Las Vegas might be the king of Nevada's tourism industry, but Reno, Nevada's second largest city, is a tourism and gambling hotspot in its own right. Its neon might not be as bright and its casinos might not be as large, but many people consider Reno a viable alternative to Sin City. The laid-back, small-city vibe is a welcome contrast to nonstop Vegas for many vacationers.


Reno has plenty of casino choices, but it is also known as the hub for the Tahoe area, where some of the Mountain West's best ski resorts are located. Reno is framed by the Sierra Mountains, which offer plenty of non-casino-related attractions. The natural landscapes in and around Reno give tourists a chance to add a non-gaming dimension to their vacation. Hiking, biking, climbing and other outdoor activities are easily accessible from the city.


The Reno Arch, located on Virginia Street, the city's main boulevard, bills Reno as the “Biggest Little City in the World.” While Reno might not be the greenest little city in the world, it does have a laudable list of eco-friendly features. And it starts with the arch itself. The city recently replaced the arch's incandescent lights with LED lights that use 75 percent less electricity. Some of the casinos, restaurants and other attractions are following the city's lead and getting greener. Add this eco-friendly movement to all the area's natural attractions and Reno becomes the best choice for a city-based, Earth-friendly Nevada vacation.


Go green

Reno's public bus service, known as the RTC Ride, is quite useful for tourists. Reno's large tourism industry means that, unlike other small-sized cities, the transportation system is aimed at serving visitors as well as local commuters. The RTC Rapid serves downtown Reno and most of the area's major attractions. Day passes cost $4 at the bus station. A complimentary bus, called the Sierra Spirit, runs between the University of Nevada Reno and central Reno between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily.


The TART, Tahoe Area Regional Transit, provides bus service around the Lake Tahoe resort area. Since service is limited, driving is the best way to explore the Tahoe area. However, TART buses feature bike racks, so ambitious cyclists can piece together a pedal-powered excursion around the lake. Cycling is also an option within Reno. The Bike Reno website has resources to help cyclists rent some wheels and find their way through the city.


Sleep green

Several campgrounds are situated in the Reno area, with dozens more in the mountains near Lake Tahoe. Washoe Lake State Recreation Area, near Carson City, is an 8,000-acre natural area with 49 campsites. Davis Creek Regional Park is another camping spot in the Washoe Lake area. It sits 20 miles from Reno and has 62 campsites in a campground that has basic amenities such as hot showers and a dump station.


Inside Reno, several chain hotels have earned high marks for their eco-friendly features. The Reno Residence Inn, part of the Marriott brand, received Energy Star Certification recently. It also engages in the eco-friendly practices undertaken by many other hotels that carry the Marriott label.


Perhaps the most surprising and impressive green venue in Reno is the Peppermill Casino. The Peppermill utilizes geothermal energy for its water and mechanical heating throughout the property, including the hotel. The natural heat source has replaced the resort's gas-powered boilers. The geothermal project is especially impressive because of the size of the hole drilled (more than 4,400 feet deep) and because the resort embarked on the project despite not knowing whether the drilling would result in a usable energy source.


Eat green

Reno has a decent selection of farmers markets running on various days during the summer and early fall. These are the best places to purchase food close to its source. The Park Lane Mall hosts an indoor farmers market on Saturdays for those who travel to Reno in the colder seasons. Reno's sister city, Sparks, hosts a large farmers market on Thursday afternoons during the summertime.


Reno's zpizza is a good choice for organic aficionados. This franchise makes its pies using natural ingredients like freshly made organic wheat, nitrate-free sausages, and fresh, organic produce and natural cheeses. The menu at zpizza also includes vegan and gluten-free options.


One of the more unusual gastronomic venues in Reno is Freeman's Natural Hotdogs. Though the tube-shaped meat is not usually considered natural in any sense, Freeman's has created a healthy, Earth-friendly menu. Breads are organic and toppings are pesticide free and organic whenever possible. High-quality beef is used to make the dogs. Vegan and vegetarian options are also on the menu at Freeman's.


See green

The Peppermill Casino (see “Sleep green” above) is arguably one of the country’s greenest gaming establishments, thanks to a geothermal heating system. This makes it possible to lose your bankroll while saving the Earth. The entire facility uses geo-thermal energy, including the resort's spa and caldarium.


Wingfield Park, a huge greenspace in central Reno, consists of five interconnected sub-parks. The main draw at Wingfield is the amphitheater and the whitewater park. The parkland also has walking paths and easy access to the Truckee River. Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, one of the largest parks in Reno, is another public space worth visiting. Rancho San Rafael is probably best known as the home of the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden. The arboretum has an impressive collection of plants that thrive in the unique semi-arid steppe climate of Reno.


For more uninterrupted nature experiences, it is best to travel beyond Reno's city limits. Washoe Lake State Park, between Reno and Carson City, features hiking trails and a campground, as well as a wetland area with a viewing tower. It is not uncommon to encounter wildlife here, with deer and coyotes among the park's residents. Birds, from hawks and eagles to magpies and herons, make Washoe Lake one of the better birding spots in the Reno area.


Another day-trip-worthy natural attraction is Pyramid Lake, about 35 miles from Reno at the end of the Truckee River. Conservation efforts at Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge, a protected, non-public island reserve in Pyramid Lake, have created an attractive nesting place for pelicans and other birds. The Lahontan Audubon Society has in-depth information about the avian species on Pyramid Lake.


Nature can be found closer to the urban core of Reno. Trails, such as the Keystone Canyon Trail, within minutes of downtown Reno, offer one- or two-hour hikes. Hidden Valley Regional Park has hiking, biking and horse-riding trails that crisscross the park's 480 acres. The Hunter Creek Trail winds through the Mount Rose wilderness area for more than five miles, while the Huffaker Park Lookout Trail passes between two of the Reno area’s more prominent hills and offers views of the city and the surrounding natural areas from higher elevations.


Reno's calendar is packed with events, especially during the warmer months. Green-minded visitors might enjoy the Great Reno Balloon Race, which is held in September and draws balloonists from around the country. Another option is the Artown festival in July. Events include outdoor concerts and shows, as well as gallery shows and workshops for people of all ages.


The Reno Riverwalk is a good place for foot-powered sightseeing and window shopping. This promenade, which sits aside the Truckee River, is filled with restaurants, galleries and shops. The West Street Market is an alternative to the Riverwalk for people who want their retail venues to be more overtly green. Many of the retailers in West Street have eco-friendly themes.


Ski green

Reno is often referred to in the same sentence as Lake Tahoe, which boasts some of the nation's most prominent ski resorts. Places like Squaw Valley and Northstar-at-Tahoe also have impressive environmental features in addition to ideal snow conditions. Northstar has a program to offset much of the carbon that it produces. It also ferries skiers to the resort on biodiesel-powered buses. Squaw Valley, meanwhile, has an extensive replanting and anti-erosion program. It also boasts state-of-the-art energy systems. Energy that is used to cool the resort's ice rink is also harnessed to heat a nearby swimming pool and hot tub. The resorts' restaurants burn much of their waste in an on-site incinerator, which creates heat used in some of the buildings.


Reno has some impressive green features, from restaurants and casinos to natural attractions and ski resorts. So while it will remain second to Las Vegas when it comes to tourism in Nevada, Reno's laid-back charms and eco-friendly efforts should put it on the map for green-minded travelers seeking a high-excitement, low-impact vacation.


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