Great Basin National Park is a United States National Park established in 1986, in east-central Nevada near its border with Utah, five miles west of the tiny town of Baker. The park's name is derived from the Great Basin, the dry and mountainous region between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The park is dominated by one of the many mountain ranges in the Great Basin.
The region surrounding the park has a low population, spread out in small communities over a large area. Therefore, unlike other national parks in the West, such as the Grand Canyon, Great Basin is not particularly well-known as a national park. However, if you're willing to make the journey to this park in eastern Nevada, it's an excellent example of Nevada's mountainous scenery.
Great Basin National Park is at the western end of the area in which the Indian Fremont culture used to dominate.
Great Basin National Park is, despite the name, a mountainous park region. It is in many ways similar to the Sierra Nevada Range of California, and has high, rocky peaks from which small creeks descend into the valleys below.
Approaching the park from Baker, the land is flat until the visitor center is reached; then steep-sided mountains block road travel westward across the mountains at this point within the range. The scenic drive to Wheeler Peak follows the mountain slopes until the mountain range becomes too steep to climb by road.
Flora and fauna
At lower elevations, sagebrush dominates. Higher elevations include many juniper trees, and these collect in woodlands in some places. The highest elevations have very little vegetation.
There is almost an 8,000 ft (2,400 m) difference in elevation between Wheeler Peak and the valley floor. Weather conditions in the park vary with elevation. In late spring and early summer, days in the valley may be hot, yet the snowpack may not have melted at high elevations. The Great Basin is a high-elevation desert, with low relative humidity and sharp drops in temperature at night. In the summer, fierce afternoon thunderstorms are common. Weather conditions are highly variable, so come prepared for all types of weather. It can snow any time of the year at high elevations.
Due to the elevation, temperatures can get cold at night but quickly get warm when the sun rises, as sunlight does not have to pass through much of the earth's atmosphere before hitting the ground. As a result, it could be 40 degrees above freezing (Fahrenheit), but there could still be snow above 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation. Temperatures can be cold during winter in both Baker and Great Basin National Park, but temperatures should get pretty hot in Baker during the summer months.
|Great Basin National Park|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
From the east or west, from U.S. Highway 6 and 50, turn south on Nevada State Highway 487 and travel 5 mi (8.0 km) to Baker, Nevada. In Baker turn west on Highway 488 and travel 5 mi (8.0 km) to the park.
From the south (Utah), travel north on Utah State Highway 21 through Milford and Garrison, Utah, which will become Nevada State Highway 487 as you cross the border. Turn west on Highway 488 in Baker and travel 5 mi (8.0 km) to the park.
From the south (Nevada), travel north on U.S. Highway 93 (Great Basin Highway). At the junction of U.S. Highway 6 and 50, drive east to Nevada State Highway 487 and turn south. Travel 5 mi (8.0 km) to Baker. In Baker turn west on Highway 488 and travel 5 mi (8.0 km) to the park.
No public transportation is available to, or in, Great Basin National Park.
Fees and permits
The park is open daily, year round, from 8AM to 4:30PM Pacific Time, with extended hours in the summer. It is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Great Basin National Park has no entrance fee. Cave tour fees vary depending on length of tour. 60-minute tours cost $9 for an adult and $5 for a child, while the 90-minute tours cost $11 and $6 respectively. Golden Age/Golden Access card holders pay child rates. Camping fees are $15 for developed campgrounds per night/per site. $7.50 for Golden Age/Golden Access card holders. Primitive campgrounds have no fee.
Most of the park's attractions and facilities can be reached from the visitor center and the roads surrounding it. However, there are some attractions in the park that require you to drive to Baker and take the main highway south and turn onto a dirt road that leads into another section of the park.
Two main roads in Great Basin National Park are paved; the first road leads to the visitor center, and the other goes up Wheeler Peak. All other major roads are dirt track, often four-wheel drive recommended routes.
See and do
In 2016 the park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). This designation is given to lands which provide exceptional viewing of starry nights. Great Basin National Park received this title due to its location in one of the least populated areas of the contiguous United States and conservation efforts which seek to reduce sources of light pollution and educate visitors on the importance of the park’s dark skies. For visitors this means that in good weather conditions the park is a particularly good location for stargazing. The park hosts ranger-led stargazing activities, including a multi-day astronomy festival each year.
- 1 Great Basin Visitor Center (just north of the town of Baker on the west side of NV Highway 487), ☏ . Information desk, exhibits, theater with orientation film, and brochures.
- 2 Grey Cliffs (Pole Canyon), Baker Creek Road (Follow the main road to the park; take a left on Baker Creek Road and turn left at the Grey Cliffs Group Camping area. A rough dirt road (four-wheel drive vehicle recommended by park) leads into a gorge and eventually leads back to Baker). Main entrance road open only in summer; four-wheel drive recommended road open year-round. Pole Canyon includes several cliffs, rock formations, and a few caves. Parking is extremely limited.
- 3 Lehman Caves Visitor Center (located 5.5 from Baker), ☏ . At this visitor center visitors can plan their visit, purchase cave tour tickets, watch the park movie, and explore exhibits about the darkness of Great Basin National Park.
- 4 Lehman Caves, Lehman Caves Road (Follow the main road to the park; the caves are behind the visitor center). By tour only; 60-minute and 90-minute tours are available if reserved. The 900-foot-long Lehman cave system is quite a sight for visitors and scientists. The cave includes innumerable stalactites, stalagmites, and columns; however, it also includes several shields, which are a rare sight in most caves. Tours only visit the front part of the cave, going as far back as the Grand Palace; behind the public area are several large cave rooms and the Gypsum Annex.
