Tourism and skiing didn’t give birth to many of the West’s sweetest mountain towns. Instead, mining and early-day settlers were the drivers behind development that left behind character-filled downtown districts that are the community treasures of today. It’s important to note that sometimes downtown lodging properties don’t have enough guest rooms or function space to host groups, but options are typically available nearby (frequently ski resorts) for a win-win combination.
Virginia City, Nevada
Location: Situated at 6,200 feet on Mount Davidson, Virginia City is 25 miles from Reno and 45 miles from Lake Tahoe.
Highlights: Once described as “the richest city in America,” Virginia City became a boomtown in the 1860s when the Comstock Lode, one of the nation’s largest discoveries of silver ore, was found here. Approximately $400 million in gold and silver was mined (equivalent to more than $20 billion today), which helped fund the Civil War and establish Nevada as a state. The town became a booming metropolis with more than 25,000 residents.
C Street (Virginia City’s main street) is a half mile-long stretch of historic buildings that looks as if it’s straight out of the 1800s. With loads of Victorian architecture, downtown continues to be the hub of the town.
Downtown Lodging: Virginia City’s 200 rooms include hotels, motels and historic bed and breakfasts. Since Virginia City is a small community, almost everything is on C Street. Tahoe House Hotel features 16 guest rooms, and Silver Queen Hotel has 28 rooms with some reported to be haunted for the ghost hunters in your group.
Downtown Attractions & Experiences: Stroll along authentic board sidewalks and view historic churches, 19th-century homes and public buildings, and quaint cemeteries. Visit Old West saloons, shops and restaurants and ride on a stagecoach, horse-drawn carriage or trolley.
Historical Tidbit: Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, called Virginia City home. It’s where he first penned the name Mark Twain while working at the local paper, The Territorial Enterprise.
For Groups: There are 17 museums to explore and guided ghost walking tours offered seasonally. At its peak, Virginia City had 115 saloons, a type of business that still dominates the landscape of Virginia City today. Watch for saloon crawls held in tandem with most local events or create your own!
Tour the Ponderosa Mine in the back of the old Bank of California building to see the underground workings of a real mine or take a ride on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, the train that transported gold and silver ore from Virginia City to Carson City and beyond.
Insights: Over Memorial Day weekend, 29 members of the Northern California Chapter Society of Architectural Historians explored the architecture of Carson City and Virginia City and considered the Comstock Lode silver strike’s impact on San Francisco.
“The Virginia City Tourism Commission helped us put together an itinerary of buildings to tour both days and had guides wearing Western clothes meet us,” says Ward Hill, treasurer and past president of NCCSAH, who noted the amazing number of saloons and the fact that the town has its own official spirit, Cemetery Gin. “Everyone thought Virginia City was a fun place, a little bit like Disneyland with all the tourists, but they have done a good job keeping the frontier feel of the place. I like the fact that the buildings look beat up and old, not restored and cute. For people interested in history, there is a lot to see.”
Downtown is comprised of 600 historically preserved buildings centered on Courthouse Plaza and Whiskey Row. After a massive fire wiped out most of the town in the 1900s, it was rebuilt with red brick. The bar from The Palace, the oldest Western saloon in Arizona, was the only thing that survived because the town’s residents made a point of carrying it out!
Park City, Utah
Location: A 35-minute ride from Salt Lake City International Airport, Park City sits on the eastern side of the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains.
Highlights: Founded in 1884, Park City landed on the world map when the town helped host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and visitors from around the globe watched the world’s best athletes compete for Olympic gold. However, more than 130 years ago, people flocked to Park City seeking a different precious metal: silver.
When mineral prices fell in the 1930s, the boom years ended, and the community began focusing on another prize from nature: snow. Today, Park City is a unique blend of the old and new and features two world-class ski resorts, Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort with more than 9,500 acres of skiing. Sixty-four of Park City’s buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many of which are located along historic Main Street.
Downtown Lodging: Treasure Mountain Inn Hotel & Conference Center has 56 lodging units and 4,600 square feet of meeting space. Washington School House, a luxury boutique property, has 12 guest rooms and 900 square feet of function space. Other nearby options—both about one mile away—are Lodges at Deer Valley and DoubleTree by Hilton Park City.
