The 132-mile road between Sacramento, California, and Reno, Nevada, is one of the most dramatic and scenic routes in the country, passing through the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. This is the way many Northern Californians must travel to reach Reno and the popular Lake Tahoe, which is bisected by the California-Nevada border.
The cities are not so far apart on the map, but there are multiple ways to travel between the two, whether you choose to bus, drive, or take the scenic train route. Deciding on which way to go depends on what kind of trip you're looking to have.
To get there quickly, with fewer pit stops, driving is the way to go. The bus doesn't make any stops, so it's usually just as quick as driving yourself and it's much cheaper. However, you'll probably need a car when you get to Reno, so you might want to have your own. The train takes the longest and is more expensive than taking the bus or driving, but it's the most scenic way to make the trip because you'll be passing through sections of the mountain range that can't be seen from the road. It's a trip that you may never forget and it's listed as part of one of the most beautiful train journeys in the U.S.
How to Get from Sacramento to Reno
- Train: 4 hours, 50 minutes, $38+
- Bus: 2 hours, 20 minutes, $8+
- Car: 2 hours, 16 minutes, 177 miles
To get to Reno from Sacramento, you'll hop aboard to the California Zephyr Line at the Sacramento Valley Station and if you're coming from San Francisco, you can also board in Emeryville. In a single day, the Zephyr travels from sea level to an altitude of almost 7,000 feet. It follows the Sacramento River through the Delta, climbs into the Sierras and zip backs down to Reno along the Truckee River. It's a spectacular day of sightseeing with the luxury of not having to worry about road closures, traffic jams, or weather reports. Keep your eye out for special highlights like the terminus of the historic Pony Express and the infamous Donner Pass, where the Donner Party was stranded in 1846.
As you travel through Gold Rush Country, you can take it all in from the observation car on the Zephyr and if you travel the opposite way, from Reno to Sacramento, a special presentation will be given by volunteers from the Railroad Museum in Sacramento. There's also a dining car, but meals are only included if you've booked a sleeper suite. Since the journey is about 5 hours long, that's probably unnecessary. With your ticket, you'll be allowed two personal items and two suitcases per person and you can bring your own food if you do not want to make a purchase from the dining car.
On the bus, you can still enjoy the scenery of driving without the stress that comes with navigating potentially snowy conditions or paying for gas. With shockingly cheap fares from bus operators like Flixbus and Greyhound, the bus is a great option if you're looking to save money and get to Reno quickly.
Modern buses are comfortable with Wi-Fi and lavatories, but the ride is quite short compared to the train, so you really shouldn't be on the road for more than 3 hours if there's no traffic. One-way tickets can be found for as cheap as $8 and typically don't surpass $45. When you book, make sure to double-check the duration of your trip, since sometimes bus companies choose to take a different route that might add an hour.
The only way to get from Sacramento to Reno by car is to drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which were named by the Spanish "the snowy range" for a reason. Before deciding to make the drive, double-check the weather conditions for the time of your trip and make sure you read up on California's snow chain laws.
One option is to drive to Reno on I-80, which is the fastest route and takes about 2 and 30 minutes. For an alternate route, you can take CA-16 to CA-88, which will eventually turn into I-580 as you round the southern portion of Lake Tahoe. It's a longer drive, taking about 3 hours and 40 minutes, but it will take you through another side of the Sierras and gives you an opportunity to make a pit stop in Carson City before continuing on to Reno.
What to See in Reno
Some people traveling from Sacramento to Reno might choose to drive on to Lake Tahoe, which is 37 miles south of Reno. However, if you decide to stick around for a while, there are a lot of cool things you can see when you are in Reno. It's a "great outdoors" kind of destination if you want to spend some time exploring the mountains and forests or taking part in water sports in the lakes and streams. Between the ski resorts and mountain biking trails, there really is something for everyone.
You can also stop into the Nevada Museum of Art or take a trip to Carson City (34 miles away) to learn more about the history of the Gold Rush at the Nevada State Museum. If you're up for an even bigger adventure after your journey from Sacramento to Reno, 142 miles north you'll find the Black Rock Desert, the site of the world-famous Burning Man Festival.