A 2024 Guide to Visiting Great Basin National Park in Nevada

My lifetime goal is to visit all the National Parks in the United States. This means finding ways to visit those outside of the usual paths. When it comes to Great Basin National Park, you have to WANT to see it, as it’s not close to anything else.

So, I hopped on a plane to Las Vegas, got my rental car, and headed north to cross off another National Park from my list.

The drive north is pretty nice once you leave the Vegas metro area. It turns into a high desert, and there are a couple of cool state parks along the way. Once I got into GBNP, I really enjoyed the lack of crowds, views, and after a few hours, the gorgeous night sky.

While it’s definitely not a crazy popular park with bucket list photo shots, it’s still a worthwhile vacation destination (or long weekend), and you’ll have plenty to do!

Enjoy the photos and everything I can pass along to you below!

My Unfiltered View of the Park

Because it’s listed as a National Park, I wanted to visit. If it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have made the trip. That being said, there’s a lot to enjoy during your short trip. The biggest attraction to me (as you’ll see below) is Wheeler Peak. Unfortunately, it was too snowy for me to attempt it, even at the end of June.

Plus, I was still recovering from my cancer treatment and didn’t have the stamina to do it. To other mountain people, I think you’d really enjoy that hike and getting to stand above 13,000 feet.

For others, there are a lot of family-friendly activities to spend time in, and this will honestly show them some amazing places without battling for space amongst the crowds.

Lastly, the one part I would suggest everyone do is the caves. They were super cool and showed off an area of the park and world not many get to see.

The Top 13 Things to Do in Great Basin National Park

1. Summit Wheeler Peak

This is the most strenuous hike in the park, but easily doable for those who are in shape and wish to push themselves. Wheeler Peak sits just above 13,000 feet, making it the second-highest point in Nevada and the highest point in the national park.

Depending on your route, it’s an 8-mile hike with between 2,800 and 3,000 feet of gain. I suggest starting at Summit Trailhead, as it’s slightly less elevation gain.

Wheeler Peak, the tallest point in Great Basin National Park.

2. Watch the Stars and Milky Way Come Out

You can do this anywhere while visiting Great Basin National Park, as it’s the darkest night sky in any of the Lower 48 National Parks. It’s a Bortle 1-1.5 sky, meaning it is REALLY dark. I hung out at Stella Lake for sunset and then watched the stars and Milky Way come out.

The Milky Way rising next to Wheeler Peak.

3. Explore the Ancient Bristlecones

Hike and explore among some of the oldest trees in the world. It’s a moderate hike, but again, you’re doing it at elevation, and it might make you more winded than you’re used to.

This trail was closed when I visited due to unstable and dangerous snow conditions.

4. Take a Tour of the Lehman Cave

Touring Lehman Cave requires a reservation that can be purchased in advance or as a walk-up. Though, if you buy it the day of, you might run into tours being full.

I found it fascinating, and it’s a magnificent and striking cave. Great Basin National Park has done a phenomenal job of making it accessible and creating an informational tour.

The Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park. You can take a tour here. This is at the end point.

5. Drive to 10,500 feet on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive

A stunning drive up to one of the highest driveable points in any National Park (I believe it’s second behind Hawaii and Rocky Mountains). It should take 30 minutes from the turn-off and has multiple overlooks to enjoy the views.

You won’t be disappointed going up or down!

Wheeler Peak in view on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive in Great Basin National Park. This is near the top at around 9,500 feet.

6. Hike around Baker Creek

This was a lovely hike with wildflowers, trees, creeks, and a gorgeous meadow. It’s about 3.3 miles long, and you can start on either the Baker Lake trail or the South Fork of Baker Creek. They connect and turn it into a loop.

Baker Creek rushing in Great Basin National Park after a year of heavy snowfall.

7. Adventure amongst the Alpine Lakes

A three-mile loop will take you to Stella Lake and Teresa Lake. They both sit under Wheeler Peak’s summit three thousand feet above. It’s a moderate hike, with the only thing to flag is you are hiking above 10,000 feet, and altitude will be a factor.

