Great Basin National Park- A Hidden Gem

Life happens, and despite my best intentions it has been almost an entire year since I last posted!  Between traveling, all the kiddos’ activities, starting a new job, running various marathons and half marathons and taking on a rescue pup, these are crazy times and this little blog has been sadly neglected.  So better late than never, here is a trip report of our visit to Great Basin National Park in Nevada. Click here to see our basic road trip itinerary which covered about 7,500 miles.Great Basin National Park

I say this park is a hidden gem because it is one of the least visited parks in the National Park system, with only about 90,000 visitors each year.  Off the beaten path and with limited services available, this is not an attraction you can fully appreciate by just dropping in for an hour or two.  A trip here takes time and effort in order to fully absorb the special nature of this park. Yet the isolation adds to the appeal and makes this an amazing camping destination and one of our new very favorite National Parks.

We knew Great Basin was going to be a special place even from the road trip into the park.  Located in eastern Navada, Great Basin is seriously in the middle of no where.  We drove for miles and miles without passing a single car on the stormy evening we headed in.  It was a surreal and wonderful experience to see a lightning storm racing across the desert sky over the loneliest road we have ever driven.Great Basin National Park: The Lonliest HighwayThe closest town is Baker which is about 5 miles away from the park entrance. When we arrived and departed the park, Baker was largely deserted.  We saw a well kept small church and except for a few houses, that is about it. The only gas station we saw here was actually unattended, something I have never seen before- just the gas pumps with the credit card readers to pay.  A highlight of the route in and out of the park is the roadside art set up along the highway and we enjoyed stopping at each quirky piece of art. Great Basin National ParkGreat Basin National ParkGreat Basin National ParkOnce we arrived, we scoped out the campgrounds.  All campsites in Great Basin are first come, first served so we were a little anxious to make sure we had a place to sleep but we found a beautiful site without a problem- Like I said, the isolation make this park especially wonderful! There are 5 campgrounds within the park and I don’t think you can go wrong here- all the areas we explored were beautiful with secluded wooded sites that offered privacy as well as spectacular scenery.  We chose the Upper Lehman Creek Campground and found a gorgeous site to set up where we fell asleep each night to the sounds of the bubbling Lehman Creek. Sites are $12 a night and there was a nearby water spigot and a surprisingly clean privy.  Great Basin National Park- Upper Lehman CampgroundWe spent the majority of our three days in Great Basin hiking and the trails are spectacular!  I spent a lovely morning hiking the beautiful 6 mile Lehman Creek trail at sunrise while the rest of the crew slept in.  The trail head was just off our site and the trail is easy to follow and well maintained.  Another favorite hike was the 3 mile Bristlecone Trail where an ancient grove of Bristlecone Pines still flourishes.Great Basin National Park HikingGreat Basin National ParkA highlight of our trip was the 8.6 mile Wheeler Peak Summit Trail.  We have been blessed to hike in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable, and this remains one of our favorites. The views throughout are incredible!  A word of caution though, the elevation gain for this hike was no joke. In addition, the elevation for the entire park is higher than we are accustomed to and we all felt the effects after our hike with Dave and Garrett getting bothersome headaches and I feeling dizzy and nauseous. The climbing itself was challenging. In fact, Maya and I ended up heading back just before the summit as she was too tired to keep climbing since she had been fighting off a bad cold. We still loved hiking this trail and would just try to get more accustomed to the altitude over a few days to lessen the effects. When hiking the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail, make sure to get an early start as dangerous afternoon thunderstorms can pop up without warning and much of the upper trail is exposed.  We were blessed with gorgeous weather for our hike.Great Basin National Park Hiking Wheeler PeakGreat Basin National Park Hiking Wheeler PeakGreat Basin National Park Hiking Wheeler PeakGreat Basin National Park Hiking Wheeler PeakGreat Basin National Park Hiking Wheeler PeakGreat Basin National Park Hiking Wheeler PeakAnother highlight of Great Basin National Park is the ability to see the most amazing night skies.  Because of the park’s isolation, the skies are some of the darkest in the United States making for some spectacular star gazing.  We enjoyed an informative Astronomy Ranger Program where we also were able to look through the telescope the Park Ranger set up.  Even without a telescope, the skies are unbelievable with countless stars visible and the Milky Way easily seen.  Sophie and I were so inspired by the gorgeous skies we decided to sleep under the stars and we fell asleep watching meteoroids flash across the sky.

My only regret for this trip is we did not allow ourselves enough time.  We planned on three days and were unable to change that schedule as we were meeting family in Utah the day of our departure. This park is a true hidden treasure and we could have easily spent a week or more here.  Because of time constraints, we were unable to take a tour of Lehman Cave which I heard was amazing. I would have also enjoyed a longer backpacking hike.  I definitely plan to return and stay for a longer visit.

If you go to Great Basin National Park-

Camping would be the easiest place to stay in order to make the most of your trip since there are minimal hotels nearby.  Sites are $12 and are first come, first served.  No reservations accepted.

Tours of Lehman Cave require tickets and reservations are strongly recommended.  Click here for more information about Cave Tours. 

While there is a darling cafe and gift store located at the Visitor Center, plan to bring enough food to last throughout your stay as there are extremely limited services nearby.

To combat altitude sickness, drink plenty of water, get enough rest and allow yourself time to adjust. Great Basin is a desert climate. It was hot and dry during the day and cool at night.  Make sure to plan accordingly.

Be sure to allow enough time to attend a Ranger Led Program- they are always informative and worth checking out.  Have your kids (or adults too!) complete the Junior Ranger Program to earn the park badge.

Additional Resources-

-A great resource to help with trip planning is Exploring Great Basin National Park: Including Mount Moriah Wilderness.

-We also had fun using Night Sky: A Field Guide to the Constellations to explore the sky. 

-To better understand the effects of light pollution The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light is an excellent resource.  We purchased this book at the Visitor Center and Sophie was so inspired that she made this the subject of a major research paper she was assigned this year.

 

Have you visited Great Basin National Park? Weren’t the skies absolutely amazing?

Happy Travels!


Great Basin National Park

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I love to plan family travel adventures with our four kids. Encouraging time in nature, National Parks travel, backpacking and hiking are my passions and I love to write about them.

4 Comments

  • Thank you so much for your blog/post. I’m planning my summer road trip through the pacific states and western Canada. This time I was hoping to drive through Banff (Alberta) and come down through Vancouver/Seattle and then Olympic, North Cascades, Crater Lake, Mt St Helen’s, Lassen etc. I was just checking out the ‘loneliest road in America” when I saw your page. THANK YOU!

    I’ll find a way to pigeon hole Great Basin into my plans.

    Thanks for your info….I’ve got less than two months to get all this done. By the way, I’m doing all this starting from home, Toronto,, Canada.

    Once again, thanks…….I hope you all have a great summer and I’ve bookmarked youyr page and I’ll be following you folks.

    Chi…….(I’m also on Instagram as traveLLLingchi

  • I was SO excited when I saw this post was published and can’t wait to read about more of your big road trip! I bet you have big plans for this summer, too! What a beautiful place Great Basin is… Someday I’d love to go. Next week we leave for Great Sand Dunes NP, Mesa Verde, and Arches and Canyonlands. Your previous blog posts about those locations have been helpful in the planning. You even inspired me to dehydrate a meal for each night. No big cooler taking up space in the car!

  • I’m so glad you’re back! We are planning to visit Great Basin next summer and based upon your recommendation I will definitely rethink how long we spend there.

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