When most people think about Nevada, the first thing to come to mind is probably not mountain passes, glaciers, and groves of towering trees. However, that is exactly what you will find in the incredible Great Basin National Park. Much of the landscape in Nevada’s lone national parkland was carved by glaciers, and the massive Lehman Glacier still exists within the park today.
In many ways, Great Basin National Park is a park of extremes. The difference between the park’s highest point and lowest point is a staggering 6,235 feet (1,900 meters). While the lower valley is mostly a desert landscape, the mountainous areas of the park are home to some of the oldest trees on the planet. Some of these amazing bristlecone pine trees are over 4,000 years old. It’s just another reason why the Great Basin National Park is so incredible.
This Guide Has Everything You Need to Plan Your Trip
In my Great Basin National Park guide, I will provide you will all of the information that you will need to plan a fun and memorable trip to visit the park. I explain the best way for travelers to get to the park from outside the state or outside the country.
I also outline the best times to visit the park and highlight the top things to see and do while you are there. Finally, I also give you my suggestions on the best things to see and do outside of the park while on your trip. With this information in hand, it will be easy to plan a trip to Great Basin National Park that you will remember for a lifetime.
How to Get to Great Basin National Park
The beautiful Great Basin National Park is located in the American state of Nevada, near the border with Idaho. For those who are planning to fly in to visit the park, the closest major airports to the park are the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) in Utah (which is a 3.5-hour drive away) and the Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada (which is a 4.5-hour drive away).
For those who will be visiting from elsewhere in the area, the Great Basin National Park I have also included a map with the park’s location below for you to review. Because of its location along the border of Nevada and Idaho, the park is a great stopover destination for travelers driving between Las Vegas and the Pacific Northwest or Las Vegas and the American Southwest.
For those planning to visit other attractions in the area, I have also included a table with the distance and drive time to other popular cities and attractions in the area. As you can see, there is a wealth of incredible things to see and do in the general vicinity of the Great Basin National Park.
|Zion National Park||160 miles||2hrs 30min|
|Bryce Canyon National Park||188 miles||3hrs|
|Salt Lake City, UT||234 miles||3hrs 30min|
|Las Vegas, NV||296 miles||4hrs 30min|
|Death Valley National Park||313 miles||4hrs 45min|
|Page, AZ||306 miles||5hrs|
|Moab, UT||329 miles||5hrs 15min|
|Boise, ID||447 miles||6hrs 45min|
|Flagstaff, AZ||431 miles||7hrs 15min|
|Grand Canyon National Park||434 miles||7hrs 30min|
|Sacramento, CA||518 miles||8hrs|
|Yellowstone National Park||553 miles||8hrs 15min|
|Los Angeles, CA||563 miles||8hrs 30min|
Top Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
Although it may not be as widely known as some of the other national parklands in the American West, the Great Basin National Park is an absolutely stunning destination. Although it is in the middle of one of North America’s largest desert regions, this mountainous park is known for its diversity of landscapes.
The park contains most of the South Snake Mountains, which are home to some of the world’s oldest and most beautiful forests. It is also home to a large cave complex, which has fascinated visitors for decades. Last, but certainly not least, is the beautiful night skies that are made possible by the remoteness of the Great Basin National Park. You will find skies that are so dark that it attracts stargazers from around the world.
If you like to be active when you travel, you will love this state park. If you are starting to plan your trip and would like some suggestions on what to see, I have you covered. I have included my picks for the top things to see and do in Great Basin National Park for you to review below.
Wheeler Peak Drive
One of the top things to do when visiting the Great Basin National Park is to drive to the top of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. At 13,065 feet tall, Wheeler Peak is the tallest mountain in the South Snake Range and one of the most prominent features in the park.
Starting at the park boundary at Highway 488, the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive ascends over 4,000 feet in elevation over 12 miles and crosses through several ecological zones. You will be absolutely stunned to silence when you see the breathtaking beauty of the Great Basin Desert below from this altitude.
Wheeler Peak Overlook
There are a number of ca n’t-miss viewpoints in the Great Basin National Park, but the Wheeler Peak Overlook is undoubtedly at the top of the list. The viewpoint is located roughly nine miles up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and offers visitors unparalleled views of the incredible Wheeler and Doso Doyabi peaks.
In addition, the viewpoint is also a great place to spot wildlife in the park, such as bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk, coyotes, red and gray fox, and yellow-bellied marmots.
If the name Mather Overlook sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is the most common name for overlooks in the US National Park System. These overlooks are named after the first-ever director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather.
While all of the Mather Overlooks in the US National Park System are incredible, the one in Great Basin National Park is especially spectacular. The views of the mountain peaks and the desert basin below are incredible. There is a nice viewing platform with viewfinders that you can use to spot wildlife below, which is one of the reasons it is one of my favorite overlooks in the park.
