Great Basin National Park


The Great Basin is actually a misnomer for this group of desert basins, or valleys, in Nevada's South Snake mountains. Basins are a vital part of the desert ecosystem, collecting excess water from streams and rivers that don't have outlets in the ocean. Great Basin National Park was established in 1986 to preserve this natural drainage system.The South Snake Range is characterized by craggy mountains and dry sagebrush valleys that alternate in a continuous, almost monotonous pattern. Pinyon juniper woodlands, aspen, mahogany, manzanita, as well as an abundance of wildlife thrive in the cooler, wetter conditions found at higher elevations.Looking at the arid desert range today, it's hard to imagine that the area was once partially covered by glaciers, although the ice never reached below elevations of 8,000 feet. Remnants of their presence still exist, such as a small glacier in the cirque on the north side of Wheeler Peak and glacier-carved Teresa and Stellar lakes.The other natural wonder that draws people to Great Basin National Park is not above ground, but below. The Lehman Caves (also a misnomer, since there is only one) extend a quarter mile into the limestone at the base of the Snake Range. This small underground cavern is decorated with a colorful array of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and columns. Lehman is famous for rare formations called "shields," which are made up of two circular halves that resemble clam shells. The origin continues to be a mystery among geologists.What to see and do: Start with the Great Basin Visitor Center in Baker, Nevada, open daily except winter holidays from 8 AM to 4:30 PM in the off-season with extended summer hours. Get details on park activities by picking up a copy of "The Bristlecone." It contains all the details for guided summer hikes, plus campfire and stargazing programs which take advantage of some of the darkest skies in the country. It also details tours of Lehman Caves, an ideal activity for a one-day excursion. Ranger-led tours begin at the visitor center near the cave entrance, and take you through several intricately carved rooms. The two most impressive rooms are Cypress Swamp, with its rimstone pools and "soda straws," and Grand Palace, which features several shields and columns. The tour is up to 0.54 miles or shorter and lasts up to one and one-half hours with some tours 30 to 60 minutes. Be sure to dress appropriately; the temperature inside the cave is 50 degrees year-round.If you have more than one day to explore the park, take some time to see Lexington Arch, in the south end of the park, or explore the glacier at Wheeler Peak. There is a 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. You can stretch your legs along the quarter-mile Island Forest Trail, an accessible loop with alpine flowers.If you hunger for more scenery, several trailheads converge at the base of Wheeler Peak and lead to pine forests, alpine lakes and Wheeler Peak's 13,063-foot summit. Take time to admire the peak's ancient bristlecone pines, some of which are thought to be more than 3,000 years old. Altogether, 65 miles of hiking trails criss-cross the park's wilderness, and fall visitors can sample some of the area's wild pine nuts.Opportunities for horseback riding, fishing, and mountain biking are also offered at Great Basin National Park, but stop by a ranger station for information on licenses and limitations. Keep in mind that the park is remote and sprawling, so no matter which section and activity you target, you should arrive rested and supplied with food and fuel. Also dress in layers and be prepared for quickly changing temperatures due to elevation changes and summer storms. Keep a lookout for rattlesnakes.You can spend the night or more at four developed campgrounds within the park, which provide everything from water to tent pads. You'll find primitive campsites along Strawberry Creek at the north end of the park and Snake Creek on the east side of Great Basin National Park.


100 Great Basin National Park
Baker, NV 89311


38.91232600, -114.16772800
Visit Website
(775) 234-7331

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