Article Overview: Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
Looking for the best things to do in Great Basin National Park? You’ve come to the right place! Great Basin is one of the more remote national parks in the continental US that pretty much everyone who visits is really surprised by.
I sure was, especially by the amount of really amazing things to do in Great Basin National Park. Did you know there’s a glacier in Great Basin? Or one of the most beautiful cave systems in America?
Did you know there are living trees in Great Basin National Park that were seedlings during the stone age?
In this article I’ll detail twenty really cool things to do in Great Basin National Park based on my travels to this magical place.
Ready to go? Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
- Things to Know Before Visiting Great Basin National Park
- Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
- Top 20 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
- Top 15 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
- Top 10 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
- Top 5 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
- Map of the Best Things to Do at Great Basin National Park
- Summary of Things to Do at Great Basin National Park (List)
Why Trust Us About Things to Do in Great Basin National Park?
I’m Will Pattiz and along with my brother Jim, we’re collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Things to Know Before Visiting Great Basin National Park
$0 per vehicle, that’s right – it’s FREE! But if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
The Best Guide Book: Here’s my favorite guidebook for Great Basin National Park.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Great Basin National Park.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
Top 20 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
20. Camp out under the starry skies
Starting off our list of the best things to do at Great Basin National Park is camping. Because the park is so remote and lodging options are limited, camping is almost a necessity here.
The park has 6 front country campsites with 136 camp sites that vary quite a bit in terms of scenery, facilities and elevation.
My personal favorite campground at Great Basin National park is Wheeler Peak Campground due to its proximity next to all of the most popular attractions. The campground itself is located at a pretty impressive 9500 feet elevation making for an epic base camp for adventures into the park.
For more campground information check out the NPS website on campgrounds in Great Basin.
19. See the epic wildlife
When you’re in the little town of Baker just outside of Great Basin National Park it’s somewhat difficult to imagine that just a drive away is an incredible ecosystem bustling with charismatic wildlife. But trust me – there is.
One of the coolest things to do at Great Basin National Park is spot and watch the amazing animals that live there. Sure you’ll find some of the basics like deer, chipmunks, squirrels, jays, and songbirds.
There’s also some more unique and rarer creatures like bighorn sheep, badgers, weasels, ringtail cats, 3 different kinds of foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, jack rabbits, elk, marmots, beavers, porcupines, pronghorn, bats, rattlesnakes, and more!
18. Cruise the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
One of the most approachable things to do at Great Basin National Park is cruising the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive road is 12 miles long and starts on Lehman Cave Road just before the Lehman Cave Visitor Center.
This road is quite steep with an average grade of 8%! Ascending nearly 5,000 feet in elevation from the town of Baker, it feels like you’re on top of the world by the time you reach the top.
Watching the topography and ecosystems drastically change from high desert to alpine before your eyes is really amazing.
The drive ends at Wheeler Peak Campground where you’ll find a parking lot, restrooms, trailheads (more on that below), as well as a day use area.
17. Go fishing in Great Basin National Park
Not many folks associate fishing with Great Basin National Park but it’s actually a fairly popular local spot with some stunning scenes to cast a line from. The two most popular spots to fish from in Great Basin National Park are Lehman Creek, Baker Creek, and Snake Creek.
Lehman Creek: There is a trail for hiking that runs alongside Lehman Creek, connecting the Upper and Lower Lehman Campgrounds. The creek in this area has a lot of brook and brown trout, with a few rainbow trout mixed in.
If you go upstream from the Upper Lehman Campground, you are more likely to catch brook trout, while brown trout are more prevalent downstream of the Lower Lehman Campground.
Baker Creek: There are three main spots that offer good fishing access off Baker Creek Road. Pole Canyon Trailhead is the first one you’ll find along the road where you’ll find lots of brown trout.
Baker Creek Campground also offers some solid fishing access. The closer you are to Baker Creek the more brown trout there will be and the further upstream you go the more brook trout you’ll find.
The third spot is at the Baker Creek Trailhead where you’ll be catching brook trout exclusively.
Anglers should know that fishing within the park requires a Nevada fishing license.
Snake Creek: Here you’ll find native bonneville cutthroat trout that were reintroduced into Snake Creek in 2019. Catch and release is strongly encouraged to help the population grow.