- 5 Wheeler Peak, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (From Baker, take the main road towards the park, then make a right on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. Follow this road until it ends and you will have a good view of this mountain). Staging area open July-October. The summit of Wheeler Peak, which towers above the Great Basin, is the highest in Nevada and 108th highest in the United States. Although the mountain is beautiful from a distance, the risk of adverse weather; strong winds; and lack of shelter near the summit can make a hike to the peak treacherous. Hikes should be started early in the day and weather conditions should be monitored since conditions can change quickly.
Buy, eat, and drink
- Lehman Caves Cafe & Gift, ☏ . Open April - October. Serves breakfast and lunch, hand-dipped ice cream cones, shakes, malts, and home baked desserts. The gift shop offers Great Basin and Lehman Caves souvenirs, apparel, cards, mugs, books, toys and games, jewelry, Great Basin crafts, camping and travel items, and bagged ice.
Lodging is available outside of the park in the town of Baker and at Hidden Canyon Retreat, which is south of Baker and is in a canyon on the east side of Great Basin National Park. Lodging is generally on the basic side in the Great Basin National Park area, since there are no major towns within thirty miles' travel of the park. Internet connectivity and cell phone service can often be poor.
Great Basin National Park has four developed campgrounds with vault toilets, picnic tables, tent pads, and campfire grills. There are no hookups or leveled parking sites. Campsites are limited to eight people, three tents, and two vehicles per site. There are three campgrounds that have accessible sites.
Lower Lehman Creek is the only campground open year round. Other campgrounds are generally open from May until October, weather permitting. Water may not be available early and late in the season, and is not available in the winter at Lower Lehman Creek. Fees are reduced if water is not available. Since exact opening and closing dates are dependent on weather conditions, contact a visitor center at +1 775 234-7331 or check the current conditions for information specific to your arrival date.
Reservations: All park camping is on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations can be made, except for the Grey Cliffs Group Campground where they are required. Campsites may not be "saved" or reserved for family or friends arriving later. Campgrounds often fill on weekends and holidays in the summer months. Visitors are advised to find a campsite early in the day.
- 1 Lower Lehman Creek Campground, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (2.5 miles from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center). Open all year; elevation: 7,300 feet (2,200 meters); 11 campsites. There are a limited number of pull-through sites for RVs and trailers. Water is available in the summer only.
- 2 Upper Lehman Creek Campground, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (3.5 miles from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center). Open mid-May through September; Elevation: 7,752 feet (2,362 meters); 22 campsites with 1 wheelchair accessible site. Water is available. Evening Campfire Programs are offered in the amphitheater during the summer.
- 3 Baker Creek Campground, Baker Creek Road (3 miles from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center). Open mid-May through September; Elevation: 7,530 feet (2,295 meters). 34 campsites, 2 of which are wheelchair accessible. Water is available.
- Primitive Campgrounds (Snake & Strawberry Creek) (Along Snake Creek and Strawberry Creek Roads). Open all year; elevation: 6,300 feet 8,250 feet (2,515 meters); Picnic tables and fire grates are provided at most primitive campsites. A few Snake Creek sites have toilets most do not. Drinking water is available at the RV Sanitary Station from late spring through early fall, or at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. Creek water should always be boiled or treated before use. free.
Snake Creek and Strawberry Creek Roads are open year round, but can be muddy or snowy in the winter and spring. High clearance vehicles are recommended for these rough, dirt roads. RVs and trailers are not recommended.
Backcountry camping does not require a permit, but registration is free and strongly recommended. Stop at a visitor center to register and obtain a copy of the regulations. Registration not only allows the park to monitor use, but also provides critical information in the event of an emergency.
Keep in mind the remote location when you're in or near the park, since it's necessary to be especially careful here. This region of Nevada is remote for the United States in general, let alone more densely populated regions of the country, so those who visit the park must keep in mind the distance from cities (and therefore services) when visiting.
The area in and around the park offers a very limited amount of technical rock climbing. The hazardous nature of the rock the remoteness of the sites are the main contributors to this. All routes in the Wheeler Peak area are hazardous, with deadly rockfalls possible at any time of year. Chiseling, chipping, gluing, or breaking away rock or otherwise physically altering the rock is prohibited. This includes placing bolts or other fixed protection. Clean aid, top-roping, or traditional lead climbing are permitted. The use of motorized drills, hand drills or other portable motorized equipment is not allowed. Free climber registration at park visitor centers is recommended for anyone who plans to climb in the park. Rescue resources are limited and may be hours away; parties should be capable of self-rescue.
Check weather forecasts before hiking in any canyons in the park, since rains can cause the normally dry washes on the east and west sides of the park to suddenly become great rivers that carry large amounts of rain and melted snow from the mountains nearby. Warmer weather can also cause snow melt, although snow melt will occur more slowly and send water down the washes at a steadier rate.
- A small settlement, Baker, is 5 mi (8.0 km) from the park, and offers lodging, food, and supplies.
- Farther away is the town of Ely, which has a supermarket and some restaurants.
- Still farther away is a larger city, Salt Lake City. However, both Salt Lake City and Ely are quite a long way from Great Basin National Park, so prepare accordingly.
|Routes through Great Basin National Park|
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