If you are a fan of large cave systems, then you are going to absolutely love the Lehman Caves. It is the longest cave system in the state of Nevada and one of the largest in the United States. There have been cave tours operating at the Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park since 1885, so there is a long tradition of cave exploration in the park.
For those who want to see the caves, you will need to book a tour because they are only accessible via ranger-guided tours. There are two different tours that are offered in the summer months: the Lodge Room and Grand Palace tours. In the winter months, only the Lodge Room tours are available. For more information on these tours, please visit the Lehman Caves Tours Page on the Great Basin National Park website.
Make sure you book your cave tour in advance of your visit as these tours are very popular and frequently sell out. You can purchase your tickets online up to 30 days in advance via the Recreation.gov website.
Enjoy the Wonders of Magic Grove
While you won’t find the term “Magic Grove” on Google Maps or any of the National Park Service maps, this area of the park is in reference to the Bristlecone Pine Natural Area located on Mount Washington. It is the term that the park rangers typically use to refer to the area because of the size and age of the incredible trees located there. The region extends from Mount Washington out to the East and includes some of the park’s oldest and most spectacular trees.
Hiking the Wheeler Peak Trail
One of the best ways to see the beautiful Great Basin National Park is to get out on the trails and do some hiking. While there are a lot of great trails in the park, I think that the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail is the most spectacular. Wheeler Peak is Nevada’s second tallest peak and the trail to the summit is one of the Southwest United State’s most incredible trails.
While the trail is well-maintained and marked, it is a strenuous hike that should only be attempted by experienced hikers. Before setting off on this trail, make sure to check the weather forecasts as you don’t want to be caught at high altitude during a lightning storm. These storms can move in very quickly in the afternoons. For more information on this trail, please see the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail Map that I included below.
Camping Under the Stars
If you are into astrology or astrophotography, then you will really enjoy camping out in Great Basin National Park. Recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as one of the best International Dark Sky Parks within the United States, the park is a great place to star gaze. Over the years, the park has committed to reducing its own light pollution footprint, which has enhanced its reputation as a dark sky park.
On a clear, moonless summer night, you can see most of the Milky Way rather clearly. And if you look really closely, you can even see distant objects like the Andromeda Galaxy or planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. In the winter months, the Pleiades open star cluster and the Orion constellation, among others, are visible.
Seeing the Lexington Arch
While Great Basin isn’t known for its natural rock arches, it just so happens to be the home of an incredible one. Rising high above the floor of Lexington Canyon, the Lexington Arch is one of the most spectacular landmarks within Great Basin National Park.
Unlike the many natural rock canyons that are found in Southern Utah, the Lexington Arch is notable because it was carved out of limestone. That’s impressive because limestone is much harder and more solid than the sandstone that Utah’s infamous natural arches are carved out of. It is definitely a can’t-miss spot in Great Basin National Park.
Hike the Alpine Lakes Loop
If you are looking to do some hiking while visiting Great Basin National Park, but aren’t up for a difficult hike, the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail is a great option. This relatively easy 2.7-mile loop trail takes you past two breathtaking alpine lakes. The views of the lakes, surrounded by the mountains and beautiful pine trees, will leave you speechless. For more information on this trail, please refer to the map I included below.
Enjoy the Mountain View Nature Trail
For those who don’t have a lot of time to hike while visiting Great Basin National Park, there is a quick hike that will allow you to still get out of the car and get up close to the park’s beauty. The Mountain View Nature Trail is a very short and easy half-mile loop hike that takes visitors through a beautiful bristlecone pine grove.
You will get to see how beautiful these trees are first-hand without having to hike deep into the backcountry. Not only that, but the trail also offers a number of incredible views of the mountains and an opportunity to spot some of the park’s incredible wildlife.
Great Basin National Park Resources
When planning any trip, you can never have too many resources at your disposal. In addition to the information I have provided you in this Great Basin National Park guide, I have linked to a number of other official resources from the US National Parks Service below to use to plan your trip as well.
- Park Brochure
- Operating Hours and Seasons
- Permits and Reservations
- Park Maps
- Camping Information
- Activity Ideas
- Programs and Tours
- Hiking Information
- Things to Do in the Area
When to Visit Great Basin National Park
Depending on what you plan to do during your visit, certain times of the year may be better than others to visit the Great Basin National Park. In order to assist you in your planning, I have included some important weather and visitor statistics for you to review below.