16. Hike the Sky Island Forest Trail (ADA)
Folks looking for the best things to do in Great Basin National Park for ADA folks should add the Sky Island Forest Trail to their list. This trail is flat and wheelchair accessible winding through a beautiful conifer forest.
Along the way you’ll find interpretive signs that explain how this incredible forest came to be despite its isolation.
The trailhead is located at the Wheeler Peak Campground parking lot at the top of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
Top 15 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
15. See the epic fall foliage displays
If you haven’t seen photos of the stunning displays of fall foliage at Great Basin then prepare to head down quite the rabbit hole on that google search.
The higher elevations of the park are loaded with aspens that blaze yellow, gold, and orange in the fall making for kaleidoscopic autumnal shows.
The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is a great place to start as well as the Alpine Lakes Trail and the Timber Creek Loop Trail (which has the most impressive displays).
Leaf peepers looking to add this to their list of things to do at Great Basin National Park should consider visiting in mid to late September for peak fall foliage.
14. Take a gander at Wheeler Peak Overlook
Perhaps the most impressive overlook that’s easily accessible is the Wheeler Peak Overlook.
I recommend everyone add this to their list of things to do a Great Basin National Park as it’s right off Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and is a great spot to stretch the old legs.
From Wheeler Peak Overlook you can get a great overview of the park. Here you’ll find a viewing platform complete with a viewing telescope. Look closely and you’ll see the dying remains of Rock Glacier.
13. Check out Mather Overlook
While we’re talking about overlooks I’d be remiss not to mention Mather Overlook which is slightly below Wheeler Peak Overlook but still located on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
Mather Overlook is the first one you’ll come to at the higher elevations and offers sweeping panoramic views of the park as well as the desert floor down below.
I recommend this overlook for stargazing as it’s a bit off the road so car lights will be minimal and the view is pretty epic. Mather Overlook is also a great spot to see a sunrise in Great Basin National Park.
12. Hike the Shoshone Trail
If you’re looking for an easy ADA friendly activity then add the Shoshone Trail to your list of things to do in Great Basin National Park.
This trail is located in the Snake Creek section of Great Basin which is accessed through a separate entrance than the main park entrance in Baker.
The trail itself is just .1 miles long and leads to an overlook of Snake Creek which is a great place to fish from.
11. Discover the ancient pictographs
Attention history buffs and Native American culture enthusiasts – add this one to your list of things to do at Great Basin!
I fall into this category as somewhat of a pictograph and petroglyph admirer myself and found the pictographs at Great Basin to be pretty cool. Would love to hear what you think in the comments if you’ve seen them or have any other petroglyph/pictograph recommendations!
Anyway, located in the Upper Pictograph Cave are some really cool rock art images painted by the Fremont Indians 3000 years ago! A fun thought is that many of the Bristlecone Pines in the park today were still around when this art was first painted.
Getting to the cave is easy. Starting at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, drive 0.25 miles on the main road and take a right turn on Baker Creek Road.
Once you’ve traveled 2 miles, you will see a sign for Grey Cliffs, take a left turn there. There will be a fork in the road, take the left path.
The cave will be visible on the left side of the road. Keep in mind, please do not enter the Upper Pictograph Cave as the artwork can easily be viewed from outside.
Top 10 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
10. Stroll the Timber Creek Loop
If you’re looking for some great hikes then consider adding the The Timber Creek Loop to your list of thigns to do in Great Basin National Park.
The Timber Creek Trail and South Fork Baker Creek Trail come together to form a 5.1 mile loop. that climbs 1580 feet in two miles.
Once the trail levels out into a meadow you’ll be treated to views of Pyramid Peak and Wheeler Peak. Continuing onto the South Fork Baker Creek Trail you’ll go (down) through conifer and aspen forests leading back to the trailhead.
Worth noting is the Timber Creek Loop is the best trail to see fall foliage in Great Basin National Park.
9. Admire the Lexington Arch
Thought the natural arches were reserved for Utah, didn’t you? Well Great Basin has a great one that’s worth visiting if you have multiple days at the park.
The Lexington Arch is a natural arch located in a remote area of the park, that’s is not as easily accessible as many of the park’s other attractions.
Getting to Lexington Arch requires a 6.3 mile hike through Lexington Canyon on the aptly named Lexington Arch Trial. The trail gains nearly 1500 feet of elevation but I’d rate it a moderate hike.
