Living on Purpose: Bucket List Experiences in Carson Valley

We all have our bucket list, plan-for-years-vacation ideas. Maybe you’ve been saving your spare change in 5-gallon water jug since you were 16 (or is that just us?) to be able to check one off the list. Things like sipping a caffe macchiato in a beautiful cobble stone Rome piazza. Watching the twinkle of the Eiffel tower. Meandering the ruins of Machu Picchu. Cannon-balling straight into the water of the Maldives from your sa-weeeet bungalow porch.

Yep, these are quintessential bucket list destinations. The thing about these trips, however, is that they sometimes get so big they become, let’s face it, unrealistic. It is ironic, because you may do little or nothing to make them come true in the immediate future. But isn’t the whole point of a so-called bucket list to get out of the mundane, everyday life? To take action, make new memories, do things you have never done before?

The good news is, checking things off your bucket list doesn’t have to mean traveling abroad or spending your life savings. Carson Valley has bucket list experiences scattered all over the darn place and that, friends, is attainable.

So get busy livin’ and try out these once in a lifetime experiences in Carson Valley. Living on purpose is closer and easier than you might think!


This bucket list item is all about the perfect equation: some of the world’s most spectacular scenery + ideal air wave conditions = the time of your life. Finally, math we can get excited about! Minden is world renown for its soaring experience, where gliders take to the sky to witness the incredible Lake Tahoe, mighty Sierra Nevada mountains, and everything pristine in between. Oh yeah, did we mention the gliders don’t have engines? Get your brave pants on for this one, because you will be pulled into the sky by a tow plane via cable, before cutting loose and soaring around with only the sights and sounds of mother nature filling your senses.

SoaringNV offers three adventure packages. Depending on your level of wild, they even offer a boost in the thrill department with the option to do loops, rolls and flying upside down. No matter which option you choose, you are sure to have the ride of your life.


While you are at the Minden-Tahoe airport to soar, you might as well crank the adrenaline meter a notch (is YOLO still a thing?) and jump out of a perfectly good airplane. A bucket list item for many, Skydive Lake Tahoe offers the same incredible views as soaring, except you get to be more part of them as you rush over 120mph– without the plane! You will experience almost one full minute of free fall before the expert instructor pulls the chute, after which you have much more time to catch your breath and take in the spectacular views. If you’re gonna do it, there couldn’t be a better place!

Golf-Ski Challenge

Think those two activities don’t go together? Guess again. Carson Valley is happily nestled at the base of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, the same mountains that cradle Lake Tahoe. Because of the location, outdoor sports enthusiasts are treated to a heaping plate of opportunities all year long. For this bucket worthy experience, take the golf-ski challenge by playing one of Carson Valley’s four excellent golf courses in the morning and then hitting the world-class slopes in the afternoon. A quick 20-minute drive up the mountain will get you to the Nevada side of the appropriately named Heavenly Mountain Resort. For the over-achievers among us, this endeavor can be repeated to include each of the four golf courses. This challenge is a true drop in the sweet ole’ bucket.

Drink a Picon Punch

Basque in the glory (see what we did there?) of history and tradition by sipping on a Picon Punch, usually simply referred to as a Picon. A staple Basque drink, all you gotta’ do in Carson Valley is utter the word and locals will point the way to the JT Basque Bar and Dining Room, where the great Picon lies in wait, ready to govern your senses.  An ode to the sheepherders, the Picon is made up of brandy, club soda, grenadine, and Torani Amer – a bitter, French liquor. You may not be too keen at first, but trust us, after a few you will either be on the Picon bandwagon or on the floor. Either way, not everyone can say they’ve tried it and any true Nevadan will tell you, it’s a must.

Added bucket list item: While you’re there, simmer in more Basque tradition and throw a dollar on the ceiling for luck. Best to do this before your second Picon because, well, aim.

Soak in a Hot Springs

Did you know Nevada has the most natural hot springs in the country? There is a subculture of soakers that know there is nothing better than sliding into hot, mineral-infused water to cleanse the soul. There are a few distinct types of springs in the silver state; natural pools (by pools, we mean holes), cowboy tubs (aka horse troughs) and then places that really do ‘er up right like David Walley’s in Genoa.

Under current conditions, the springs are limited to lodging guests only. Click here to make reservations at David Walley’s and gain access to the blissful tubs. We know what you are thinking – that this is no different from your back yard or local swimming club hot tub, how could this be a bucket list item? It’s all in the water, baby. Naturally produced from the earth, this geothermal H2O is rich in minerals like sodium, potassium and sulfur and believed for centuries to have many health and restorative benefits.