I would recommend this as one of your must-do hikes while visiting Great Basin National Park

Stella Lake at sunset below Wheeler Peak.

8. Trek to the Wheeler Peak Glacier

This is the same trail as the Bristlecone Pine trail, taking you up to a smidge under 11,000 feet. It’s a 4.5-mile hike with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

This glacier is still holding on, but many like it are disappearing due to a changing climate.

9. Disconnect from the rest of the world

You are out there when you visit Great Basin National Park. Your cell service will be spotty, and your hotel will have below-average WIFI. Take this as a sign to throw your phone into airplane mode, throw it into the glove box, and use this time to connect with nature on a deeper level.

10. Camp with true darkness

Wherever you camp in the park, you’ll be able to stare up at the night sky and see more stars than you’ve likely ever seen. If there’s no moon, odds are you’ll be able to see the Milky Way with your naked eye.

That’s something many city dwellers will never experience.

11. Stop at the Mather Overlook and Wheeler Peak Overlook

Both are on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and are great places to pull over, stretch your legs, snap a few photos, and gaze out at the majestic mountains before you. Mather Overlook is about halfway up, with Wheeler Peak Overlook just a short drive from the campground.

Places I wasn’t able to explore, but they seem great!

12. Lexington Arch

This requires a high clearance and a 4×4 vehicle to reach, but it looks awesome. Sadly, in my rental car, I didn’t have the opportunity to make it out here. I’m sure this sees a fraction of the already small visitation.

If you make it to the Lexington Arch, you’ll likely have the place to yourself!

13. Fall Colors in Great Basin National Park

This place has TONS, making it an ideal place to visit for fall colors. While the rest of the popular places will be flooded with people, visiting Great Basin National Park in the fall will have few to no crowds.

Everything you’ll want to know about planning a trip to Great Basin National Park

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Is Great Basin National Park worth it?

Yeah, it is! It’s not flashy like Yosemite or Glacier, but it is definitely worth its National Park status. The towering peaks, gorgeous views, a unique ecosystem, and a great cave make it a perfect two or three-day trip!

Plus, the crowds are sparse, so you’ll get to enjoy nature without throngs of people.

What is the best month to visit Great Basin National Park?

You’ll want to visit Great Basin National Park in the summer and fall when the entire park is accessible. Due to its high elevation, the top portion closes once the snow season starts. And at 10,000 feet, that happens sooner than you’d think.

Great Basin National Park has one of the highest driveable roads in the National Park System passing 10,500 feet up to Wheeler Campground.

Where is Great Basin National Park?

This National Park is located on the eastern edge of Nevada, at about the midline of the state. It’s almost equidistant, in driving time, from Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

The nearest “city” it Baker, NV, though there’s not much there. Ely, an old mining town, sits about an hour to the west.

How to drive to Great Basin National Park?

There are two main routes to reach Great Basin National Park: Drive from Salt Lake City or Drive from Las Vegas.

  • Salt Lake City to Great Basin National Park – 3.5 hours, 230 miles
  • Las Vegas to Great Basin National Park – 4.5 hours, 291 miles

You’re in rural-rural Nevada.

You are heading into an empty part of the state and country. The town of Baker does not have much in terms of amenities. I recommend stocking up on food in Ely or the nearest major metro area you fly into.

How busy is Great Basin National Park?

Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the entire country. If you exclude Alaska and the National Parks where driving to it is impossible, this likely is the least visited National Park in America.

Is there an entrance fee?

There is no fee collected to visit Great Basin National Park. A handful of National Parks in the USA don’t collect fees. (Like North Cascades National Park.)

What makes Great Basin National Park unique?

First, the entire area is a basin, meaning no rivers are flowing out of the area. All the water there evaporates, turns to salt, or is consumed. Next, due to its remoteness, it has some of the darkest skies on Earth. It’s considered just over a Bortle 1 sky which is the rating for how dark the sky is. (1 is best, and 9 is NYC.)

Furthermore, it’s a unique environment with high desert grasslands that rise into towering mountains 13,000 feet tall with a glacier. There are few places like it in the USA.

How many days should I spend visiting Great Basin National Park?

