A tiny state park nestled in the Carson Valley near Lake Tahoe’s southeast edge, Mormon Station State Historic Park is a great stop for history, hikes, and outdoor recreation all year-round. Centrally located in tree-lined Genoa—a town formerly known as Mormon Station—the park provides a glimpse of the Old West in Nevada’s oldest non-Indigenous permanent settlement.
This compact, 3.8-acre park boasts a museum in the form of a replica of the 1851 trading post that served weary travelers on their way across the Sierra Nevada mountains. Visiting the stockade and wagon encampment are free, and a nominal fee provides access to the museum, which is open daily April through October, and Thursday through Sunday for the remainder of the year. Exhibits include artifacts from the California Trail—which brought Gold Rush miners and other emigrants right through Genoa—and the Pony Express.
The grounds are lovely, too, with landscaping that resembles an eastern town more than the surrounding high desert or mountain terrain. Mature deciduous trees that turn beautiful autumn shades provide cover as you expore the lawn-covered surroundings. A half-mile accessible, self-guided interpretive path has signs along the way that point out significant moments in Genoa history, from bustling trading post in the 1850s to sleepy town by the 1950s. Well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome on the grounds; climbing trees is not.
Park interpreter Chris Johnson recommends spending time at the north end of the park, where you can see a new blacksmith shop exhibit set up to appear as it might have looked in 1908, with equipment from the turn of the 20th century. As part of the Campbell Homestead, the shop helps tell “the story of life in Genoa [and] the challenges the blacksmithing trade faced in the early 1900s,” says Johnson.
In season, park rangers offer history walks that describe the life and hardships immigrants faced while traveling west on the California Trail in its heyday, and other special events. Call ahead for current schedules.
Those up for a more strenuous hike than the park allows can seek out the Genoa Trail system, which connects about 16 miles of rugged mountainous trails and ends up right in town. The Genoa Canyon Trail starts at the end of Carson Street and follows Genoa Canyon Creek through a shady riparian zone before switchbacking up the hillside into the Sierra, with a small, scenic waterfall at about the three-mile mark. Those seeking more exercise and mountain air might continue on to join the Sierra Canyon Trail for a more challenging 8.2-mile loop with significant elevation.
For a cold refreshment post-hike, belly up to the bar at—reportedly—the oldest saloon in Nevada, the Genoa Bar and Saloon, conveniently located across from the park. Founded in 1853 and filled to the brim with old photographs and memorabilia from visits by stars of the silver screen and politicians, this old wooden building hosts a convivial “thirst parlour,” as its sign says. The interior sports just a few stools along the bar, a jukebox, and a pool table, but expanded seating by a fire pit on the outdoor patio welcome larger groups.
If you’re looking for a more elegant setting for lunch, the equally historic Pink House, just down the street from the park, serves charcuterie boards, sandwiches, and quiche in a restored Gothic revival mansion. Officially called the Reese-Johnson-Virgin House on the National Historic Register, it was built in 1855 and its woodwork has been lovingly restored. Diners are encouraged to wander the rooms to experience the history firsthand.
The Pink House served as the home base for many prominent residents and guests, not least among them Lillian Virgin Finnegan, the brains behind Genoa’s event of the year, the Candy Dance and Arts & Crafts Faire. The Candy Dance has been celebrated for over a hundred years, memorializing the town’s fundraising efforts to purchase its first streetlights in 1919 with a dance advertised by volunteers passing out homemade candy. Each autumn (September 24-25 this year), streets downtown close for vendors and live music, including an outdoor dinner and dance. Look for special educational displays outside on the park grounds or tour the blacksmith shop. And yes, locals still make candy for the festivities.