Not far from the state capital of Carson City, for both Nevada natives and visitors alike, Dayton State Park occupies a very important corner of the SIlver State. Way back in the day, this park was the site of a Paiute fishing camp. Later, it was home to the Rock Port Stamp Mill, which processed silver from the Comstock Lode. In 1861, this silver mine helped save Nevada from bankruptcy. Later, the park became a garbage dump. However, it is in very good shape today.
For visitors, U.S. Route 50 divides Dayton State Park into upper and lower regions. The Lower Park is basically a dry riverbed. As such, the area is well-known for wildlife viewing and its diverse geology.
The core of the Upper Region is the remains of the wooden flumes of the largest silver ore processing center on the Carson River. Other ruins include concrete water storage tank, a reservoir and head-gage, stamp battery footings, building foundations, rock retaining walls, waterways, and a hermit’s cave. This part of the park also includes a Day Use area, various hiking trails, and an RV campground.
The park also has a very nice RV camping area, although it is rustic. Furthermore, all these spots are first-come, first served. So, if you suddenly get the wanderlust one weekend, or if you need a place to park your motorhome for the night, pack your rig and head to Dayton State Park.
Dayton State Park is northeast of Carson City, just off State Highway 50. Its convenient location makes it both a destination park and a just-passing-through park. The combination of a small park that has both historic buildings and outdoor activities attracts a lot of visitors, especially those who want to connect with the area’s past. Additionally, Dayton State Park is one of the closest state parks to Lake Tahoe. So, if you’re on your way or coming back, this park is a good place to extend your RV vacation.
For the most part, the Lincoln Highway (Highway 50) is a wide, four-lane undivided highway. The road is straight and the visibility is good. Plus, this area is surprisingly well-developed, considering it’s southwest Nevada. Both Dayton and the Dayton Valley have a number of large grocery stores and camping supply stores.
Inside the park, there is limited large vehicle parking near the Rock Port Stamp Mill ruins, as well as the visitor's center.
All campsites at Dayton State Park are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Dayton State Park offers 10 primitive RV campsites. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring or barbecue grill, so you can cook outside and enjoy a freshly-grilled meal with your neighbors. If you like to feel the energy of traffic, find a spot near the highway. If you prefer quiet serenity, find a spot closer to the river. All these spots are first-come, first-served. The RV dump station is located right next to the highway, which is nice for RVers who just need to make quick use of this facility. The Dayton State Park RV campsite also includes drinking water spigots, which are not always functioning in the winter, and flush toilets.
As mentioned, Dayton State Park was once a popular Paiute fishing hole. Today, anglers find even more fishing opportunities here. Much later, the Mexican Dam near Carson City raised the water level. Prior to 1900, anglers found lots of native trout in these waters. But water direction changes and mining activity reduced this population dramatically. Now, anglers can find brown trout and rainbow trout. For best results, try power bait, salmon eggs, night crawlers, spoons, and small spinners. Fly fishers typically use streamers, mayfly, and dry flys.
Shade trees in Dayton State Park are a bit sporadic, especially in the Upper Region. Much of the park is very open. But look under any stand of trees, and you’ll probably see a picnic table. You'll love the picnic areas closer to the river or the visitor's center. If you picnic near the highway, it is a little noisy.
There are two main hiking trails in Dayton State Park. They are flat and well-marked, making them more like nature trails. They short, relatively shaded, and family-friendly. One trail winds through some thick stands of trees to the Carson River. During the autumn, the cottonwood trees change color, and they are quite pretty. The other trail leads to the mining ruins, which is a cool sight to see.
Once upon a time, the Carson River flowed to the west of Highway 50. Over the years, the river moved to its current location east of the highway. So, the western part of Dayton State Park is a sweeping dry riverbed that’s dotted with small shrubs. Not surprisingly, small mammals like foxes and coyotes are very common here. On the other side of the park near the river, there are otters, beavers, and other such animals. In the skies overhead, look for large birds of prey, like eagles and hawks.
This part of the park is ideal for large gatherings, like family reunions. It features a sheltered and paved picnic area that has ten picnic tables and a very large outdoor grill. Other amenities include a sink and electrical outlets. Outside the shelter, there is a large, well-kept open area as well as a large vehicle parking lot.
When it was built in 1861, the Rock Point Mill was quite a marvel. It cost a staggering $200,000 to build. Its 100-horsepower water wheel could crush 50 tons of stone a day and extract the gold and silver ore inside. Today, what’s left of the Rock Point Mill is one of the last surviving such mills from Nevada’s silver mining heyday. Interestingly, the ruins have not been renovated or restored. Yet they are still in fairly good condition today. That’s a testament to the high construction standards which went into the Rock Point Mill.