Nevada : Safety by City
- Battle Mountain
- Blue Diamond
- Boulder City
- Burning Man in Black Rock City
- Carson City
- Incline Village
- Las Vegas
- Moapa Valley
- Mount Charleston
- North Las Vegas
- Virginia City
- West Wendover
In what might be one of the most macabre opening lines to an article I’ve ever written, here are all the reasons to visit a town that’s cursed, with a Clown Motel ranked as “America’s Scariest Motel,” where the population above ground competes with the population that arises from the ground.
Welcome to Tonopah, Nevada, the “Queen of the Silver Camps.”
Tonopah’s modern history starts with a real ass.
In a series of fated events, a wayward donkey being chased by his owner ended up having a rock thrown at him.
The owner was Jim Butler, who realized that rock was heavier than it should have been.
He didn’t strike the donkey or gold, but he did strike one of the largest silver finds in Nevada history—the lost donkey was a billion-dollar blunder.
During the Tonopah (TONE-uh-paw) “Silver Rush,” the town was plagued by pneumonia and several tragic mine fires, including the Belmont Fire of 1911.
Proper burials were given at the Tonopah Cemetery (now the Old Tonopah Cemetery).
Then in the 1980s, a family decided to honor their father’s legacy and love of clowns by opening what is now most often referred to as the Creepy Clown Motel.
The motel abuts the cemetery.
Even if you aren’t sure that you believe in ghosts, a visit to Tonopah might change your mind.
Dozens of stories seem to blur the line between the ghostly trips between the graveyard and the motel, and even the best ghost hunters in the world have seen inanimate clowns come to life.
The best part of Tonopah?
We haven’t even scratched the surface of all the excitement here in this town with 2,000 (living) residents and a motel with just as many clowns.
The town is halfway between Las Vegas and Reno in rural Nevada.
Please note: This is not the same place as Tonopah, Arizona, home of the El Dorado Hot Springs.
Warnings & Dangers in Tonopah
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk here, with so many things to see and do in safe spaces. It's also a legendary location that should be treated as much more than a stop for gas on a long road trip.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
You'll need a car here as public transportation isn't available, and taxis/rideshares are few and far between. If you're properly prepared for the road trip with emergency supplies through a harsh desert, you'll have a low risk.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
This is another low risk, as there aren't many large gatherings or crowded streets. As with any Nevada casino town, you need to exercise caution when gambling and walking to and from your car.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Wildfires and extreme summer heat are the biggest risks here. Winters are usually cold with a little bit of snow, but as we saw in the 2022/2023 season, there can be intense winter weather. Flash flooding and severe thunderstorms are common in summer. Treat it with medium risk and learn about desert weather patterns and survival skills.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
This is a low risk across the county, with the majority that does happen being in private homes. It's still worth using caution, especially when you're out at night or in rural areas. Traveling in groups or with a partner is the safest solution for any Nevada adventure.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
There was a time during World War II this would've been one of the top potential targets in the country, but now there's a low risk as the military base is in shambles and abandoned.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Scams here are often targeted at residents. However, it's worth keeping your guard up at gas stations and casinos where people might be begging for money with made-up stories.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
I've driven this stretch of road between Reno and Las Vegas several times as a young and not-so-young woman. The "what ifs" are really the biggest concerns. It's such a remote area and doesn't have the liveliness of the bookend cities. If you're prepared for the trip and keep your wits about you, there's a low risk. Unless you're afraid of clowns. Then you've got some decisions to make.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here with full compliance and no violations noted in the most recent Water Quality Report available (2021). You can always call Tonopah Public Utilities with any questions at (775)482-6336.
Safest Places to Visit in Tonopah
“Safe” takes on a whole new meaning in Tonopah, but most of it is just in your head with all the legends and folklore surrounding this town.
I mean, you can visit a mine where men perished, a hotel that’s haunted, or hang out in the desert at night with the snakes and scorpions!
Wait, let me change that sentence around.
You can visit the mining park that started the Silver Rush in this region that ended up financing the Union’s efforts in the Civil War.
You can visit a hotel that is globally renowned!
You can see the place that is ranked as the #1 Stargazing Destination in America!