Along the way much of the terrain is burned but the arch still stands and is a real stunner. Depending on the weather (especially rain storms) you might not be able to make it to the normal arch parking lot which adds to the hike.
Lexington Arch is located in a separate more rugged and wild part of Great Basin. I recommend four wheel drive for accessing the arch trailhead as the road is unimproved and deeply rutted. I’ve heard of 2WD cars making it through but imagine it was fairly harrowing.
Lexington Arch itself is a large, beautiful, freestanding arch made of limestone (not the typical sandstone making it unusual), with a span of about 80 feet.
8. Climb to the summit of Wheeler Peak
My first experience with the Wheeler Peak hike was coming across a somewhat bedraggled younger guy on the Alpine Lakes Trail who said he’d just spent the night on Wheeler Peak. Given that the night was a bit stormy that must have been quite something (that I don’t recommend).
Wheeler Peak is the tallest point in Great Basin National Park and second highest peak in Nevada at 13,065 feet high (behind Boundary Peak). Hiking to the top of Wheeler Peak is difficult and should not be attempted without adequate preparation.
The Wheeler Peak Trail is 8.2 miles long with nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain and takes about 6 hours to complete (moving at a steady pace). The views from the top are as phenomenal as you’d imagine.
The trail is pretty straightforward following the ridge up to the summit. Hikers should start as early in the morning as possible because afternoon storms are common and often unexpected at Great Basin National Park.
Adventure seekers and peak baggers can add this one to their list of things to do at Great Basin National Park.
7. See the wonders of Magic Grove
Also known as the Mount Washington Bristlecone Pine Grove, the Magic Grove is home to some of the oldest trees on the planet. Just how old are these trees you might wonder?
Prometheus, a named tree that was sampled (which both sadly and likely led to the trees demise) was found to have 4,862 growth rings meaning it was at least 4,862 years old but possibly much older.
Probably the most famous tree in the Magic Grove today is the Quarter Tree which is remarkably beautiful and heavily photographed (especially for such a remote tree).
Getting to the Magic Grove requires quite a trek and not to be attempted lightly. I suppose it’s fitting for such a majestic place. The trail is not well marked and some route finding is required.
The Magic Grove Trail is a difficult hike at 12.8 miles round trip with a grueling 3200 feet elevation gain. Once you arrive you’ll of course want to wander the grove to check out the ancient bristlecones which will add to the overall mileage.
Some of the specimens in the Magic Grove are over 40 feet tall which is unusual for the species and resemble spruce trees.
Only the most adventurous and experienced hikers should add this to your list of things to do at Great Basin National Park.
6. Take it easy on the Mountain View Nature Trail
Located at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, the Mountain View Nature Trail is a short, easy, and scenic hike stroll.
It’s a stretch to call this one a hike as it’s more of a quick walk, but a nice one at that. The walk is .4 miles and will take you about 10 minutes.
Along the way you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the surrounding peaks, the natural entrance to Lehman Caves, and nice interpretive signs that introduce you to the park’s unique ecosystem.
Top 5 Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
5. Soak in some world class stargazing
Coming in at number five on our list of the best things to do at Great Basin National Park is one that could’ve easily been number one.
When I say the stargazing at Great Basin is world class, I mean it. Internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park, Great Basin is home to one of the last true dark skies of America.
On a clear night you can see thousands of stars, planets, and the milky way with the naked eye. Add a telescope to the mix and we’ve got Galileo jealous.
Great Basin National Park hosts some really great dark sky events at the park worth attending if you’re around.
On top of that, Great Basin has teamed up with the Nevada Northern Railway to bring you the Star Train. The train boards at the station in Ely and takes you up into great basin where national park rangers will guide you along your star journey.
4. Hike to Rock Glacier
When I first heard there was a glacier way out in the desert of Nevada I didn’t believe it either. And while this glacier is of the small and rapidly dying variety, not anything like what you might envision at an Alaska park, it is still technically a glacier.
Nonetheless add this one to the going, going, gone list of things to do at Great Basin National Park as it’s actually a really great hike and a fun bit of trivia for friends.
The trail is basically a one mile (each way) continuation of the Bristlecone Trail that takes you from the incredible grove of ancient bristlecones (more on that below) up to what’s left of the glacier.
3. Explore Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves is probably the most popular thing to do in Great Basin National Park and having been in there it’s no wonder why.
