After visiting Death Valley National Park, we did a bit of a 180 in landscape and visited Great Basin National Park in northeast Nevada. While both parks have incredible valleys, peaks, and colors, Great Basin is lush with lakes and caves and some of the oldest trees on our planet!
This park is severely underrated. Before this trip, if I was to name National Parks off the top of my head, Great Basin would have been on the bottom of the list, if not completely forgotten. However, if you’re looking for a little bit of everything, this is the park for you. It has easy hikes and a cave tour for the whole family, dark sky status for star gazers and backpackers, a thirteen-er peak for the adventurous, historic and stunning pine trees for our history buffs and young spirits, and a scenic drive for the less mobile or short on time visitors.
Mike and I fell slightly into the last category of short on time. Since we have visited Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, and Wind Cave, we’ve found that while they are stunning, caves are not on top of our list. So we decided to skip the Lehman Caves. They also require an advance reservation.
Mike, my thrill loving, summit seeker, took off for Wheeler Peak which is an 8.5 mile round trip hike with 3000 in elevation gain. I, on the other hand, took the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and visited the various pull offs and then hiked the incredible Bristlecone and Alpine Loop Trail at the top. Much to my annoyance, and pride for my fit hubs, Mike joined me at the top around the same time.
At the end of the scenic drive is the most accessible area to see the legendary Bristlecone Pines. These trees are thousands of years old and are studied extensively by dendrochronologists (scientists who study tree ring growth…. after visiting this park, I was sure that was going to become my future). Some of the trees have been lovingly named “Adversity” and “Reluctance to Die.” A tree named Prometheus was nearly 5,000 years old when it was accidentally cut down by a grad student in the 60’s. That unfortunate, and idiotic, guy had the same hatred towards him as that one baseball fan who ruined that Cubs game in 2003…. except this mistake and outrage led to Great Basin becoming a National Park! A slice of this tree is still on display in the Visitor Center.
After Mike was able to drag me away from all the trees and me pretending to be a scientist, and I got my junior ranger badge, we made our way to the Lower Lehman Creek Campground. We had this campground pretty much to ourselves and were treated to an incredible sunset while laying in our home <3
- Stay a few days! There is more than enough to explore.
- If you’re wanting to explore the caves, get your tickets in advance!
- Want a National Park adventure to add to your Las Vegas trip? A lot of people head up to Grand Canyon, but GB is the same distance (4.5 hours) and has a lot less people!