Here are a few other Tonopah fun facts:
- Howard Hughes, known for his reclusive nature, married Jean Peters here.
- Tiffany & Co. once mined here looking for turquoise that led to the signature blue color.
- Living up to its Wild West reputation, this was once home to Wyatt Earp.
Two places to start to learn about Tonopah are the Travel Nevada website and TonopahNevada.com.
To ensure you’re on the right “Tonopah,” always look for the 775 area code.
Anyone can visit the World Famous Clown Motel, even if they aren’t staying the night.
If you choose to stay the night, ask about the “most haunted” rooms.
Grab a map of the Old Tonopah Cemetery next door.
All ghost stories and jokes aside, there are fascinating stories that come with the people buried here back during a time when workplace safety and healthcare with primitive at best.
The conditions in the Mizpah Mine are much safer today as a tourist attraction, but you can get an inside and underground look at what miners dealt with each day trying to strike it rich.
Those with claustrophobia can still have a great experience with artifacts and a film in the visitor’s center.
Clair Blackburn Memorial Stargazing Park is designed for those who want to see the sky without any light pollution.
There are spaces to set up telescopes, but your family can also just grab a picnic table or set down a blanket and watch the skies come to life.
Please check the website for exact directions, as mobile mapping systems don’t always take you to the right place.
The Central Nevada Museum is another must-see here, and it’s certainly not one of those “boring” museums.
You can walk through a Wild West town and see artifacts and hear more stories of lawlessness, luxury accommodations, and political partnerships forged in this remote desert town.
No trip to Tonopah is complete without a visit to the Mizpah Hotel.
It was nicknamed the “Jewel of the Desert” for its luxury accommodations in the mining heyday, but it’s not renovated and open for guests.
You can play in the casino or eat at the restaurant if you aren’t staying here.
If you drive to the Tonopah Airport, you can see the remains of the military base that flew secret missions and schedule personal flights to tour the area.
Places to Avoid in Tonopah
The crime rates aren’t going to create any dangerous parts of town or places to avoid.
Your skillsets and common sense will make up the biggest risks here.
Tonopah is a town that is 1/3 residential, 1/3 attractions and amenities, and 1/3 relics of abandoned buildings.
You get a real town, ghost town, and historic Western town all in one.
For example, at the corner of McQuillan Street and Brougher Avenue, you can see the remains of the former hospital from 1919.
Looking at it is safe.
Walking onto the property?
Dangerous and illegal.
Another example is you can look at a mountain and decide to hike it, not realizing how altitude sickness can impact you, or you can talk with the tourism committee and locals about the best trails with easier paths for a day-tripper or weekend visitor.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Tonopah
- Tonopah doesn’t have its own police department, and law enforcement comes from the Nye County Sheriff’s Office. This is a massive county, 200 miles at its widest north/south point and 175 miles at its widest east/west point. Use the Nye County Sheriff’s app to get emergency alerts, news releases, and other important safety information.
- Don’t rely on mobile phone service here, especially outside the small downtown area. You should have paper maps and GPS to help you navigate. Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. If you can, map your trail for them. If search and rescue needs to come to find you, they have 18,000 miles to cover if you aren’t clear about where you’re going.
- Use the Nevada 511 website and app to check traffic conditions. This part of the state doesn’t have many detours, so if a road is closed or construction is limiting lanes, you’ll need to figure that time into your travel itinerary.
- Check out the Nye County Emergency Management website for the “Weekly Situation Report.” This covers all disasters and safety information from terrorism to weather to disease outbreaks to hazardous materials.
- One of the newest scenic trails in Nevada is the Park to Park in the Dark trail. It takes drivers from Death Valley to Great Basin National Park, both of which are International Dark Sky Parks. If you’re driving these highways at night or sunset, be aware that there are no streetlights along the way. Driving into the sunrise and sunset can also be blinding with the number of sunny days here.
- Most of Nevada is open range, and that means cattle and wildlife are free to roam—even right across a highway. Always be on the lookout for animals on or near the road.