For the other kind of hot springs, the trick is getting in the know and figuring out where they are. Most springers are pretty tight-lipped about locations, as to not give up all the sultry treasures. We can say though, that there are some to be found not far from the reaches of Carson Valley.

No matter which type of hot spring you choose, there is just something about the soak that makes everything right in the world.

Hot Air Balloon Ride

This one’s a given, right? For this thrill, Balloon Nevada is where it’s at! Like the Wizard said in Oz, the expert pilots perform “spectacular feats of stratospheric skill”, gracefully guiding the balloons over some of the most breathtaking countryside. In fact, they can even go high enough to peak over into the Lake Tahoe Basin so that you can see one of the nation’s most photographed lakes from a completely unique vantage. Winter rides take off in the morning so layers are a must, but the combination of peaceful floating, sun kissed scenery and snow-covered peaks will warm your heart like a Hallmark movie. This bucket list experience is surprisingly affordable, so don’t be like Dorothy and miss the ride!

Have a Drink at the Oldest Bar in Nevada

Kick your boots up in the same thirst parlor where the likes of Mark Twain, Clark Gable, Red Skelton, Willie Nelson, Presidents Roosevelt and Grant, and Johnny Cash (eeeeek, fangirling hard over here!) have wet their whistle over the years. Built in 1853, the Genoa Bar is as authentic Wild West as it gets. Much of the bar is original, including a red oil lamp that is lit every New Year’s Eve and the Diamond Dust Mirror behind the bar that was brought over from Glasgow, Scotland in the late 1840’s (first to San Francisco and then to Genoa by covered- freaking-wagon). An old wood stove in the corner is the only heat source (besides the whiskey, of course), and there is nothing more delightful than sitting next to it with friends watching the snow fall. Or, if you prefer warmer months, many an impromptu porch party has broken out in the spring and summer.

Mark this item off your bucket list to have an old-fashioned in a, well, old-fashioned.

Take a Ride in a Stunt Plane

This one isn’t for the motion sickness prone, but it is major-league epic. With locations out of Minden, Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, Sky Combat Ace offers everyday civilians the chance to not only ride in a stunt plane but take the stick and fly one. Of course, an incredibly skilled pilot is there to be the Goose to your Maverick, but still – this is one for the books. They even have an option to play “laser tag in the sky” or essentially, air to air combat with your buddies. Like Charlie in Top Gun says, this one’s for the folks who aren’t “going to be happy unless you’re going Mach 2 with your hair on fire.”

Nearby Bucket-worthiness

But wait, there’s more! In addition to all the local bucket-list inventory, Carson Valley serves as the ideal basecamp for even more extraordinary adventure. A short drive can expand your list while being kind to your wallet! Here are a few more bonus additions to the list:

  • Ski or Snowboard at a World Class Resort – Have we mentioned how close Carson Valley is to Lake Tahoe? While there are several options to choose from, the closest resort to Carson Valley is Heavenly, which offers both Nevada and California side lifts. Truly, anywhere you ski in Lake Tahoe is bucket list…and Instagram…worthy. For a comprehensive Carson Valley lodging list, go here.
  • Snowshoe in Hope Valley – Try your hand, or foot rather, at snowshoeing with Hope Valley Outdoors Outfitters. They offer rentals and lessons, as well as maps and incredible scenery. Hope Valley is located just 23 miles from Minden. In the spring and summer, the hiking and fishing is incredible, and in the fall you will find some of the most vibrant colors in the area. It is a win-win-win-win.
  • Have a chickadee land on your hand, or head – If this sounds weird, it’s because it kind of is, but it is also really neat. Chickadee Ridge is an approximately 3.5 mile (round trip) hike on the north side of Lake Tahoe, just past the Mount Rose Ski Resort near the Mount Rose Meadows, and is famous for the sweet little birds that hang out there. In the winter it is best to use snowshoes, but the kicker is that the chickadees are so accustomed to people that if you stop for long enough they will land in your hand or on your head. Major tip: Don’t feed the birds, as it is actually harmful to them to become dependent on human food. It also isn’t necessary, because they are so friendly they will land on you without the bait. The next thing you know you will be taking funny bird-head photos and singing along to their “cheese bur-ger” song. Trust us, once you hear it, it’s all you’ll hear.

For those Type A personalities among us, there is a very specific endorphin that accompanies the crossing off of an item on any list, but even more so when that list is all about a life of intention, experiences, and stories to someday tell your kids/grandkids about. This is our invitation to dream bigger, be the boss of your bucket and consider more immediately attainable (as well as affordable) experiences that are unique and special in their own ‘big thing, small-package’ kind of way. So, what are you waiting for? Stop dreaming about your bucket list and get out there and live it!

Post your Carson Valley experiences using the hashtag #WhyCV!