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From wild animals to wild rides, Nevada can satisfy parents and children alike.
Photo: PR (Corley Ranch, Gardnerville; below: Animal Ark, Reno)
Are we there yet? These four words signal the start of summer and strike fear in the hearts of road-tripping parents around the world. Family-vacation season has begun, and there are a few destinations in Nevada that should be on mom and dad’s radar.
Unleash your wild child (or children) at Animal Ark in Reno, a haven for rescued and exotic animals. The wildlife varies from the slow and safe—tortoises—to the fast and ferocious—cheetahs and tigers. “There’s also a good chance that you will see native wild animals [such as] deer, badger, hawks, and eagles that are not on exhibit at the facility,” says cofounder and executive director Aaron Hiibel.
Hiibel and his wife, Diana, opened the refuge 30 years ago when they bought two Gray Wolves and quickly realized the animals don’t make great pets. They decided to use their experience to teach others about wild animals. A year later they opened Animal Ark at its current location, a 70-acre ranch 25 miles northwest of Reno.
In addition to providing a safe haven for non-releasable wildlife, Animal Ark is home to “ambassador” cheetahs that help raise awareness and funding for cheetah conservation in Botswana, Kenya, and South Africa. “A must-see is the monthly public high-speed cheetah runs [May 30 and June 20],” Hiibel says. “You can see the world’s fastest land mammal run less than 50 feet away from you!”
Children of all ages are welcome at Animal Ark, and the park provides golf carts for disabled visitors. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, April through October, but Hiibel recommends visiting in the morning when the animals are most active. Yogi the Bear eats his breakfast at 11 a.m. and always puts on a great show for visitors. Special evening programs are scheduled throughout the summer and are the best time to hear the wolves howl at the moon. A nature trail and interpretive signs add an educational component, while a playground and picnic areas make it all the more family friendly.
While the Hiibels turned their passion for animals into a fascinating park, other Nevadans have turned their land and homes into family farms open to the public. Lattin Farms in Fallon, about an hour east of Reno, has been a family affair for five generations, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2009. It has been selling produce since the 1950s, and the current owners, Rick and B. Ann Lattin, have been welcoming visitors for more than a decade. “We aim for a whole day’s worth of activities here,” Rick says. “With the fall festival in October, the corn maze, pick your own pumpkins, hay rides, cow train, and straw maze…we have a bunch of things for kids to do.” Cheetah photo by Kippy S. Lanker
The farm opens in late spring and sells fresh vegetables such as beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and turnips. Melons, including the region’s renowned Hearts of Gold cantaloupe, hit the shelves in summer, and the fun really starts in August with a petting zoo, aptly named Critterville, and kid-friendly rides. “We get about 10,000 visitors a year in our corn maze,” says Rick, adding that he’ll welcome a couple thousand people each Saturday in October. The farm is closed most Sundays, but open the rest of the week with the fall festival each weekend in October.
There are many family farms in Nevada, but only a handful that offer rides, produce, and petting zoos. Corley Ranch in Gardnerville also welcomes happy crowds in the summer and fall months. Owned by the Corley family, it boasts a corn maze, hayride, pony rides, petting zoo, and the ever-popular piglet races. Nevada Grown keeps a running list of local farms open to the public at nevadagrown.com.
What do you do when your kids are acting crazier than barn animals? Unleash them at an amusement park conveniently contained within your hotel. Primm Valley Casino Resorts, west of Las Vegas, has a roller coaster, wet ’n’ wild log ride, “Turbo Drop” thrill ride, 3-D theater, and arcade. The three-hotel complex—Buffalo Bill’s, Primm Valley, and Whiskey Pete’s—is attached to one of the largest outlet malls in the state.
While “something for everyone” may be cliché, how else do you describe two golf courses, a spa, more than 100 factory stores, an amusement park, a theater for live entertainment, casinos, fine dining, and casual cafés—all within one resort complex? Families rule the roost at Primm Valley, and at 35 miles from Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, it is a handy detour from the Las Vegas Strip. Mom and dad might even appreciate the big acts that Primm draws to the Star of the Desert Arena, such as Smokey Robinson (May 29) and Reba McEntire (June 5).
Parents can find kid-friendly action on the Strip, too, at Circus Circus. Clowns, trapeze artists, and jugglers perform under the Big Top while carnival games blink, blare, and twinkle on the Midway. Roller coasters, water rides, and thrill rides zip and soar through The Adventuredome at Circus Circus Las Vegas, where kids of all ages will find an agreeable ride or game. Circus Circus Reno features the same midway and big-top fun on a smaller scale sans the amusement rides.
Another Reno (technically Verdi) resort, Boomtown Casino Hotel, welcomes families with its Fun Zone, complete with a carousel, 3-D theater, flight simulator, Ferris wheel, and arcade games. Boomtown is adjacent to one of the Reno-Tahoe area’s major outdoor retailers—Cabela’s, with life-size animal exhibits and a laser shooting gallery and all the shopping any mom, dad, grandparent, or child could ask for.
Family road trips can be the cornerstone of summertime memories, especially when, “Are we there yet?” is replaced with, “Can we go back?”
1265 Deerlodge Rd., Reno
Boomtown Casino Hotel
I-80, Exit 4, Verdi (Reno)
8650 Boomtown-Garson Rd., Verdi (Reno)
Circus Circus Reno
500 N. Sierra St., Reno
Circus Circus Las Vegas
2880 Las Vegas Blvd S., Las Vegas
The Adventuredome at Circus Circus: 866-456-8894
859 Hwy. 395 S., Gardnerville