truckee Railway

Virginia & Truckee Railway
Photo Credit: Drew Jacksich (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Running from Virginia City to Gold Hill and back, the Virginia & Truckee Railway was world renown as the Queen of the Shortline railroads, hosting as many as 45 trains a day that hauled gold and silver from the mines in Virginia City. The tracks were built in 1869 and continued to carry freight and passengers until 1938.

One of the passengers on that last train decided to bring the railway back to life in 1976, and today visitors can travel through Comstock country on this 150-year-old line, viewing some of the world’s most famous mines.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The railroad is unique in that it runs both diesel engines and 100-year-old steam locomotives on standard gauge tracks. Passengers can pick their train, then ride in comfortable enclosed coach cars, passing through a tunnel and past 17 historic silver and gold mines.

Seating Options

All seating on the train is open, so there are no assigned seats in the enclosed passenger cars, and no reservations are necessary. Travelers can disembark at Gold Hill and explore on their own, catching a return train later in the day, as there are seven departures.

Virginia and Truckee Railroad Depot
Photo Credit: Brian Schaller (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Riding Options

The Virginia & Truckee Railway offers two trip options:

  • From the Virginia City depot, passengers can take a 35 minute trip to Gold Hill, then return on any of the afternoon trains.
  • On Fridays in July and August, passengers have the opportunity to depart at 10:00am from the Carson City Eastgate Depot for a one-and-one-half hour train ride to Virginia City. They are given a three-hour layover to explore, then catch the return train at 2:30pm.

Specialty Trains

Reservations are suggested for all specialty trains, as they tend to sell out.

  • Civil War Days & Battle Trains – Civil War re-enactors portray one of the bloodiest battles, as train passengers watch the lead fly and a local military band provides background music.
  • Pumpkin Patch Trains – Bring the kids and take the train to Gold Hill’s pumpkin patch, where everyone can select their favorite orange squash to carve.
  • Day Out With Thomas – Ride on the “Thomas The Tank Engine” for a trip where children can explore the Imagination Station Caboose and dine in the P.B.&J. Pullman car. It’s a special ride for any train-loving child!
  • Candy Cane Express – Enjoy the Five C’s of Christmas on this train: cocoa, cider, candy canes, cookies, and carols. You will travel through the Candy Cane Tunnel and listen to the classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Length of Season

Virginia & Truckee Railway in Snow
Photo Credit: Drew Jacksich (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Virginia & Truckee Railroad runs steam and diesel locomotive trains seven times a day from the last week of May through the end of October. Specialty trains run on specific dates through December. Check their schedule here to see which train is right for your outing.

Nevada Northern Railway

Nevada Northern Train on the Tracks
Photo Credit: Drew Jacksich (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With construction on the tracks completed in 1906, the Nevada Northern began runs to the copper mines north of Ely, taking the ore to smelters and hooking into the existing Southern Pacific Railroad for further transport.

It functioned as a freight train until 1978, when the mines began to close, but in 1986 creation of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation meant a portion of the rails would be salvaged and turned into a heritage railroad and museum. Today’s visitors get a taste of early 20th-century transportation on a 90-minute train ride from Ely to the copper district.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The railroad runs both diesel and steam locomotives pulling enclosed passenger cars on standard gauge rails. Visitors to the train are invited to look around the entire “museum,” which consists of the railyard and rolling stock, roundhouse, depot and freight house.

Seating Options

There is no assigned seating on the Nevada Northern, and passengers are encouraged to select their own seats in either an outdoor car or in an enclosed coach car. Walking through the train while in motion is acceptable, and snacks and restrooms are available onboard. Two additional seating options are offered:

  • Engine Ride – sit in the cab with the engineer and fireman and see the tracks from a perfect vantage point. Children over 12 are allowed, but only with an accompanying adult. Remember, you will not have access to the rest of the train when it is underway, so purchase snacks and make use of the restrooms beforehand. Reservations for this ticket are strongly suggested, as the seating is extremely limited.
  • Caboose Ride – parties up to 8 can take advantage of a caboose ride for the entire 90 minute trip on a regular excursion train. You will have no access to the other train cars during the trip, so purchase snacks and visit the restrooms before the train leaves the depot. Advance reservations are strongly suggested.

