The name of Great Basin National Park comes from the whole of the region between the mountains in eastern Utah (Wasatch Range) and those in California (Sierras). It comprises most of Nevada the northwest half of Utah and a bit of California and Oregon. The park didn’t get national park designation and protection until 1986.
Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited National Parks, and you will enjoy the solitude as you hike the trails. It is most known for the Snake Range of mountains that tower above the park and Lehman Caves.
The Snake Range of mountains, which include Wheeler Peak (12,305 feet) and Mt. Baker (12,298), are the main highlights of the park. These mountains are not remarkable compared to others in the Rockies, but what makes them unusual is how these mountains seem disconnected from the rest of the Rockies as they rise out of a mostly flat, desert environment. If you are visiting the canyon country of the area in the summer – places like Bryce Canyon National Park or Zion National Park, you will love the change of pace in this cool, mountain environment with cool temperatures and snow lingering in places well into June.
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
The main paved road that goes to the higher country is a great 12-mile drive that exceeds 10,000 feet above sea level. The road itself gains over 4,000 feet and offers many worthy opportunities at pullouts along the way. The diversity of life and terrain encountered is comparable to going from the desert to they frozen Yukon of the far north.
Along the drive, you’ll see a great variety of vegetation and trees, with noticeable changes as you gain elevation. Starting with sagebrush and pinyon pine, you’ll find Mahogany, fir and ponderosa pine. As you near the summit, the remarkable aspen trees will become common. Aspen trees are remarkable in that a grove of these trees may be one large organism as aspens reproduce by sending runners out underground to become new trees.
Note that single vehicles or trailers in excess of 24’ in length are not allowed on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
Nice Mountain Lake Trails
Like all national parks, Great Basin offers its share of trails. My favorites are those up near the mountain peaks. There are several nice hikes of differing lengths available to you from the top of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive with most starting near the Wheeler Park Campground.
My favorite spot in the park is Stella Lake. It can be reached via the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail which is 2.7 miles round trip with 600’ of elevation gain from a starting point of 9,800’. The lake is smallish, but is scenic and placed strategically for a nice view of Wheeler Peak across the lake.
Lehman Caves is a nice cave located within Great Basin National Park. Read my detailed article on Lehman caves here.
The mountains within Great Basin National Park offer some good high-country hiking if you are interested in that. I have not done that here, but most hikes can be done in one long day or two easier days. Check out some good information at summitpost.org.
If you have a good high-clearance 4WD vehicle and some skills with it, you can visit this unusual arch (I haven’t made the trip yet). There is about a 3 miles round trip hike to see it once you’ve made the trip along the unmaintained 12-mile dirt road. As is so often the case, Lexington Arch is probably misnamed and is actually a natural bridge. It is unusual in that it is comprised of limestone instead of the usual sandstone. This leads to speculation that it was once part of a cave system, and flowstone at the base of the opening lends support to this theory. Read more about the arch here.
Location and Services
Great Basin National Park has minimal services available. The Lehman Caves visitor center has a restroom and a simple café that mostly serves snack foods or simple comfort foods. There are several simple but nice campgrounds available.
The park is kind of in the middle of nowhere in eastern Nevada near the Utah border. There is a small town nearby named Baker that doesn’t have much in the way of food or lodging. More than likely, you’ll need to stay at Ely, which is 67 miles to the west. You’ll find numerous lodging and food options there, as well as the requisite casinos.
Want to see what you’ll find at Great Basin National Park? Check out my gallery of pictures.
Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.