Downtown Attractions & Experiences: Park City’s colorful mining and ski history is on display at the newly renovated Park City Museum, while the 1880s-era Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theater seats approximately 240 guests and started out as the ornate Park City Opera House. The theater hosts a variety of musical acts, comedy and community events weekly, so check the schedule.
The Mines & Wines Tour with Fox School of Wine offers a fun and unique take on Park City’s mining history as well as pours that fit each story and stop (including Main Street). For a taste of local spirits, head for Alpine Distilling’s Gin Experience or a tasting at its 350 Main location.
Historical Tidbit: During the mining heyday, the mountains surrounding yielded $400 million in silver and created 23 millionaires, including the father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.
For Groups: Flanked with boutiques, bookstores and specialty shops, Main Street is filled with merchants selling items from artisan olive oils and eclectic gifts to top-label apparel. Stroll the streets or take a free ride on the Main Street Trolley. Park City also is home to more than 100 bars and restaurants, distilleries and microbreweries, with several located along Main Street.
Time a gathering in conjunction with popular events like Savor the Summit, a huge outdoor dinner party with 2,500 attendees and more than 70 restaurants from the Intermountain West. From June through September, Park Silly Sunday Market is a marketplace of food, produce, arts, crafts and live music. At Kimball Arts Festival, browse the work of 200 jury-selected artists and enjoy live music and artisan food tastings. Sundance Film Festival is a highlight of winter.
Insights: “My client and I conducted a site tour of Park City, including Main Street, for her July 2019 top producers trip. My client was especially interested in learning about Main Street as her guests love local bars/restaurants and boutiques,” says Cindy Hughes, global hotel sourcing specialist for Global Cynergies in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Park City is the perfect destination for a group event; the attendees can meander up and down Main Street for shopping, galleries and great dining options. Make sure to stop by No Name Saloon and High West Saloon!”
Location: Situated 45 minutes from the nearest stoplight, Telluride is nestled at the end of a towering canyon. Located at an elevation of 8,750 feet, the community is surrounded by the highest concentration of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks in the lower 48 states.
Highlights: In 1875, prospector John Fallon made the first mining claim in the Marshall Basin above Telluride. The Sheridan Mine proved to be rich in zinc, lead, copper, iron, silver and gold. The population of Telluride soared to around 5,000 residents with the coming of the railroad in 1890, but the combination of a silver price crash in 1893 and World War I a couple of decades later ended Telluride’s mining boom, and the town shrunk to less than 600 residents.
Telluride began its resurrection in the 1970s with the establishment of a ski area. Today, the intertwining of a historic Old West mining town and modern mountain resort in nearby Mountain Village is an ideal combination for memorable meetings, with the two linked by a free gondola that began operation in 1996. Today, the intertwining of a historic Old West mining town and modern mountain resort in nearby Mountain Village is an ideal combination for memorable meetings, with the two linked by a free gondola that began operation in 1996.
Downtown Lodging: The only hotel in the downtown area with meeting and event space is New Sheridan Hotel with the American Room holding up to 32 and The Continental Room accommodating up to 55. Plus, The Chop House main dining room can be bought out for groups of up to 90. The Hotel Telluride and Hotel Columbia Telluride also offer nice lodging options for groups, with the maximum number of guest rooms being 59 at The Hotel Telluride.
Downtown Attractions & Experiences: The Telluride National Historic District is six blocks wide and 12 blocks long and reflects the town’s rich history. A big part of the downtown Telluride experience is dining. If a group meets and stays in Mountain Village, it’s easy to ride the free gondola to downtown for a group dinner. Another popular downtown experience is the historic walking and food tours that provide an ideal way for attendees to get their bearings and learn about the community’s heritage, people, and food and beverage establishments.
Historical Tidbit: There are two theories about how the town became known as Telluride. One suggests the name was derived from the mineral tellurium, a non-metallic element often associated with mineral deposits of gold and not found in the valley! Another idea is tied to the famous send-off given to fortune seekers headed to the southern San Juan Mountains, “To-hell-you-ride!”
For Groups: On the dining front, 221 South Oak, The Sheridan, Rustico and There Bar stand out as great options for groups with buyout options and/or private dining rooms available. Historic walking tours and shopping tend to be popular with groups, and there are skiing and hiking trails that start right in the core of downtown. Telluride is known for its abundance of festivals, so start planning early if your group wants to plug into MountainFilm, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride Film Festival and Telluride Blues and Brews.
