Fun and Exciting Things to Do Great Basin National Park
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Planning a nice quiet weekend getaway this summer? Head to the Great Basin National Park on the Nevada/Utah border. The Great Basin National Park offers cool weather, beautiful scenery, and excellent camping facilities.
Great Basin National Park is within a mile or two of being located directly between Las Vegas and Salt Lake but having stated that, Las Vegas offers the most direct route. Within minutes from North Las Vegas, U.S. Highway 93 exits from Interstate 15 and proceeds north to the Majors Place junction. Leave U.S. 93, also known as the loneliest highway in the United States, and travel east on U.S. Highways 6/50 for a few miles to the Baker, Nevada exit, or State Highway 487. Beyond Baker State Highway 488 takes visitors into the park. From Salt Lake City, drive due west on Interstate 80 to Wendover, Nevada, and then south on U.S. Highway Alt 93 past Ely and to the highway junction of Major’s Place, and then simply follow the aforementioned directions.
The elevation differs from about 5,000 feet to over 13,000 feet. The temperature can vary drastically depending on what elevation you are at. Temperatures and weather can change quickly, so be prepared for warm weather as well as cold. There is no entrance fee to visit the area, but there are nominal fees for activities such as camping (twelve dollars per night for developed campsites) and Lehman Cave tours.
The Lehman Caves stay a consistent 50 degrees throughout the year! There are guided tours available throughout the day with a 90-minute presentation for those over five years old and a 60-minute tour for everyone. The price for the tour is no more than ten dollars depending on the tour and the age of the visitor.
There are two visitor centers to enjoy at the park along with a gift shop that sells ice cream. You can check out a free daypack filled with goodies to help with the exploration ahead of you. There are numerous scenic trails to walk or hike. Birdwatching is popular in this beautiful habitat. Great Basin National Park has the best stargazing areas in the United States. Before heading out stargazing, stop by an evening campfire program at the Upper Lehman Creek Campground offering a nice get-together of fellow campers.
Scenic Car Rides
If you enjoy scenic car rides, Great Basin National Park offers many breathtaking roads. The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is 12 miles and paved, but steep and winding. The views are unsurpassed and worth the possibility of car sickness! There is also Baker Creek Road, Strawberry, Snake, and Lexington Arch Roads. Each offers new fantastic scenery that will make your trip to The Great Basin National Park worthwhile. The Bristlecone Pine Trail offers the opportunity to see the oldest living organisms in the world and is only 2.8 miles roundtrip. However, if you keep going further, you can also see Nevada’s only glacier! The Glacier is located at the base of Wheeler Peak.
If hiking is more to your liking, there are over 60 miles of developed trails. Walking along these trails you are often within view of animal life such as deer, squirrels, and bighorn sheep. There are maps available for purchase for your convenience. Pets are not allowed on the trails, so plan accordingly. With 48 miles of streams and over 400 springs in the South Snake Range, you are sure to see some of the eight species of fish. Fishing is allowed with a proper license and all Nevada fishing regulations are enforced. Live baits are not permitted except worms. Rod and reel fishing only and catch and release are highly recommended. If you are bringing kids with you, they can become Great Basin Junior Rangers. After completing activities, the participants are sworn in by a park ranger with the Junior Ranger Pledge and receive an official certificate and patch.
The National Parks Service has determined that Great Basin National Park contains some of the darkest skies in the United States. Due to low levels of humidity and light pollution and the high elevation, the park is a wonderful location for stargazing. From the park on a moonless night, five of the solar system’s planets can be seen in addition to the Milky Way, numerous stars, and man-made satellites.
Four developed campgrounds exist within the park’s borders. The campgrounds have toilets, tent pads, grills, and picnic tables. Along Snake Creek Road and along Strawberry Creek Road are two additional primitive campgrounds with only picnic tables and fire rings. Only one of the campgrounds, Lower Lehman Creek, is open year-round. No reservations are taken and sites are on a first-come, first-served basis.
Great Basin National Park is home to over 40 caves. Eight of these caves are accessible for exploration with a proper cave permit. To obtain the permit, you must demonstrate caving techniques and equipment expertise. For those who want to experience being inside a cave but lack the experience, guided tours of Lehman Caves are offered. Reservations are strongly suggested.
Avid anglers should be pleased by the diverse fishing opportunities offered in the park. A fishing license is required for those 12 and over. Brown, rainbow, brook, and cutthroat trout can be found. Baker Lake offers secluded fishing accessible only by a 12-mile round-trip hike. Snake Creek, Strawberry Creek, Baker Creek, and Lehman Creek offer easily accessible fishing opportunities.
Walk Among 5000-Year-Old Trees
While most visitors to the west flock to the National Parks of the Sierra Nevada or of the Utah Outback, the Wheeler Mountain area of east central Nevada, is often ignored. Designated a National Park in 1986, and a notable distance between both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, as well as a great distance from a major interstate highway, most summer travelers are either unaware of its existence or would rather see the more famous sights of saying the Zion or Yosemite valleys.
It’s a shame because Great Basin National Park offers a substantial cave system, alpine lakes, bristlecone pine forests, and a peak to climb that is well over 13,000 feet, for anyone who’ll make the trek. That stated the park is almost perfect for those travelers wishing to escape the summer crowds and heat.
Drive up the ridge and into alpine forests where scenic stops allow great views of Wheeler Peak. If the option is to take the hike up to the peak, almost 18 miles round trip, one should plan an early start, but if not opt for the Loop Trail instead. The trailhead is at the Wheeler Peak parking area and, after crossing a rushing stream, it leads the hiker through quaking aspen trees and on toward Stella Lake.
Between Stella and the next lake, Teresa, trees are shorter, just below the timberline, and sparser, thus unable to shield the numerous deer. One option is to break from the Loop Trail and continue on the Bristlecone Pine Trail where the visitor can hike just below the moraine of Wheeler and past ancient Bristlecone Pines, some over 5000 years old.
Amenities in Great Basin National Park
The park has several full-use campgrounds an around the visitor center area. There are several more primitive camps along Snake Creek and up toward Shoshone. Baker also has campground facilities. Lodging in Baker includes Silverjack Motel on the Main House Loop, the Great Basin Lodge on Highway 487, and further out on Highway 6/50, the Border Inn. Border and Silverjack have dined. T&D Restaurant, located at 1 Main Street, also offers hearty fare. Nearby Ely, Nevada, is only 60 miles away and offers a full range of dining and lodging experiences.
While the park is less-visited than popular national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, it has spectacular features. Surrounded by high mountain peaks and featuring pine forests, creeks, and lakes, there is no shortage of opportunities for outdoor recreation. One of the most distinctive features of the park is the presence of numerous caves, some of which can be explored. Biking, wildflower viewing, horseback riding, and climbing are just some of the many activities one can enjoy on a visit to the park.
With so many activities there will surely be something for everyone in the family. Visiting The Great Basin National Park is rewarding and enjoyable. Whether you are looking for a relaxing day or weekend away from the busy city or looking for the perfect outdoor activity, The Great Basin National Park offers it. With such breathtaking views and close encounters with animal life, don’t forget to bring your camera.