Great Basin National Park

Nevada, United States North America icon North America

Great Basin National Park is located on the far southeast side of central Nevada, United States.  The park covers an area of 120.58 square miles (312.3 sq km).

The Great Basin is the dry mountainous territory located between the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the west and the Wasatch Mountains on the east. The national park draws its name from this region of the larger Great Basin Desert that covers an area of 190,000 square miles (492,000 sq km).

The park is renowned for the concentration of bristlecone pines, the Lehman Caves, and Wheeler Peak.  The scenic drives let you experience both the bristlecones pines as well as different views of Wheeler Peak.

Over 800 species of plants including sagebrush, Utah juniper, single-leaf pinyon, white fir, and Ponderosa pine keep the bristlecone pines company.  The grove of bristlecone pine is the oldest nonclonal organism known to mankind reaching ages over 5,000 years.

The bristlecone pines and other forest trees and vegetation are home to over 60 mammalian species, 18 species of reptiles, and over 235 species of birds. Some of the more popular species include coyote, cougar, bobcat, badger, mountain sheep, mule deer, elk, jackrabbit, skunk, and ringtail cat.

Golden eagle, bald eagle, roadrunner, Canada geese, and a variety of hawks and owls lead the intrigue of birdwatchers who look to the skies in hopes of seeing some of the 200 plus species of birds.

Great Basin Highlights

Great Basin National Park seems to have something for everyone from astounding mountains, to wind serenading pines, to mysteries below the earth. 

Wheeler Peak

Wheeler Peak is the highest summit in the national park reaching a peak of 13,065 feet (3,982 m), which is also the second-highest peak in the state.

The prominence at 7,563 feet (2,305 m) is also second in the state and the largest in the national park. Apart from being incredibly picturesque from many different perspectives, Wheeler Peak features a rock glacier, extensive moraines, and a glacial cirque.

There is a nicely developed and maintained trail known as Wheeler Peak Summit Trail, which allows hikers to reach the summit from atop the end of the Scenic Drive up the majority of the mountain.  The route is for hiking and does not require any technical facets.

Lehman Cave

Lehman Cave has over 8,000 feet (2,438.4 m) of pathways through the cave.  The Grand Palace Tour explores 0.6-miles (0.97 km) of the cave featuring the highlights of Gothic Palace, the Music Room, the Lodge Room, the Inscription Room, and the Grand Palace portion.

The cave may only be experienced through a guided tour.  A slightly short tour, Lodge Room Tour, provides views of only the Gothic Palace, Music Room, and the Lodge Room.  The distance is 0.4 miles (0.64 km).  The tours are an additional cost from the park entrance fee.

It is not as impressive as Carlsbad Caverns or as large as Mammoth Cave, but it offers astounding examples of stalactites, stalagmites, and other cavern features.

Lexington Arch

Lexington Arch is a massive limestone arch reaching a height of 75 feet (22.86 m). The arch is unique in that it was carved out of limestone versus most other arches in the United States which are carved out of sandstone.

It makes for a unique rock formation and adds to the landscape of the area for photographers.  The arch is accessible by a hiking trail that is not too difficult.

Trails of Great Basin National Park

There are several trails that explore the various aspects of the national park ranging from easy to difficult. There are even multiple trails that are under a mile (1.6 km) or longer trails exceeding 10 miles (16 km).

Mountain View Nature Trail: This is a short 0.3-mile (0.4 km) trail with minimal elevation gain. It is a nice leisurely stroll through the pinyon Jupiter forests.

Sky Islands Forest Trail: This is a short 0.4-mile (0.64 km) trail that begins at 9,800 feet (2,990 m) above sea level. This trail is easy and accessible to all.  It is a leisurely stroll among alpine conifer forests.

Lexington Arch Trail: Lexington Arch is one of the highlights of the park.  It is accessed by a 5.4-mile (8.6 km) trail that ascends 820 feet (255 m). The elevation of the trail begins at 7,440 feet (2,320 m) and part of the trail has steep ascents.

Alpine Lakes Loop Trail: This is a 2.7-mile (4.4 km) loop trail with elevation gains of 600 feet (180 m).  It features a number of stunning views including two pristine alpine lakes and astounding views of Wheeler Peak.  This is a popular trail and a worthy endeavor.

Bristlecone and Glacier Trail: This trail is point-to-point with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet (340 m) while ascending over 4.6 miles (7.4 km).  The bristlecone pine grove is tranquility at its best.  The trail also provides views of the only glacier located in the state of Nevada that rests on the slopes of Wheeler Peak. This is another way to engage one of the highlights of the park.

Great Basin Highlights

  • Wheeler Peak
  • Lehman Cave
  • Lexington Arch

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