Great Basin National Park
Located: Nevada - Established: October 27, 1986
The Park: Three fabulous characteristics of this park that stood out in our minds include the Bristlecone Pines, Lehman Caves and gazing at the stars after dark!
The Bristlecone Pines in this region are some of the world’s oldest living things with beginnings dating back to 2600 BC! Access the Pines via the 2.8-mile Bristlecone Trail located at the termination of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. Continue on the trail for another nine-tenths of a mile and you’ll come across the only glacier in the state of Nevada.
Lehman Caves is decorated with spectacular stalactites stalagmites, helictiteses, popcorn and over 300 rare “shield” formations. All Lehman Caves tours are guided by a Park Ranger. The Grand Palace Tour is 90 minutes long, limited to 20 visitors per tour and travels a distance of six-tenths of a mile. On this Tour, you will be treated to the famous “Parachute Shield” formation.
Dark Skies: One of the strikingly noticeable differences between Great Basin and other parks is what happens after sunset. It gets REALLY dark! Most Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their back yards. Here, the night skies are not hindered by artificial light pollution typical of urban areas. Gazing up at the heavens in Great Basin gives you the feeling you could reach out and touch the stars! The National Park Night Sky Team rates Great Basin as one of the top sites for stargazing!
Getting there: The reason the skies are so dark is this park is out in the boondocks...far from the glitz of city lights. The park is situated very near the Nevada/Utah border 300 miles north of Las Vegas, NV and approximately 250 miles west of Salt Lake City. The tiny town of Baker is the closest community offering groceries and gas.
When to visit: The Park is open year round and the peak season is during the summer months. Note that there is an 8,000-foot elevation difference between the valley floor and Wheeler Peak. Winter visitation to the high country can be hindered by snowfall!
What to do: Great Basin features over 60 miles of developed hiking trails. The Bristlecone and Glacier Trail is a 4.6 mile round trip trek that takes you through the grove of ancient trees and on up to the only glacier in the state of Nevada. The Wheeler Peak Summit Trail is an 8.6-mile RT trek with a 2900’ elevation change. Start this trek early to avoid potential afternoon thunderstorms!
Take in one or both of the Lehman Caves tours and experience the fascination of this underground world. The 60-minute Lodge RoomTour travels a little less than a half-mile and is a good tour for young children. On this tour you will visit the Gothic Palace, Music Room and Lodge Rooms.
The other caving option is the Grand Palace Tour– a 90-minute, .6-mile tour that takes in more of the cave formations including the famous Parachute Shield formation. Both tours are limited to 20 people. Reservations recommended.
Where to stay: Great Basin has five developed campgrounds complete with tent pads, vault toilets, picnic tables and campfire grills. Campsites are on a first come, first served basis and there are no RV hookups. There is a very limited number of lodging opportunities in nearby Baker, NV or more in the distant town of Ely.
Memorable moment: Frying up bacon on a crisp, clear mountain morning with our Old English Sheepdog - CharlieDog - lazily awaiting his portion!
Trivia: Nevada is the country’s most mountainous state with over 300 individual mountain ranges and 42 named summits over 11,000’!
Banner: Gnarled wood of theBristlecone Pine.
Experience these Check List:
- Stop by the park's Visitor Center
- Take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
- Visit Mather Overlook
- Take a Lehman Cave Tour
- Hike to the Bristlecone Pine Grove
- Hike a bit further to Rock Glacier
- Observe the incredible star-filled Dark Skies at night