Off the Beaten Path: Great Basin National Park

As with several of the national park trips I have taken with my family, when I mention how we love the Great Basin National Park, people look at me with amazement and wonder. First of all, it should be understood that this park is not the easiest to get to (even though there is fairly ample signage on Interstate 15 in Utah and Nevada).

GB Sign
It seems so close by this sign, but in reality, you have a long ways to drive.

Two main highways allow access to the park from Interstate 15. The first is from Highway 93 (North of Las Vegas), and involves a 275 mile drive on the Extraterrestrial Highway (mainly 2 lanes all the way)

GB Map

The other route also comes from Interstate 15, using Highway 50, which is shorter at 152 miles.

GB Map2

Regardless of your route to the park, the time of travel is worth the rewards you will receive when you get to the park. The park ranking, by count of visitors, was 49th out of the 59 national parks with 144,846 visitors in 2016 (National Park Service).

The Great Basin National Park preserves a small 77,000 acre segment of the larger Great basin region (between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains). The full basin encompasses a majority of Nevada and segments of California, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah.


Due to its remote location, Great Basin National Park has some of the best night skies I have ever seen (even greater star visibility than Death Valley National Park— informal personal opinion). Several hundred miles separate it from both Salt Lake City to the north and Las Vegas to the south.

Stars/Milky Way with a Bristlecone Pine Tree (NPS Photo)

For this trip, we chose to tent camp (in mid-September) at the Wheeler Peak Campground. The elevation of this campground is right around 10,000 feet, so appropriate gear is recommended to ensure you will not get cold. This is a first-come first-served campground which was fairly full on the weekend we visited. Arriving at noon on Friday allowed us a choice of about 6 sites. Cost was $12 per night, and cash is to be deposited in a central collection box, where you also fill out a campsite permit.

View of Wheeler Peak through fall foliage from our campsite in Wheeler Peak Campground
Road through Wheeler Peak Campground
Overlook from Wheeler Peak Road (24 foot long vehicle restriction)

Great Basin National Park is known for a glacier below Wheeler Peak (the southern most glacier in the Northern Hemisphere) and its Bristlecone Pine Tree groves. The Bristlecone Pine is the oldest known living thing on Earth, some dating more than 5,000 years. They can be viewed via a trail leading to Wheeler Peak from the Wheeler Peak Campground. They survive in high altitude and harsh conditions.




The Great Basin National Park Visitor Center and Lehman Caves are below Wheeler Peak and the higher altitude features of the park. Lehman Caves may be accessed by guided tour. On our visit, we arranged the tour one day ahead. We took the Grand Palace Tour, which was .6 miles in length and lasted 90 minutes. Learn more about the Great Basin National Park tours HERE.

Lehman Caves are known for unique shield formations


I hope that you will be able to find a time to visit the Great Basin National Park and explore its many unique natural features.


2 thoughts on “Off the Beaten Path: Great Basin National Park

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: