Off The Well-Worn Path: Great Basin National Park
A summer national park vacation doesn't mean you have to go to Acadia, the Grand Canyon, or the Everglades to have a great time. There are many, many overlooked parks that will show you a great time.
One is an overlooked gem that anchors the Nevada-Utah border and offers an unusual landscape given the surrounding high desert ecosystem from which it takes its name.
Getting to Great Basin National Park isn’t easy because it really is in the middle of nowhere. But if you’re traveling from Zion National Park to Yosemite or Yellowstone, it’s worth a slight detour.
Once you arrive you can go underground via Lehman Caves, view 5,000-year-old Bristlecone pine trees, backpack along more than 60 miles of trail, or try your luck with some of the park’s brook, brown, rainbow and even cutthroat trout.
Located 286 miles north of Las Vegas and 234 miles west of Salt Lake City, Great Basin National Park understandably isn’t overrun with visitors any month of the year. That’s part of the beauty of this park that’s draped around the rocky shoulders of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, Nevada’s second-highest mountain.
Set in the heart of the Great Basin, the mountain and its park are an anomaly in this desert landscape. Climb onto Wheeler’s flanks and you’ll find shimmering alpine lakes cupped by rocky cirques and dense forests of aspen and conifers.
Descend beneath the surface into Lehman Caves during either the 60- or 90-minute ranger-led tours and you’ll be surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites, flowstones and “popcorn” that decorate the walls and passages. Most unusual are the caves’ “shield formations.” Geologic formations that consist of two oval or round parallel plates separated by a thin crack, more than 300 shield formations exist within the caves.
Pitch your tent in one of the park’s four developed campgrounds or head five miles east to Baker, Nevada, the closest town and best bet for a motel room.