Average Temperature (°F)
When most people think of Nevada, the first thought that pops into their heads typically isn’t cold weather. However, because of its altitude, the temperatures in Great Basin National Park can get quite chilly during the winter months. In fact, the low temperatures can and do dip below freezing.
Contrast that with the summer months of June through August where the high temperatures in the park can soar to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For those planning to do a lot of hiking in the park, you may want to target the shoulder months of April through May or September through October to have more moderate temperatures.
Average Precipitation (Inches)
Because of its location, the Great Basin National Park doesn’t get a whole lot of precipitation throughout the year. One thing you typically don’t need to worry about when planning your trip is avoiding rainy months. However, if you want to be absolutely sure that you aren’t going to have a long rainy stretch during your stay, avoid the winter and early spring months of January through April. This is the rainiest period of the year in the park.
Average Number of Visitors
In addition to the weather, another factor you should take into account when planning your trip to the Great Basin National Park is the number of visitors in the park. While the park doesn’t see the massive crowds that have made timed entries a necessity in some other parks, certain times of the year can be much busier in the park than others.
So, if you want to avoid crowds on the trails and make sure that you have a campsite, I would suggest planning your trip outside of the peak season of June through early September. Instead, planning your visit for late May or late September can help you avoid the crowds in the park and still have nice weather.
Other Things to See in the Area
In addition to the incredible things to see within the park, there is also a wealth of other amazing things to see in the general vicinity outside of the park. This includes some other incredible parklands that are located just across the border in the state of Utah. If you are planning a visit to Great Basin National Park and would like some ideas on other places to visit on your trip, I have included some great options for you to review below.
Zion National Park
One of the closest places to visit from Great Basin National Park is also one of the most incredible places you can visit in the general area. Located just across the border in Utah, Zion National Park is one of the most popular parklands in the United States.
With a number of absolutely epic hiking trails, including the world-renowned Angel’s Landing Hike, the park is an outdoor adventure hot spot. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend working a stop at Zion into your itinerary. To help you plan, I have linked to my Zion National Park visitor guide below.
|Zion National Park Visitor Guide|
Bryce Canyon National Park
Another of Utah’s incredible national parklands that isn’t too far away from Great Basin National Park is the amazing Bryce Canyon. Renowned for its canyon full of incredible rock spires known as “hoodoos”, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of America’s most picturesque parklands.
In addition to the park’s amazing roadway viewpoints, there are also a ton of wonderful hiking trails for visitors to enjoy. If Bryce Canyon sounds like a place you’d like to add to your itinerary, I have linked to my Bryce Canyon National Park visitor guide below.
|Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Guide|
While it isn’t a parkland, the incredible Hoover Dam is another nearby attraction that is well worth the time to visit. Widely considered to be one of the greatest engineering achievements of the past century, the Hoover Dam’s magnitude and design will blow your mind. For more information on how to visit this incredible landmark, please refer to my Hoover Dam visitor guide linked below.
|Hoover Dam Visitor’s Guide|
Where to Stay Near Great Basin National Park
When visiting the national parks and monuments of the United States, it is a really neat experience to camp out during your visit. Some of the best campgrounds in America can be found inside the country’s national parks and monuments and the surrounding areas.
This is especially true of the Great Basin National Park, which is a certified International Dark Sky Park. The extra dark skies in the park and surrounding area make it one of the best places to star gaze in North America. If you are interested in camping out during your visit, I have included a map of some area campgrounds for you to review in my Great Basin National Park guide below.
If camping is not your speed, you need not worry as there are a variety of good hotels for you to choose from in the area as well. The closest hotels are located in the nearby city of Ely, Nevada, which is located just to the North of the park. In addition, you can find more hotels to stay at just across the border in Utah.
The nearby cities of Milford and Delta have a number of hotels and motels that you can stay at. If you are planning on spending additional time exploring the parks in Utah on your trip, these options may be the most convenient. For your review, I have included a map and a list of recommended hotels at different price points for you to review in my Great Basin National Park guide below.
Activities in the Great Basin Area
There are a lot of beautiful and amazing things to see in the Great Basin National Park, but there are also a lot of really fun activities that you can do during your visit as well. If you are starting to plan your trip and are looking for some fun activities to enjoy while you are at the park, I have included some suggestions for you to review in my Great Basin National Park guide below.
|Lehman Cave Tours|
Great Basin National Park Photo Gallery
The Great Basin National Park is a very beautiful and picturesque place. If you are interested in seeing more of this beautiful park, I have included a gallery of some of my favorite photographs from my visit to the park for you to review below.
If you would like to see more of my travel photography, I would also encourage you to give me a follow on Instagram. Putting this blog together to pass on my free guides, itineraries, and travel photography tips is a lot of work and your support in the form of a follow on Instagram would be so very much appreciated!