Written by 6:30 pm Hot Spots, Travel

Great Basin National Park

The high, dry country of the Intermountain West is a special place — a place filled with dramatic scenery, wildlife, and rugged beauty. Set near Nevada’s border with Utah, Great Basin is one of the newest additions to the national park system. This swatch of land surrounding Wheeler Peak (a 13,063-foot landmark) includes sagebrush fields, bristlecone pine stands, rocky moraines, and even a stunning set of underground caves.

Things To Do
Great Basin National Park is a fabulous place to enjoy a scenic bike ride, a hike up Wheeler Peak, or a day of caving and rock climbing. You’ll find excellent fishing here, as well as the chance to gather your own pine nuts. In the spring, wildflower viewing is a popular activity. Artists and photographers bring their equipment to the park and set up tripods and easels in front of panoramic views.

This is also a great place to come for star-gazing. Recent studies show that a third of all Americans can’t see the Milky Way from their backyards. If you’re longing for a clear view of the nighttime stars, head to Great Basin. The park has superb visibility at night and was recently documented as one of the darkest places in the country.

During Your Visit

If you only have a short time to spend in the park, head to the Lehman Caves for their hour-long tour of this amazing cavern system. Afterwards, you can take a drive along the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for some incredible views of the mountain and the surrounding countryside. Or, if you prefer, take the self-guided Mountain View Nature Trail through the pinyon-juniper forest.

On your second day in the park, hit the Bristlecone Pine Trail and view Nevada’s only glacier at the base of Wheeler Peak. For a longer hike, visit the Lexington Arch or climb all the way to the summit of Wheeler Peak, the second highest point in Nevada.

The Seasons
In the summertime, Great Basin enjoys pleasant, warm temperatures in the 70s and 80s. This is a great time to go hiking, since trails are likely to be dry and clear. Watch for afternoon thunderstorms that can come up quickly — always take a raincoat with you when you hike in the high desert!

Fall is a beautiful time at Great Basin. The aspen trees turn yellow and gold, and the days are crisp. In the winter, the park turns quiet. Snow at the higher elevations pushes the wildlife lower, making this an excellent time to see deer, marmots, and other creatures. Many visitors bring cross-country skis and snowshoes, so they can explore the silent, snowy trails. In the spring, trails can be wet with melting runoff. Still, this is the best time to see wildflowers like Indian Paintbrush, Prickly-Pear Cacti, and Globe Mallow.

Great Basin has terrific fishing. Many of the nearby creeks and streams offer brown trout, brook trout, and rainbow trout. Visit Lehman Creek, Baker Creek, Snake Creek, and Williams Creek. If you’d rather set your rod for cutthroat trout, head to Strawberry Creek or Baker Lake.

Pine Nut Gathering
These tasty, nutritious little nuts — a staple in pesto and other gourmet dishes — are part of the park’s natural fall bounty. Every fall, visitors are allowed to gather pine nuts, provided that they don’t break any branches, harm any plants, or drive off marked roads. The nuts must be for personal use (not for resale). Every family can collect 25 pounds of pine nuts or 3 gunny sacks full of cones each year. These limits were designed to let people collect nuts for their own meals, but also leave enough behind for the squirrels, pinyon jays, and nutcrackers to eat.

Bird Watching
With its unobstructed views and sparse underbrush, Great Basin is a terrific place to watch for birds. When you’re in the park, keep your eye out for flickers, sandhill cranes, herons, kestrels, hawks, quail, eagles, magpies, and red-winged blackbirds. Waterbirds like green-winged teals, northern pintails, northern shovelers, and cinnamon teals also frequent the park. If you’re out at night, see if you can spot a great horned owl or an elusive nighthawk.

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