Lehman Caves is a limestone cave known for its intricate and colorful formations of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and helictites. The cave is open to the public and guided tours are offered year-round.
As mentioned, the caves are composed of limestone, which was formed from the shells of ancient sea creatures.
The most popular tour of the Lehman Caves is the “Grand Palace Tour”, which takes visitors through the main cave chamber and lasts around an hour. The tour includes a half-mile walk, and includes a climb of 80 steps. This tour covers all the major features of the cave and is easy enough for most visitors to enjoy.
The park service also offers a “Lodge Room Tour” which is a shorter tour, and a “Wild Cave Tour” which is a more strenuous and adventurous tour for those who are physically fit and properly equipped.
It is important to note that caves can be damp and chilly, so visitors should bring a light jacket or sweater, and wear closed-toe shoes with good traction.
The use of flash photography and tripods are not permitted inside the cave. And the park service also asks visitors to avoid touching the cave formations or anything in the cave to preserve the cave for future generations.
2. Discover the Alpine Lakes
The Alpine Lakes Trail is my personal second favorite trail at Great Basin National Park. The trail is a moderate hike that takes you through beautiful alpine meadows and forests, and past two alpine lakes.
The trail itself is a fairly easy 2.7 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 600 feet.
The novelty of hiking through an alpine environment in the middle of the Nevada is still not lost on me despite the many times I’ve hiked this beautiful trail.
The trailhead is located at the end of the road at the upper parking lot of the Wheeler Peak Campground. The trail starts at an elevation of about 10,000 feet and climbs steadily through the alpine forest, offering beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
As the trail climbs, hikers will pass two alpine lakes, Stella and Teresa, each offering a unique perspective.
This should be added to everyone’s list of things to do at Great Basin National Park.
1. Marvel at the ancient trees on the Bristlecone Pine Trail
Time for the best thing to do at Great Basin National Park. Where else in America can you get up close and personal with thousands of years old living organisms.
Just thinking about being around the stunning and twisted bristlecone pines of the Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Pine Grove of Great Basin gives me goosebumps.
The trail is a short 3 miles round trip including a stroll through the grove itself. Along the way you’ll pass through a conifer forest ascending to the magical place.
Upon arriving you’ll immediately notice these unmistakable icons. Gnarled and twisted, beautiful and ancient they’ve stood for thousands of years. The grove is full of wonderful interpretive signs that help you better connect with the trees.
Some of the trees here are thousands, perhaps over 4,000 years old! Imagine that.
I highly recommend continuing on down the trail past the grove another mile to the Rock Glacier if you have the energy.
Map of the Best Things to Do at Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park Itinerary
Day 1 – Great Basin National Park Itinerary
- Begin your day by visiting the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. Here, you can take a tour of the caves and learn about the geology and history of the area.
- Take a scenic drive on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and be sure to stop off at the overlooks – Mather & Wheeler Peak
- After the drive, have a picnic lunch at the Wheeler Peak Day Use Area and grab a campsite for the night!
- Hike the Bristlecone Pine Trail which takes you through a grove of ancient bristlecone pines, some of which are over 4,000 years old. If you’ve got time then continue on to Rock Glacier.
- End the day by camping at the Wheeler Peak Campground, one of the park’s developed campground, it offers a great spot to enjoy the great views of the night sky.
Day 2 – Great Basin National Park Itinerary
- Start your day with a leisurely hike on the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail keeping an eye out for wildlife such as deer and bighorn sheep.
- Drive back down the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive Road
- Stop in at the Upper Lehman Creek Campground and take a stroll on the trail. If you’ve brought some fishing gear then try your luck for brook and brown trout
- After that, if you’ve still got time then consider another cave tour as each one is unique taking you to different parts of the cave.
- Another option is adding the Lexington Arch on your way out depending on which direction you’re heading!
Summary of Things to Do at Great Basin National Park (List)
- Bristlecone Pine Trail
- Alpine Lakes Trail
- Lehman Caves
- Rock Glacier Trail
- Mountain View Nature Trail
- Magic Grove
- Wheeler Peak Summit
- Lexington Arch
- Timber Creek Loop
- Pictograph Cave
- Shoshone Trail
- Mather Overlook
- Wheeler Peak Overlook
- Fall foliage
- Sky Island Forest Trail
- Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
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