A day at the camel races. Not your typical horseback riding vacation.

A day at the camel races. Not your typical horseback riding vacation.

The riders are tense at the starting line. Hooves anxiously paw at the dirt. Fans sitting in the stands lean forward in anticipation. There’s a countdown—“three, two, one”—and the gates fly open. But instead of horses running down the straightaway, there are three camels racing for the finish line.

Welcome to the International Camel Races, which is held annually in Virginia City, Nevada. This dusty little western town has been the home of the International Camel Races for more than 50 years, and there’s no sign of it slowing down soon.

Horses don't play a part in the International Camel Races in Virginia City, Nevada

Horses don't play a part in the International Camel Races in Virginia City, Nevada

Though horses don’t play a part in the International Camel Races, those who enjoy horseback riding vacations will appreciate the hilarity that ensues when camel jockeys climb aboard these often pesky creatures. Families fill the stands, and a glance over the thousands of spectators reveals cowboy boots and hats and the camaraderie that accompanies any ride or race. The vibe is relaxed but excited as one round of camels after another steps up to the starting line because, once the race starts, anything is possible. Animals run in every direction (some don’t move at all), and riders are frequently left eating dust after they fall from their camels. The only thing that’s constant is the laughter and (often off-color) commentary from the race host.

Just to keep things interesting, the International Camel Races in Virginia City also feature ostrich and zebra races, and even chicken races for the kids.

The International Camel Races also feature ostrich and zebra races

The International Camel Races also feature ostrich and zebra races

The International Camel Races are held every September over the course of three days. It is held every other year in Virgina City, alternating with Alice Springs, Australia. Entry into the races is less than $10.00 per person, a worthwhile price for the hours of entertainment.

If You Go: Find the International Camel Races at the race course right on the edge of town (Virginia City is tiny, so you won’t have any problems finding it). Book a hotel room in advance or plan to stay in Reno, Nevada, which is about 25 miles away.

Visit Virginia City | (800) 718-SLVR(7587)

Camels head to the starting gate in Virginia City, Nevada

Camels head to the starting gate in Virginia City, Nevada

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My experience at the Virginia City International Camel Races was compensated by the Nevada Commission on Tourism but all opinions are my own.

JoAnna Haugen writes the travel blog Kaleidoscopic Wandering.