Rides and Destinations: Genoa, Nevada

Visit the town of Genoa, Nevada, a hidden treasure filled with history.

Genoa, Nevada

The California Gold Rush, draining the swamps and some of the best riding on the planet combine to make the tiny town of Genoa, Nevada a "must see" destination.

Photo by Joe Berk

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What: Genoa, Nevada. History, heritage and great riding in any direction.
How to get there: From Reno, take US 395 south for about 40 miles and turn right on Genoa Lane. From Los Angeles, take I-10 east to I-15 north, grab US 395 at its origin just south of Victorville, head north for a cool 380 miles, and then turn left when you see the signs for Genoa.
Best kept secret: Walker Burger, about 43 miles south of Genoa on US 395. It’s part of the adventure and well worth a stop for lunch.
Avoid: The cold weather. Check the weather first (most of the Sierra Nevada passes are closed during the winter and sometimes well into spring).
More info: genoanevada.org
More photos: motofoto.cc

The California Gold Rush, draining the swamps and some of the best riding on the planet combine to make the tiny town of Genoa, Nevada a “must see” destination. One of my favorite rides is US 395 from Bishop, California, up to the Carson Valley in Nevada. U.S. Highway 395 is a magnificent road (it runs from the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California all the way up to the Canadian border), and the stretch from Bishop to Reno is particularly beautiful. The road and the scenery are magnificent, but if you blitzed through Nevada’s Carson Valley without visiting Genoa, a hidden treasure if ever one existed, you’d be making a serious mistake.

Genoa (it’s pronounced “juh-NO-uh,” as Carson Valley folks quickly point out) is actually named after the town in Italy even though it’s pronounced differently. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first a bit of history. The confluence of several formative events in the history of the western United States led to the settlement and development of this area. The first of these was the California gold rush. Present-day Genoa’s main street (we’re back to the one in Nevada now) was actually part of the Overland Emigrant Trail, a main route to the Gold Rush areas in California.

Colonel John Reese and his Mormon traveling amigos originally established a small settlement called Mormon Station in 1851 where Genoa now stands. In those days this region was the Utah Territory’s western edge, as Nevada didn’t yet exist. Reese built a trading post that was a hotel, a courthouse and a jail of sorts. Settlers liked the area, especially after the swamps were drained to create arable land.

In 1855 the Mormon Church sent Orson Hyde to develop the local government and to define the boundary between Utah and California. Back to the Genoa name: Hyde was an ardent Christopher Columbus fan (or so the story goes) and he renamed Mormon Station to Genoa after Columbus’ home town, but apparently with a unique pronunciation.

Genoa thrived and became the first settled town in Nevada, even though this area was still Utah until the U.S. Congress created the Nevada Territory in 1861. Genoa grew as a trade center and it became the county seat. The town survived two massive fires (one of which is rumored to have started when a guest in Reese’s hotel/courthouse/trading center/jail lit up a mattress to kill the bedbugs). That was in 1910, and it gutted the town. In 1916 the local powers moved the county seat to Minden, just a few miles to the east, straddling what became US 395, which effectively killed Genoa as the center of the local business universe. But many of the fire-gutted buildings stood, and they are still there today.

Genoa’s current permanent population is a scant 225 people, but the town swells during the summer months with visitors to this historic spot. It’s off the beaten path but well worth a stop, with two museums, a historic church, a very cool restaurant and bar, and tons of photo ops. And you’re on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, right in the middle of some of the best riding on the planet. Genoa is about an hour south of Reno, and about an hour east of Lake Tahoe. It’s motorcycle heaven, basically, although heaven in this case is most hospitable from late spring to early fall: It can get mighty cold out there in the winter months. MC