- I highly recommend that anyone new to Nevada reads the “Recreate Responsibly” section of the tourism site. This goes beyond taking your trash with you and “Leaving No Trace.” It’s important for desert adventures to review the Dirt Road Code to learn about the (mostly) unpaved road challenges and safety tips.
- You are not allowed to take anything from the wilderness. That means rocks, artifacts, fossils, arrowheads, flowers, dirt – nothing. That’s a hallmark of the “Leave No Trace” and “Treat Lightly.” You can enjoy the wilderness without impacting it in any way.
- As you arrive in Tonopah, you’ll go from a speed limit of 70 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour within two miles. You’ll also be going down a large hill to get to the center of town, which feels odd to be going so slowly. Take it from me and the ticket I almost got – they have zero tolerance for speeders and an even lesser tolerance for excuses.
So... How Safe Is Tonopah Really?
Tonopah is a safe town if you’re worried about crime rates.
Since the crime data we have covers a very large county, it’s not easy to get exact numbers for Tonopah.
The good news is that even across the country, crime rates are still lower than the national average.
Theft rates are a good 30% lower than the national average, but 31% of those thefts are related to car break-ins or accessory thefts.
Keep your car locked, whether it’s overnight at your hotel or while you run into the convenience store at the gas station.
Never leave valuables in plain sight.
The rest of the question is answered by asking another one—Are you hoping for the best?
Or prepared for the worst?
I simply love the beauty of the desert and the wide stretches of road.
I’m also worried, as someone who travels alone often, that my car will break down in the heat or a tire will pop, and I’m stuck with a flat spare tire too.
The winds can really make keeping a car stable on the road challenging.
However, as a local, I am always stocked with the right apps, information, and supplies to make the trip.
What’s important for a visitor is to take the same safety steps.
Here’s a great checklist from Travel Nevada:
- I have a really good paper map (you can order a free one at Travel Nevada.com) and will NOT rely on a generic app.
- I have a 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance.
- I have checked the conditions, and I know the dirt or gravel road is dry.
- I have checked the weather forecast and am prepared for sudden adverse conditions.
- I have a good spare tire and know how to change it.
- I have told friends/family where I’m going and when I expect to return back home.
- I have more food and water than I think I’ll need.
- I know my vehicle limits and have enough gas.
- I’m aware there are critters out there – like rattlesnakes, scorpions, mountain lions, and wild horses.
One more thing – those roadside buildings in the vast desert aren’t gas stations or hotels.
They are brothels. Prostitution is legal in Nye County.
No judgment here, but I just wanted you to know so you don’t roll up to the Kitty Cat Buffet with the kids.
How Does Tonopah Compare?
|Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
|Siem Reap (Cambodia)
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)
|Niagara Falls (Canada)
International visitors are required to have a passport. From there, a visa or visa waiver is required, but that will depend on your home country. The U.S. State Department's website has a list of countries eligible for visa waivers. You should also look at the option of being about to skip the in-person interview. That is by far the longest delay.
The U.S. Dollar is the currency here, and even the biggest silver strike of the year won't change that. Casinos will require cash to put into slot machines or exchange for chips to play the tables. Don't wait until you're at a casino to exchange currency due to the high fees. Take care of that before you arrive to get the lowest fees at your home bank. If you do win big at the casino, talk to the manager about getting a check to pay your winnings instead of carrying around a lot of cash.
It's dry here, so bring lotion and some kind of nose lubricant. One of the biggest complaints I hear from visitors is that their skin is so dry, their lips are chapped, and their nose is bleeding. Keep everything hydrated, including your body, and don't forget to add electrolytes. Bring breathable loose clothing, but you need warm layers in the winter. Don't hike in anything less than hiking boots that cover your ankles (to protect you from snakes and sticky things in plants on the desert floor).
Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas is the closest one, but that's still about three hours away. You can be at Reno Tahoe International Airport within 3.5 hours. Tonopah does have an airport, but there are no commercial flights. If you've got the money for a private jet or helicopter, there's another option for you.
Travel insurance for the road is just as important as the flight. If you're going into the wilderness, you might want to research adventure insurance.
Tonopah Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month
Nevada - Safety by City
|Burning Man in Black Rock City
|North Las Vegas