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5 places to go to escape the snow

Natasha Bourlin  |

Tired of breaking out the snow boots and parka daily or looking out at a blanketed driveway you worked so hard to clear just yesterday? There are many places to escape the winter weather within a day’s drive of Reno, so pull out the suitcase instead of the snow shovel and race those winter doldrums right out of town.

These locales haven’t seen the sky’s seemingly perpetual inundation of fluffy, frozen, white stuff this season, enabling you to wave it goodbye for the weekend.

Calistoga, California

While visitors flock to the Napa Valley wine country annually for, well, wine, one town is also recognized for its relaxing and rejuvenating natural hot springs. What better way to melt away the frost than basking in the heat of a geothermic pool, followed by spa treatments.

Temperate Calistoga — approximately four hours from Reno — and its naturally occurring geothermal hot springs has been luring travelers to the springs since the 1870s, when the town became known for them and soon, spas. Those same springs were used for centuries before by the native Wappo tribe. Today, the many resorts dotting the small town slather volcanic mud on their guests before inviting them into the calming pools and sending them to well-appointed rooms.

Resorts vary from grand to quaint, even kitschy, and offer visitors an array of price points and amenities. Centrally located on the town’s north end and nestled among 17 acres of picturesque rolling hills, fauna and ponds resides the longest continually operated spa in California, Indian Springs Resort and Spa.

Like an oasis amidst historic buildings and vineyards, Indian Springs offers on-site dining, hotel amenities, spa facilities and two pools — an Olympic-sized, mineral-water-filled pool and a smaller more intimate pool for adults only. “Winter Escape” rates start at $219 per night, and are based on availability.

Calistoga is largely walkable — and with winter high temperatures averaging in the 60s, that’s not an intimidating proposition — though shuttles are readily available. If an exploratory jaunt entices you away from the soothing waters, explore Calistoga’s history, cafes and restaurants and shops.

Amador County, California

Speaking of wine, less than three hours from Reno lie a multitude of wineries in an area lesser known for wine than other parts of California. Amador County in the Sierra Foothills features winter temps averaging in the 50s, grape-friendly terroir and more than 40 wineries where visitors can sample varietals like zinfandel, barbera, sangiovese, sauvignon blanc and syrah. A downloadable map to more than 40 wineries, mostly family-owned, within short drives of each other can be found at

Plymouth, California, a thriving town during the Gold Rush, is a fountain of history and culture with museums, antique shops and theater companies. Nearby in Volcano is the Black Chasm Cavern featuring 50-minute guided tours of the cavern.

There are several options for a good night’s sleep, from inns and campgrounds to bed and breakfasts and private guesthouses. After exploring the county’s history and wineries, a stay at the modern Rest, a Boutique Hotel in Plymouth will keep you connected to the modern world. Rates begin at $99 per night in the winter.

Death Valley, Nevada

One doesn’t usually think about trekking through a national park in the winter, but Death Valley National Park is perfectly situated for the season.

This vast, three-million-acre desert landmark spans two states, and may be one of the few getaways within a reasonable driving distance — just over five hours on U.S. 95 South — from Reno that’s actually in Nevada. Similar to Reno, most of the central, eastern and northern parts of the state have succumbed to snowfall this season.

Described as the “highest, driest and lowest national park” by the National Park Service, Death Valley’s elevation is actually below sea level and showcases unusual terrain. While summertime temperatures can reach and exceed 120 degrees, winter is more welcoming, reaching the 50s and 60s in the daytime on average. No skis required here, outdoor exploration can be done in the winter via backcountry roads, hiking and biking trails.

Take a guided tour with a park ranger, and, if camping isn’t your thing — and there are many options to rest under the stars during winter months in this park — get a dose of retro Nevada culture at the Atomic Inn in Beatty. Established in 1979 and located at the Nevada gateway to Death Valley, the lodge’s themed rooms start at $50 a night and have been completely renovated since new management took over in 2012. Don’t forget to take a photograph with the resident little green man that welcomes guests with an homage to nearby Area 51 legends.


The Golden State’s capital and Reno’s neighbor a mere two hours away has undergone its own renaissance of sorts recently.

Both the revitalized downtown and midtown areas appeal to those culturally minded, and winter highs average in the 50s and 60s. Try the locally sourced California cuisine at Iron Horse Tavern, a new endeavor by renowned Sacramento restaurateurs Mason, Curtis and Alan Wong. Afterward, catch a performance or film at the historic Crest Theatre, then retire at the Citizen Hotel, a boutique property with 196 rooms to choose from and rates starting at $136 during the winter.

For a dose of history that hits close to home, check out Sutter’s Fort in midtown; now a state park honoring Sacramento’s first settlement established by Swiss immigrant John Sutter in 1839, its founder sent aid to the stranded Donner Party in 1847.

Monterey, California

Less than six hours from Reno is a seaside town in which the human population is dwarfed by presence of the marine life. Monterey features rrugged central California coastline and scenic vistas. It was founded in 1770 and became the state’s first capital, followed by the epicenter of the fishing industry and a military outpost. Home to the Defense Language Institute, a naval school for postgraduates, the town is bustling with cultural diversity. With winter temperatures averaging in the high 50s and 60s, Monterey accommodates visitors both outdoors and in this time of year.

A must-do activity is to check out the town’s notable Cannery Row, named in 1958 for a novel by Monterey regular John Steinbeck. Former home to numerous canneries decades and even centuries ago, the district today bustles with tourists visiting restaurants, boutiques, hotels and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

While cruising Cannery Row, foodies will love A Taste of Monterey Wine Market & Bistro with fresh seafood, small plates, light entrees and wine. Once fueled up, hit the aquarium where creatures great and small can be seen and educational exhibits observed. After a long day along the Pacific, cozy up in the charming waterfront Spindrift Inn, with overnight seasonal rates starting at $179.