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If you’re looking for a fascinating blend of history and nature during your RV camping adventure in northern Nevada, schedule a stop at Dayton State Park. This small 160-acre park on the outskirts of Dayton, along the Carson River, was once a Paiute fishing camp. It was also the site of the first gold discovery in Nevada in 1849. Prospectors favored California’s gold rush instead, but just a few years later, one of the largest silver deposits in the world was discovered in nearby Virginia City. Dayton quickly boomed and hosted the largest of the region’s 21 stamp mills used to extract silver from the rocks mined nearby.
Dayton’s population started to decline around the turn of the 20th century due to a combination of declining mining operations and several fires. Like a handful of other towns established during the mining boom, Dayton is one that managed to hang on. Dayton State Park was officially established in 1977 and is located 12 miles east of Nevada's capital of Carson City. In addition to the rich history, the park also serves as a popular spot for wildlife viewing, fishing, rafting, and picnicking. Spring wildflower blooms, fall colors, and summer shade from the cottonwoods make it an attractive stop year-round.
Dayton State Park isn’t large by any means, but it offers two short hikes worth your attention. The first is a short trail from the campground down to the Carson River, where you can enjoy your lunch and watch for wildlife under the shade of cottonwoods. The second hike takes you through a pedestrian tunnel under the highway and to the remains of the immense Rock Stamp Mill. This mill was built in 1861 and all that's left today are the remains of a large water tank, concrete foundations of the stamp crushers, and other small foundations. You can still make out the remains of the flume that transported water to the mill if you look closely. Both of these hikes are flat and easy.
Nature enthusiasts have a lot to look for while camping at Dayton State Park, especially along the river. It's the perfect place to find various types of waterfowl, foxes, the rare river otter, and birds of prey such as hawks.
The Carson River is the local favorite for river rafting and fishing. Dayton State Park is usually the takeout spot for rafting, so you’ll have to put in further upstream near Carson City. While rafting, or even from shore, you can fish for trout, catfish, and smallmouth bass. Nevada does require a fishing permit so be sure to pick one up before hitting the river with your tackle.
The Paiute made this area of the Carson River their winter shelter to stay away from the harsh conditions just a few miles away in the mountains. You can book an RV in Lyon County and do that today if you plan to camp during the winter, as this campground is open year-round. You can bring your pets too as long as they’re kept on a leash up to six feet long.
The Dayton State Park campground is first-come, first-served and offers ten campsites a short walk from the river. These mostly back-in sites can accommodate RV rentals up to 34 feet long. There are no hookups for RVs, but there's a dump station at the campground. Other campground amenities include bathrooms with flushing toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings with grills. Cottonwoods shade most of the sites, but a couple are open to the sun, and a few of them back up to the highway.
There's no shortage of things to explore near Dayton State Park or a bad time of year to go. Many Dayton State Park campers enjoy the fall when the leaves are changing, and Nevadans participate in Nevada Day activities and the World Championship Outhouse Races, both in October. Summer brings car enthusiasts to the area for the Hot August Nights car rally and numerous other nearby camping opportunities. Also be sure to visit Virginia City, just 20 minutes north, while you’re camping in Dayton. This colorful living ghost town features The Way It Was Museum, a fascinating mining museum, and the historic and possibly haunted Mackay Mansion.
There are plenty of large travel stops along Highway 50 between Dayton and Carson City for refueling gasoline and propane. Dayton itself has several restaurants featuring local grass-fed beef and plenty of grocery shopping for your cooking. But if you need to make any larger purchases to stock your rental RV, you’re better off driving 20 minutes down the road to Carson City.
Continuing west through Carson City, you’ll end up in world-renowned Lake Tahoe, where you'll find more motorhome camping opportunities after 30 minutes. Or, if you go east along Highway 50, you’ll find yourself on what’s dubbed the Loneliest Road in America, where you can boondock near old mining towns and Pony Express stops. The casinos and nightlife of Reno are just 30 minutes to the north if you have a craving for city life during this rural adventure.