Literally lost in the middle of nowhere across the expanse of a massive desert, Nevada’s sole national park quietly lingers between a cluster of mountains. It’s a damn easy place to pass by along the lonely highway, and I’m sure most people do just that. However, making that adjacent turn into the labyrinth of mountains takes wanderers, explorers, and the curious into landscapes that can only be imagined: cave chambers at the foot of the mountains, groves of the Earth’s oldest living trees, iconic rock formations, a rock glacier, and Nevada’s highest peak at 13,159 feet. That’s quite a bit for a tiny national park!
Our plan was to cram it all in: Day 1 would consist of a summit to Wheeler Peak followed by the scenic hike through the Bristlecone Grove and to the rock glacier, and Day 2 would start with a 90-minute tour through the Lehman Caves before heading out.
We were about a month out from the seasonal closure of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, but all water spigots at the park had already been shut off. It was no surprise why–during our stay at the Wheeler Peak Campground (a high-elevation campground at 9,900 ft!) we never saw the temperature rise above freezing level! Luckily the visitor center in Baker was still open, and we filled our water jugs there. Once high up at the campground we picked literally the BEST site (#22) and stayed warm in our cozy little trailer.
At only 8 miles round trip, the summit of Wheeler Peak isn’t too difficult to reach. Still, the altitude zapped the energy out of me, and the brutal cold and wind didn’t help either.
I wore my balaclava during the entire hike. The peak is that little hump to the right of the rock formations. Yep, we were going there.
So close, yet so far!
Yay, the summit!
Once off the peak we strolled along the lakes (more like ponds) toward the bristlecone pine grove.
The trail to the bristlecone pine grove requires a little uphill climb, which surprisingly isn’t easy due to the 10,000+ ft. elevation level. But we soon set eyes on the bristlecone pine trees that lay scattered throughout the area.
I had to hug one. They’re so beautiful, full of personality, and SO old! Even after death they can remain on the earth for thousands of years!
Beyond the grove of bristlecone pine, we continued to the rock glacier.
The end of the trail with the tiny rock glacier in the distance:
We covered between 13-14 miles that day, which would have been a piece of cake had it not been the altitude. 13-14 miles above 10,000 feet? I slept GOOD that night.
Finally, the Lehman Caves, which were only discovered in the late 1800s. Exploration and new discoveries are constantly taking place within the caves, and there are daily cave tours throughout the year. I reserved tickets online ($10 for adults), showed up at the visitor center at 9am, and thoroughly enjoyed my 90-minute tour of the cave. It felt like being a kid all over again.
We spent only a day and a half at Great Basin National Park, but we probably saw more than most visitors see during their entire visit. The late season, weekday, and menacing cold probably also kept out most visitors, giving us a serene experience within the area. Outside of Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada is known to be quite bleak and desolate, but the natural areas showed us that Nevada had a lot more to offer.