Insights: “Downtown Telluride is such an important part of the Telluride experience that we plan it into all of our group experiences,” says Patrick Latcham, director of business development for Telluride Ski & Golf. “With only one road in, no traffic lights, no chain restaurants and no highway cutting through town, Telluride offers a very serene experience that takes you back in time. Another unique factor for downtown Telluride is the gondola. The majority of our groups stay in Mountain Village, and the ability to just hop on a free gondola ride is pretty special.”
Location: Situated in the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, Whitefish is adjacent to the peaks of Glacier National Park, Big Mountain and the Whitefish Range.
Highlights: More than 50 years ago, Whitefish residents rallied with a common vision for creating a unique and memorable recreation destination. Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish Lake Golf Club, downtown and the whole town are a reflection of that dream and hard work.
Downtown Lodging: The Firebrand Hotel is the closest lodging property to downtown. It’s one of the newest hotels in Whitefish and has a sister property, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, that is only a five-minute shuttle ride from downtown and borders Whitefish Lake. There are 13 hotels, seven B&Bs and 11 rental agencies/private rentals.
Downtown Attractions & Experiences: Central Avenue is filled with restaurants, galleries, shopping and nightlife and attractions like the Whitefish Performing Arts Center. For local craft beverages, groups can unwind at Great Northern Brewing Company and Spotted Bear Spirits. Another bonus is downtown’s location only 8 miles from Whitefish Mountain Resort, with 3,000 skiable acres.
Check out the downtown events calendar to add local character to a meeting itinerary. For example, Whitefish Winter Carnival in February includes a parade, snow sculpture contest, pie social, beer barter, art expo and more. Every Tuesday evening from late May through September, Whitefish Downtown Farmers Market is the place to go.
Historical Tidbit: The first train arrived in Whitefish in 1904. Stumptown Historical Society acquired the Whitefish Railway Depot built in 1927. The exterior was restored to its original Glacier National Park chalet-like appearance and the interior remodeled to accommodate the Whitefish Museum, Amtrak and more.
For Groups: Situated at the edge of Whitefish Lake, the community works best for small to midsized meetings and group events. There are plenty of options for group dining in downtown with Casey’s Pub & Grill, Craggy Range Bar & Grill and Abruzzo Italian Kitchen able to offer a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces. The largest is Casey’s with the ability to accommodate up to 180. Ciao Mambo and Tupelo are other delicious options for gatherings.
Insights: “My customer partners love coming to Whitefish! Jim Kenyon, CEO at Whitefish Credit Union, introduced me to everything Whitefish has to offer and all the local attractions. Each year, Jim and I co-host an educational and networking event with our credit union CEO business partners, and The Firebrand is our go-to hotel,” says Randall King, vice president of sales and marketing for CUNA Mutual Group. “Event attendees really enjoy the variety of restaurants and shopping. We have a casual lunch at the Bulldog, best burgers anywhere! Craggy Range food is excellent, and the outdoor seating is so relaxing and enjoyable. We also enjoy the upscale steak and seafood menus at Whitefish Lake Restaurant and Lodge and Tupelo, all have amazing upscale menus with a resort casual feel.”
Cody’s main street, Sheridan Avenue, was named after Civil War General Philip Henry Sheridan who was an early supporter of the exploration and protection of Yellowstone National Park. The road stretches nine blocks through the heart of the town founded and laid out by Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is located on the western end of downtown. Like many streets in the West, it was built wide enough for horse-drawn wagons to make a complete turn.
Perched at 9,000 feet in the heart of Summit County, Frisco has a picturesque and pedestrian-friendly Main Street that is bookended by Mount Royal and Frisco Bay Marina and home to more than 50 locally owned restaurants, B&Bs, coffee shops, bookstores, boutiques and bars. Frisco Bay Marina is a full-service marina where groups can canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, fish and even sail from June through September.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Lincoln Avenue is an unusually wide thoroughfare bordered by quaint shops, art galleries and restaurants and framed by the trails of Steamboat Ski Resort.
Main Street is home to one of the oldest family-owned outfitters in the country. F.M. Light & Sons, founded in 1905, is the place where local ranchers still purchase cowboy boots, belts, hats and authentic Western wear. Pop into the Steamboat Art Museum and don’t miss soaking at Old Town Hot Springs, anchoring the south end of Lincoln Avenue.
Park City Chamber of Commerce & CVB
Telluride Tourism Board
Virginia City Tourism Commission