From the desert to the unbelievable lakes and mountains, Nevada has all types of terrains to see. Some of the best scenery can be found in Great Basin National Park in east-central Nevada, close to the Utah border. The Great Basin is an area that is surrounded by mountain ranges. It is an area where no water drains or escapes to an ocean, but flows inward instead, giving it a “basin” resemblance and function. Within this basin, you can see the beautiful mountain ranges, lakes, forests and even caves that have been created here. The park offers some beautiful hikes and drives and makes sure to see the famous caves along with the picturesque Teresa Lake.
The Lehman Caves are by far one of the neatest things to see in Great Basin National Park. There are two different tours you can take while you’re there. The first is a 60-minute tour that explores an area called the “Lodge Room.” It is family friendly, and the tour covers about 0.4 miles. The other tour is a 90-minute tour and covers several different areas and is called the “Grand Palace” tour. I travel about 0.6 miles underground and children must be at least five years old to go. The Lehman caves are famous for their unique formations. It is cool and damp in the caves, so bring a jacket and camera as well, as flashes are allowed, but no food, drinks, or tripods. The caves have special formations unique to just this cave-like shield formations and helictites. The colors and shapes of the cave will make you feel like you’ve entered another world. It is one of the top things to see while you’re in the Great Basin area.
Bristlecone and Teresa Lake
Bristlecone is one of the best-featured trails at Great Basin National Park. The path itself is about 2.8 miles long, and as you hike, you gain about 600 feet in elevation. This can cause shortness of breath, so set a steady pace. Bristlecone turns into Glacier Trail and leads to the only glacier in Nevada. The original Bristlecone Trail guides you through a Bristlecone pine grove. These trees are ancient and beautiful and have unique, twisted shapes. At the fork in the trail, stay to the right to head towards Teresa Lake. Hike through the forest and across streams on Bristlecone and end up at Lake Teresa if you desire. The green-tinted water has a mountainous backdrop and beautiful pine trees at the base of the rocks. The entire scene looks like a postcard picture. Enjoy the quiet of the lake and the forests on these great trails.
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
The mountain scenic drive called Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is some of the best ways to see the park, especially if you’re just passing through, or if you need a break from hiking. The road is paved and is 12 miles of lovely views. The road does hug tight turns close to the mountains as it winds up reaching over 10,000 feet above sea level. The drive gives visitors a glimpse of the different landscapes starting from the desert life up through sagebrush which is then replaced by pine trees the higher you climb. The sightings of the conifer and aspen trees mean you have reached about 10,000 feet above sea level. Dramatic changes in landscapes such as the ones seen on this drive are usually only observed over thousands of miles and many states. Instead, you get to witness the drastic and beautiful changes on a 12-mile drive.
How would you like to camp in Great Basin National Park? The park has five campgrounds that have grills, tent sites, picnic tables and vault toilets. There are no RV hookups available, so enjoy a night under the stars of Nevada in your tent. Camping here greatly depends on the weather. With such drastic changes in elevation present, the weather can also be entirely different just a few miles from each other. Spring days may be warm on the floor of the valley, but the mountain peaks may still have snow due to the thousands of feet difference in elevation. The best times to visit are late spring, summer, and early fall before the snow starts.
Not One, But Two
Visitor centers are great places to learn, participate and discover where you want to go. Park guides and rangers are knowledgeable about the area and can tell you the best and most scenic drives, trails and places to see while you’re there. This park has not one, but two visitor centers. The first is the Lehman Caves Visitor Center on NV Highway 488. Stop to learn about the cave tours and times and see some impressive displays. The second is the Great Basin visitor center which is only open during the summer months. Both centers have fantastic exhibits, theaters with orientation films and brochures. The Lehman center has a café and gift shop open during the summer, and both places have bookstores for shopping.
This Nevada park has minimal light pollution from nearby cities and towns. The mountains block the light in the basin area, providing top-notch star viewing opportunities. In fact, one of the park’s mottos is “half the park is after dark.” On moonless evenings in the Great Basin, visitors can expect to see thousands of stars, meteors, the Milky Way Galaxy and even five of the solar system’s planets. The park has a great astronomy program complete with telescope viewings. Try a full moon guided hike during a full moon during the summer as you get a view of the moonlit basin most people will never experience. Try one of the solar telescopes for observations of the sun! See sunspots, magnetic storms and even filaments using this type of telescope. Join in on the parks’ annual Astronomy Festival and see the exciting events and experience over 30 different telescopes.
Great Time at Great Basin
Great Basin National Park is the place to see all sorts of different scenery within one destination. From the desert to the lakes to the mountains, the basin rapidly changes into dry and hot to thousands of feet above elevation with snowcapped peaks. Search Pictograph Cave for ancient rock art, hike to a beautiful lake and hear a ranger talk or take a guided tour and discover the underground world of the famous Lehman Caves. The vast, twisted frames of the Bristlecone Pine trees stand tall on the mountain landscapes and provide shade for the perfect picnic. Discover Great Basin and its fantastic surprises it has in store for you.