Riding Options

Nevada Northern Caboose at Night
Photo Credit: NNRY.com

Nevada Northern Railway offers several unique experiences for railfans. They call the series “Hands-On Adventures.” Here are different ways to get up close and personal with the Iron Horse:

  • Spend a Night at the Railroad – Camp out in a caboose in the railyard or sleep in the bunkhouse, and use the morning train whistle as your alarm clock!
  • Be the Engineer – Get your hand on the throttle (and brake) of a steam locomotive or a diesel engine as you travel on the mainline track.
  • Winter Steam Spectacular Photoshoot – The train pulls out its best locomotives, cabooses and rolling stock to pose for photographers as it runs down a winter track.
  • Photography Workshop – Three-and-one-half day workshops with professional rail photographers offer personal instruction, critique and daily assignments to those who wish to capture train history on film.
  • Railroad Reality Week – A week of safety instruction, driving, braking and switching cars is all done in anticipation of graduation. That is when graduates operate a diesel locomotive and switch cars on their own.

Specialty Trains

Nevada Northern Train on Tracks
Photo Credit: Chris English (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Pony Express – Follow the Pony Express here in Nevada as the train stops to watch Ely’s own Ghost Riders commemorate the passage of mail. Each passenger will also receive a commemorative envelope and stamp that can be hand-canceled in the railway post office car.
  • Wild West Limited – The steam train rides into havoc as cowboy thieves rob the train. Hold on to your wallet!
  • Rockin’ and Rollin’ Geology Train – Learn about the local geologic features that hide gold, silver, and copper in the hills around your train ride.
  • 4th of July Train – Enjoy an evening train ride as the engine brings riders to a perfect viewing site for Ely’s fireworks show. View from the train or bring your own lawn chair.
  • Star Train – The Dark Rangers from Great Basin National Park join train passengers on a nighttime excursion to study the stars.
  • Haunted Ghost Train – What do zombies, apparitions and Big Foot have in common? They are all a part of Nevada Northern’s Haunted Ghost Train.

Length of Season

The Nevada Northern runs regular excursion trains from April through November, with specialty trains on specific dates throughout the year. Check out their full schedule here.

Nevada Southern Railway

Nevada Southern Diesel Engine
Photo Credit: NevadaSouthern.com

Constructed in the 1930s to service the building of the Hoover Dam, the Nevada Southern was initially part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Once the last generator was installed at the dam, the need for the railroad line diminished.

In 1985 the state of Nevada purchased the spur that ran from Boulder City toward Henderson, utilizing seven miles of track for a heritage railroad associated with a museum full of equipment, rolling stock and memorabilia. Today riders are treated to a 35 minute narrated tour that heads toward Railroad Pass.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The Nevada Southern runs diesel locomotives on standard gauge rails, pulling coach and dining cars, as well as a caboose.

Seating Options

Nevada Southern Dining Car on Tracks
Photo Credit: NevadaSouthern.com

There are no assigned seats on the Nevada Southern, and passengers can sit in an open car or in climate-controlled enclosed coaches. There is also a car with a lift for handicap accessibility, with restrooms on board.

Riding Options

The train runs in only one direction, so there are no one-way tickets or side trips available. However, Nevada Southern Railway does offer a few different perks:

  • On Thursdays and Fridays, teachers can book a Fieldtrip Train, where students can learn about railroad history as they travel through it. The minimum group size is 25.
  • Cab Rides are available for all scheduled departures on weekend trains, but reservations are suggested, as seating is limited.

Specialty Trains

Nevada Southern Engine at Museum
Photo Credit: NearEMPTiness (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Nevada Southern does not offer any specialty trains, but it does have one program that train lovers from miles around will jump at the opportunity to take:

  • Engineer for an Hour – Learn the ins and outs of driving a diesel locomotive from a licensed engineer, and utilize your new-found skill on the mainline tracks from Boulder City to Railroad Pass. One guest is allowed to accompany the participant, and a course certificate will be issued upon completion.

Length of Season

The railroad is open on weekends year-round, with four departures daily at 10:00am, 11:30am, 1:00pm and 2:30pm.

Join the thousands of RVers that have a love affair with trains and ride the rails on your next camping trip. Check out the other excursion trains available on a state-by-state basis in our series, RVing the Rails.

Excursion trains in Nevada

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