Expectedly, this northeastern town is home to everything unexpected.


Great expectations can sometimes lead to disappointment; no expectations can create a sense of boredom. Go ahead and toss both those notions out the window, if you please. This is Elko we’re talking about.
“We were a cow town, a railroad town, and a sheep town. Now we’re a mining town,” says Don Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention & Visitors Authority and Elko Convention Center. “Each of those industries has lent themselves to the town’s diverse culture.”

This melting pot of people, economic history, and geographic diversity makes Elko’s popularity in our Tour Around Nevada 2015 contest no surprise. The town was also a winner in our 2010 vote. So what makes the area so special it garners national accolades despite its relatively small size? I’m glad you asked:

  • National Basque Festival
  • Lamoille Canyon
  • Elko Motorcycle Jamboree
  • California Trail Interpretive Center
  • National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
  • Ruby Mountains
  • Northeastern Nevada Museum
  • Western Folklife Center

Numerous car shows, a county fair, the Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival, award-winning snowmobiling, incredible dining, and so much more. For a town that incorporated just 98 years ago, that’s an impressive list.


The path to Elko was laid years before it officially became a town as hundreds of thousands of people crossed the valley in search of land, gold, and adventure. The California Trail covered more than 2,000 miles and went through Elko County, leaving a few settlers who discovered the gentle terrain along the Humboldt River was worth more than a passing glance.

The town of Elko first drew attention in 1868 when Central Pacific Railroad built a hub in the once-desolate county. In no time the town blossomed; in 1869 it became the county seat and by 1873, home to the state’s first university. Elko wasn’t kidding around; it was here to stay and in the early 1900s the population flourished as gold rush towns popped up all around and the Western Pacific Railroad came to town. Eventually the gold waned, but Elko continued to be an important hub for the transportation of goods between Reno and Salt Lake City; it is still the largest city that sits between the two metropolitan areas today.


Elko’s location may seem remote to some, but its vantage point to the Ruby Mountains is inarguably perfect. A stone’s throw to the south-east—past the bedroom community of Spring Creek, past tiny, historic Lamoille—the mountains give refuge to hunters, hikers, campers, fishermen, skiers, and others, but mostly to incredible splendor.

The landscape presents the dichotomy of desert and mountains like only Nevada can, and it draws people in just as it did all those years ago. But today, many look no further than Elko for a place to call home. Matthew Valdez and his family have lived in the Elko area a little more than three years. Matthew found work in Elko when the economy was depressed, but it was the community that really affected him.

“What has left a lasting impression on me is the refreshing optimism,” he explains. “When faced with low gold prices or droughts, I have seen many locals shrug in such a way that lets you know they have been through hard times before and have weathered them. I have come to appreciate the people here who embody that optimism authentically.”

Authenticity is rampant, and Elko is eager to share it. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering began in Elko 31 years ago as a small gathering of cowboys eager to share their tales and songs of life on the range. Each year the festival grows as thousands come from around the globe to immerse themselves in one of the last authentic examples of cowboy culture.

The California Trail Interpretive Center—just west of the city—is an educational, immersive experience about the lives of settlers who traveled those long miles in search of a better life. At the Northeastern Ne- vada Museum, a world-class collection of Western art is being built and just across the museum you can find the bones of a 2 million-year-old Mastodon found in the area. It doesn’t get more real than that.


Expect the unexpected. It’s Elko’s motto, and it embodies what happens to most visitors.

“People haven’t expected to have a meal like they did at The Star, or see the Will James collection, or find the California Trail center,” Don says. “People will find that there’s a lot of people in Elko that have lived all over the world. That lends itself to that unexpected experience.”

The Basque culture lends a major flavor experience, quite literally. Perhaps the best-known Basque restaurant in Nevada, The Star has been serving delicious, authentic Basque food for more than 100 years. Another incredible Basque-American restaurant—Toki Ona—is also in Elko. Expected, perhaps. Some of the best sushi in the state can be found at The Flying Fish, or Blue Moon. Luciano’s for delicious Italian; Machi’s for upscale dining; McAdoo’s for delightful breakfasts; B.J. Bull for tasty pasties; in a word, unexpected.

So what can you expect in Elko, exactly? Let’s let the locals sum it up. “People should expect to find some pretty diverse and friendly people when they come here, too,” Don says. “There’s lot of old timers that have been here for a long time.”

“Elko is a place rich in history, with rugged, desolate beauty accentuating the general tenaciousness and determination of those who have settled here. Whenever I can, I will gladly listen to the stories of the old timers I happen to meet. Those folks who have family trees with roots running deep here have amazing tales to share,” Matt says.

Elko is by far the largest city to win the Tour Around Nevada, and as such, there’s just not enough room for all that makes it so amazing.

Established: 1868
Incorporated: 1917
Population: 20,300 (census.gov)
Elevation: 5,067



Elko Convention & Visitors Authority
700  Moren Way
Elko,  NV 89801
exploreelko.com 800-248-3556


westernfolklife.org museumelko.org californiatrailcenter.org


Nevada Magazine will visit one Nevada community per issue and present the town with a Tour   Around Nevada plaque and commemorative cover. The towns covered are determined by reader   vote! Send your vote to [email protected] with the town and “Tour Around NV” in the subject line. Ely, Las Vegas, Reno, Tonopah, Minden, Gardnerville, Virginia City, Laughlin, and Elko are excluded. Voting for the January/February 2016 issue closes Friday, Nov. 13.

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