Lehman Caves is a nice cave located in eastern Nevada within Great Basin National Park. It is a pretty easy walk thorough rooms that feature a great variety and quantity of formations. You would be hard pressed to find a cave with so much variety in such a small area. The rooms themselves are on the smaller side, nothing like the huge rooms found in Mammoth Cave or the massive great room at Carlsbad.
There are many stalactites, including fragile soda straws that managed to not be damaged by early visitors. Smaller columns, flow stone and draperies as well as decorated stalagmites. Other, more rare formations include Cave Shields, Cave Bacon and Cave Popcorn.
Lehman has a lot of greatly varied cave formations, collectively referred to as speleothems. A speleothem is any cave decoration that formed after the cave itself finished forming. Lehman has many kinds of speleothems, but it is most known for having a large concentration of Cave Shields. These normally rare speleothem forms when calcite-rich seep water is under pressure and is forced from a tiny crack in the cave wall or ceiling. The seep deposits calcite as parallel extensions to the cracked walls. They are often afterward further decorated with stalactites.
Cave Bacon and Popcorn
Lehman Caves also features many good examples of Cave Bacon – layered flowstone speleothems that resemble strips of bacon attached to the walls. Even the color looks right. Cave Popcorn is also present. It is formed when mineral rich water is splashed on a spot and then leaves behind small bits of minerals forming clustered nodules resembling popcorn.
Lehman caves was discovered in the late 1880’s. There are over 40 differing stories as to its discovery but the most likely is that it was found by Absalom S. Lehman, his brother or one of his ranch hands. Not long thereafter, groups began to explore the cave and they broke through formations to get to other portions of the cave. Souvenir hunters broke off formations as keepsakes. Wagonloads of cave formations appeared at the state fair in Reno. Interest in the cave died off when Absalom died in 1891. It was renewed after World War I and in 1922, it become protected as a National Monument, but oversight was nearly non-existent for many years. Great Basin National Park was created in 1986 to include Lehman Caves.
By 2007, over one million visitors had gone through the cave and the damage was becoming evident. This is why the quantity of visitors is now kept to a much smaller number and restoration is ongoing.
Lehman Caves may only be entered with a guide. Tours are offered daily every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The tours are led by park rangers who share history, ecology and geology information with the small groups (20 is the limit) they lead. There are two different tours offered, and they sell out regularly so it is recommended to book in advance via Recreation.gov.
The Lodge Room tour lasts for about 60 minutes and goes 0.4 miles. It works well for families with small kids. The longer Grand Palace Tour goes everywhere the Lodge Room tour goes but lasts for 90 minutes with 0.6 miles traveled. Minimum age on the latter is 5 years old. Prices to both tours are very reasonable compared to private caves.
The trail is paved throughout and is not difficult, but there are a few stairs to navigate and a steep grade at one point. The entrance is the historic one and is not ADA-approved. It would be plausible for someone in a non-motorized wheelchair to visit if they have family members or friends able to assist. Not that the cave generally does not have large passages and someone who is claustrophobic might not like it.
Location and Services
Lehman Caves is located within Great Basin National Park. You do not need a pass to the park to access the cave but Great Basin is worth spending some time at. Read about it here.
At the Lehman Caves visitor center, you’ll find a small exhibit as well as restrooms and a small snack bar that is the only food available within the national park.
Lehman Caves are 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 here, as well as the requisite casinos.
See a gallery of pictures from Lehman caves here.
See a ranked list of my favorite caves in the United States here.
Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.