Great Basin National Park is closer to Park City than you think. At 240 miles it is practically the same distance as the much busier Arches National Park 231 miles. If you're deciding between which national park to visit, you should consider the time of year you are visiting. It can get a little HOT at Arches in July and a little COLD at the Great Basin in April. Couple benefits the Great Basin has over the other National Parks are 1) No entrance fee 2) Less crowds
Great Basin National Park is just as stunning as any of the other parks. It also has some of the oldest trees in the world. Plus Wheeler peak is the real deal. It stands at 13,064 ft and is just as mighty as any of the Rockies. Backcountry skiing is allowed and I counted 4 skiable couloirs off glacial cirque of Wheeler peak. (let's plan a trip)
Most or the Park's main attractions are located near the main entrance. Lehman caves and Wheeler Peak are the most visited and you'll likely be spending your time here too.
Where is Great Basin National Park?
What's cool about Great Basin National Park?
Lehman Caves (a single cavern despite the name) extends a quarter-mile into the limestone and marble that flanks the base of the Snake Range. Discovered about 1885 by Absalom Lehman, a rancher and miner, this cavern is one of the most profusely decorated caves in the region
Tickets are required for cave tours, and may be purchased two ways:
In person at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center on arrival. (It is strongly recommended to make a reservation.)
In advance via Recreation.gov
I was able to get a spot on a cave tour by showing up at the visitor center at opening (8am) on a Saturday. Saturday's are generally busier so the park sometimes calls on extra staff to hold more tours. You must show up at opening if you want to secure a spot the day of. Otherwise you should reserve a spot online like everyone else.
The weathered, curiously twisted bristlecone pines at Great Basin are some of the oldest living organisms in the world, surviving in isolated groves through centuries of harsh weather. When scientists felled one of these ancient pines, named Promethius, for research in 1964, they discovered it was about 4,900 years old, the oldest known tree at the time. Though none of the park’s current trees are known to be as old as Promethius, some have stood in high-elevation groves for thousands of years. Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah are also home to these long-lived, fascinatingly shaped pines
Hiking the Bristlecone trail The trailhead starts at the Wheeler peak campground. Due to it's high elevation and small vertical gain this is no easy hike. It is however the most popular trail in the park and most people can make it.
What else is cool about Great Basin National Park?
Wheeler peak is the 2nd highest peak in Nevada. It is the Highest peak wholey located in the state. Wheeler peak is said to have the furthest south glacier in the world. That's not true, but it's the only glacier in Nevada. Hiking to the summit of Wheeler peak is supposed to be one of the easiest 13ers to hike anywhere. The trailhead starts at above 10,000 f. It's well maintained National Park trail and it has a very direct route to the summit. The rocks are small so it only requires hiking and no scrambling or climbing to summit. Backcountry skiing is allowed In winter and spring. I counted 4 top to bottom couloirs in the wheeler peak cirque that would make incredible descents.
Great Basin National Park is so rural that it has very little light pollution. The high desert also provides many cloudless nights. If you ever wanted to get some photos of the Milky Way this would be the place to do it. If you have never seen the planets through a telescope, the park service offers astronomy programs in July and August where you will be blown away with what you'll see.
There are several camping options in and out of the park. Wheeler peak campground is the highest in altitude and can get quite cold. The crisp winds will have you forget that it's the middle of summer. This campground has the best views so if photography is your thing camp here. Remember to pack warm clothing if you plan on camping here. Upper & Lower Lehman Creek campgrounds both are very similar. Upper looked to be nicer but situated more on a hillside. Baker Creek campground reservations are required to camp here. This looked to be the least desirable of the 4 campgrounds but if you want a reservation to insure you won't be sleeping down in the desert this is it. It's a national park so the camping is still quality.
Camping is $12/night
No showers - but drinking water is available.
Maps and Resources
I do not recommend getting any books or maps. These resources are offered for free at most locations in the park. I have a topo map and a hiking book that I purchased and they were not needed at all. If you want to go backcountry skiing I might recommend the topo map.
There are links to online resources at the bottom of the post.
However, I think that I have created the best online resource available here at parkcitypeople.com