For an incredible hiking and camping year-round experience in the vast outdoors, Great Basin National Park is the place to visit. Created in 1986 and named for the dry and mountainous area that sits between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Wasatch mountains, the park represents 77,000 acres of preserved wildlife and breath-taking landscape in east-central Nevada and close to the Utah border. Just 290 miles north of the city of Las Vegas, a hiking trip here with overnight camping presents wilderness beauty and solitude all rolled into one adventure. Between 79,000 and 89,000 visitors make the trip to the Great Basin Park annually, drawn here by the activities and terrain.
The park offers an informational visitor’s center that is open year-round except for Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving. That said, much of the levels of park activities are dictated by snowfall up in this mountainous area. The Visitor’s Center can be accessed from Nevada State Rd 487 in the town of Baker.
One of the focal points of the Great Basin Park is the Lehman Caves, a collection of underground tunnels and rooms offering unusual formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, and natural columns. A tour of the caves will take about 1 ½ hours as visitors follow their guide along the ¾ mile of paved paths and stairways after purchasing walk-in tickets. Groups of 18 – 30 are taken at one time. Warm clothing is recommended because the year-round cave temperature stays at about 50 degrees.
Hiking is probably one of the primary reasons that visitors love the Great Basin National Park and return to this area so frequently. There are 12 official trails ranging in length from short nature trails that are only 1/3 mile long to major hikes as long as 13.1 miles. Most of these trails are above 10,000 feet which means they can seem strenuous to the inexperienced. Carrying adequate water and food is essential, as are proper footgear (hiking boots) and layered clothing. Since the weather can change rapidly at these heights, climbers are cautioned to move back down to lower levels if a storm moves in.
Hikers are attracted to Great Basin National Park for both the incredible mountain vistas and the vegetation and wildlife that flourish here. With 73 different animal species including mountain lions, bobcats, and mountain sheep; 238 different birds; and over 800 plant varieties, there is a lot to see and admire. Huge bristlecone pines and ponderosa pines are impressive as well. The only poisonous snake, the Great Basin rattlesnake will not attack unprovoked, and bites are fatal in less than 1% of cases. However, by giving the snake room to move away, it generally does not present any major problem to park visitors.
Great Basin National Park offers some limited RV camping spaces, although large rigs are not allowed on the upper mountain sites. Camping is based on a first-come first-served basis. There are 4 campgrounds and a group camping area that offer water, picnic tables, fire rings, and restrooms. There are also more primitive campsites along Snake Creek and Strawberry Creek. While they do offer tables and pit toilets, there are no water facilities at these sites. Pets can be on leash but not on the trails. Camping availability depends on snow conditions and accessibility.
Whether it is the vast panoramas, intriguing terrain, wilderness adventure trails, fascinating caves, or the incredibly rich night sky giving opportunities for solitude and reflection, there are many great reasons for visiting this area. The Great Basin National Park really knows how to live up to its name.