Day tripper: Take a tour of historic Fort Churchill
Don’t confuse makeshift shelters and stockades with the neatly laid out Fort Churchill. Constructed after the Paiute War of 1860, this Nevada historical site housed up to as many as 600 troops to protect ranches, the Overland Stage route and the Pony Express.
Now a state park, only wall portions remain of the hospital, barracks, munitions dump and swank officers’ quarters. When the fort was abandoned in 1869, it was sold to Samuel Buckland for $750. He then removed all of the roofs, timbers and other building materials to erect a hotel at his trading post just south of the fort.
Buckland and members of his family are interred in the cemetery at the fort; however, the remains of the soldiers who died while stationed at Fort Churchill were moved to the Lone Mountain Cemetery in Carson City in 1884.
An on-site museum is small, but the information is powerfully displayed. Self-guided walking tours and point of interest plaques paint a vivid picture of life on this lonely outpost during the turbulent Civil War days. Footpaths meander around the post and lead to the bases of many of the buildings.
The park encompasses sections of the Carson River, and cottonwood trees shade the tranquil picnic and camping facilities. There is a 14-day limit on camping with a user fee, and a $1 day fee for the park and picnic area. Drinking water is piped into all locations.
In 1994, the Nevada State Park System purchased 3,200 acres of the Carson River corridor from Fort Churchill to Lahontan State Recreation Area. Formerly ranches, the ecosystem is home to diverse plants and wildlife and is popular for hiking, bird watching and horseback riding. Canoes and rafts can navigate the river, but it is strongly suggested to wait until warmer weather!
An easy 90-minute drive from the Carson Valley, Fort Churchill and the surrounding sites are an excellent destination for diverse activities. Weather will be similar to the Carson Valley, with temperatures a few degrees warmer. Dress accordingly, wear comfortable walking shoes and enjoy a day in Nevada’s great outdoors.
How to get there:
From Minden/Gardnerville travel north on U.S. 395 to Carson City.
Turn right (east) on Highway 50 to Silver Springs.
Turn right (south) on U.S. 95A.
The park entrance is on the right, approximately 5 miles from the turnoff.
Of course you can return the same way you came, but for a pleasant change of scenery:
Turn west when you leave the park entrance (not toward U.S. 95A) and follow Fort Churchill Road.
After 1/4 mile, the road turns to a well-maintained gravel road that loosely follows the Pony Express Trail and the Carson River.
The road is approximately 16 miles long and intersects with U.S. 50 near Six Mile Canyon.
Turn left for Dayton and return home.