The Great Basin National Park may not be the first attraction to cross the minds of Nevada visitors, as many people’s experience with the state is limited to the bright lights of Las Vegas. But this little-known Nevada national park has much to offer those who love the outdoors. Combining Rocky Mountain topography with desert scenery, the Great Basin National Park has a beautiful landscape quite different from the plains around it. There is even a small glacier on Wheeler Peak, a surprise in hot and arid Nevada. Visitors to the park can go hiking, camping, cave exploring, and even pine-nut gathering. A twelve-mile scenic drive leads from the park entrance through the mountains with great views of the mountains and desert.
Great Basin National Park is home to some of the oldest trees in the world, the bristlecone pine tree. Growing high up near the tree line on Wheeler Peak, these ancient trees grow very slowly, making them resistant to insects, rot, and other environmental threats, and enabling them to live thousands of years. One bristlecone pine, nicknamed Prometheus, was cut down in 1964 and was found to be 4,900 years old, making it the oldest known tree in the world. However, it is entirely possible that other bristlecone pines in the area may be even older. Tourists today can see the strangely twisted and gnarled trees and marvel at their amazing longevity. You can see these trees at the Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Pine Grove, which can be accessed from a 1.5-mile trail from the Wheeler Peak Campground.
Another major attraction at this Nevada national park is the Lehman Caves. Explorers of these caves can see stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations of flowing limestone. There are also many insects and animals that live in the cave, including more than ten species of bat. Visitors can only enter the Lehman Caves through a cave tour that lasts about an hour, and the easy walk is perfect for families with children.
One of the most impressive geological features at Great Basin National Park is Lexington Arch, a limestone arch that was formed over hundreds of years by natural wind and water erosion. Some scientists think that Lexington Arch was once part of a cave system, as it is rare to find naturally carved limestone arches in the US—most are made of sandstone. The arch is one of the largest natural arches in the Western US. You can drive up to the arch trailhead on a dirt road, but from there you will have to hike 1.7 miles up a relatively steep trail to gain access to the arch. Make sure you bring water and warm clothing, as the temperature can drop quite low.
There are many opportunities to go hiking at this Nevada national park, including trails of varying lengths and levels of difficulty. Be careful when hiking at higher elevations at Wheeler Peak, as the temperatures will get chilly, especially at night if you plan to camp; it’s best to plan your trip so that you will not be stranded on the mountain at night. One of the most fun activities to do at Great Basin National Park while hiking is collecting pine nuts. The nuts produced by the pinecones of the singleleaf pinyon pine are just as delicious as the pine nuts that you can buy in stores. Feel free to pick a few to snack on, though make sure you leave enough for the jays and squirrels!