I recommend between one and three days when visiting Great Basin National Park. While there are not a TON of things to do in Great Basin, there are enough to have two full fun days.

If you were going to push it to three days, it’s only because you don’t want to drive home at 10 pm. So basically, two full days and leaving on the third is a good rule of thumb here.

A bridge crossing on the Baker Creek loop.

Plan your Trip: Great Basin National Park Itineraries

1-Day Itinerary

If you’re just here for a short stop, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Drive the Wheeler Scenic Drive, stop at the overlooks, and hike to Stella Lake and the Bristlecone Pine Forest
  • Check out the visitor center
  • Spend a little bit of time in the Baker Creek area. It’s lovely!

2-Day Itinerary

  • If you’re going for the Wheeler Peak summit push, you need at least two days. Getting a dawn start is highly recommended to ensure you’re off the summit if afternoon thunderstorms form.
  • Consider the Day 1 suggestions, as well as hiking up to the Wheeler Peak Glacier and possibly scheduling a Lehman Cave Tour.
  • Attend the astronomy exhibit that starts at 8:30 pm three times a week by the Lehman Cave Visitor Center.

3-Day Itinerary

  • The morning of day three might be the best time to do your Lehman Cave Tour. They have 9 am and 10:30 am tours in the morning, allowing you to still do something in the park but begin your drive home without it getting too late in the day.
  • You could also venture out to see Lexington Arch, but that requires 4×4 and high-clearance SUVs/Trucks.
The high desert of Great Basin National Park. Those peaks rise over 8k feet from the desert below.

Where to Stay in Great Basin National Park

Motels

There are only a couple of non-camping options in Baker, Nevada. It’s a very small rural town that, due to Great Basin’s low visitation numbers, hasn’t seen the normal boost other towns close to National Parks see.

I stayed at the Whispering Elms campground and motel. It was nice and clean. Nothing fancy, but you know that going in.

Additionally, you could stay in Ely, about 70 minutes west of Great Basin National Park. While still rural, this has more hotel options, such as the Prospector Hotel.

Camping

But for those wishing to camp in the park, there are five campgrounds available (though the Wheeler Peak Campground opens later and closes earlier due to its elevation).

The cost is $20 per night.

  1. Lower Lehman Creek Campground (11 sites)
  2. Upper Lehman Creek Campground (23 sites)
  3. Wheeler Peak Campground (37 sites)
  4. Grey Cliffs Campground (16 sites)
  5. Snake Creek Campground (12 sites)
Wildflowers near the Baker Creek hike in Great Basin National Park.

What hiking gear should I bring to Great Basin National Park?

  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Hiking Poles
  • Sunscreen
  • Lots of water
  • Hiking Shoes/Boots/Trail Runners
  • Hiking Hoodie
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Day Pack

Planning to Car Camp? Here are my recommendations.

FAQ: Visiting Great Basin National Park

Is Great Basin National Park photogenic?

Hmm. It’s a pretty park, but it’s not Instagram-fame-making if that’s what you’re asking. I’m sure the view from Wheeler Peak, looking down at the two lakes, is impressive. However, there just aren’t a lot of “must-see” spots.

When did Great Basin become a National Park?

Great Basin National Park became a National Park in 1986 under the Ronald Reagan administration. Previously it was still protected but at a lower distinction.

The high peaks of Great Basin National Park.

Does Great Basin National Park have wildlife?

Yes, Great Basin does have an array of wildlife, from the top predators such as the mountain lion to small rodents. They do not, though, have bears. Below are some of the animals you might spot.

  • Big Horn Sheep
  • Mountain Lion
  • Kit Fox
  • Mule Deer
  • Elk
  • Bats
  • Reptiles
  • Marmots
  • Beavers

Wrapping Up: A Trip to Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a hidden gem in the heart of Nevada that offers visitors a unique and unforgettable experience. From exploring ancient bristlecone pine forests to hiking up to Wheeler Peak, there’s no shortage of activities for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

The park also boasts stunning night skies perfect for stargazing, as well as fascinating historical sites like Lehman Caves.

Whether you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life or simply want to reconnect with nature, Great Basin National Park is definitely worth a visit.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.


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