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Great Basin National Park is a spectacular national park in Nevada. It doesn’t get much hype compared to the other national parks close by in Utah and California, but it should, because Great Basin National Park BLEW ME AWAY.
I went in the Fall when the leaves were changing color and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the mountains and hikes were, especially considering that the surrounding area is a flat desert.
In addition to incredible hikes and mountain views, Great Basin National Park also offers cave tours, Bristlecone Pine groves, and some of the best night skies in the entire country.
In this Great Basin National Park guide we’ll cover:
- the best time to visit
- hiking trail recommendations
- how and when to book cave tours
- where to camp
Best Time to Visit Great Basin National Park
The Great Basin Visitors Center and Lehman Caves Visitor Center are open year-round except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is a steep, winding paved road, but it’s not plowed. Depending on the weather, it may not open until mid-June. This road is a beautiful drive leading to some great hiking access points.
The southern section of the park is remote and can be accessed only by gravel roads. Four-wheel drive is required on some of these roads and they are impassable until late Spring.
Since the condition of the roads will change year to year, season to season, it’s best to get current road conditions at the visitors center.
Believe it or not, many trails at Great Basin are at elevations of 9,000 feet or more! Because of this, hiking is best from June – September.
I went in September, and the hiking was gorgeous and the weather was perfect.
All this being said, I think late Summer through early Fall is the perfect time to visit Great Basin National Park, especially if you want to hike.
Great Basin National Park Hiking
There are over 60 miles of hiking trails in Great Basin National Park!
I didn’t get a chance to hike them all on my visit, but below are the ones that I did hike. I loved and recommend them all.
When day hiking at Great Basin, sign in at the trailhead registers. Permits are not required for backpacking, but registration is free and encouraged.
Baker Lake Trail
This trail is 12 miles round-trip. It was a solid hike that ends at Baker Lake. Baker Lake is beautiful and surrounded by cliffs. I loved this hike.
Johnson Lake Trail
Johnson Lake can be accessed in a few different ways. The shortest hike to get there is about 7.4 miles round-trip. Just before reaching the lake, you pass historic Johnson Lake Mine structures.
Apparently, you’re not supposed to enter the mine structures (I didn’t know that at the time). They’re really cool to look at and there are some signs explaining the history of the mine which I thought was really interesting.
Backpacking is one of my favorite ways to experience a national park. On my trip, we hiked up to Baker Lake and camped there for the night. The next morning we continued up and over a pass down to Johnson Lake and then back to the car.
This loop was really long and strenuous. The part of the hike connecting Baker Lake to Johnson Lake was VERY steep and covered in loose rocks. It was a really fun adventure, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It was just SO steep and slippery to get down.
Instead, I think hikes out and back to Baker Lake and Johnson Lake separately would be better.
This trail was SO cool, and if you want to hike, I would consider it a must-do. It’s short, only 2.8 miles round-trip, and has only 600 feet of elevation gain, making it great for an afternoon stroll.
The best part? This trail has interpretive signs in the bristlecone pine grove that explain the lives and significance of these ancient trees.
Bristlecone Pines are the longest-living tree, and their slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. They can be thousands of years old – think about that!
Wheeler Peak Grove is the most accessible Bristlecone Pine grove in the park and I highly recommend checking that out if you’re like me and you nerd out over old trees!
Great Basin National Park Camping
Great Basin National Park has 5 developed campgrounds:
- Upper Lehman Creek
- Lower Lehman Creek
- Baker Creek
- Grey Cliffs
- Wheeler Peak
Lower Lehman Creek is the only campground open year-round. Other campgrounds are generally open from May through October, depending on the weather.
Each developed campground has vault toilets, picnic tables, tent pads, and campfire grills. There are no hookups.
Most park camping is on a first-come, first-served basis, but tent camping reservations can be made at the Grey Cliffs Campground from the end of May to the end of September through recreation.gov and require a two-night minimum.
Grey Cliffs Campground individual campsite reservations are released on a 6-month rolling basis. Large groups can camp at Grey Cliffs Campground and reservations are required.
All R.V. camping is on a first-come, first-served basis.
Great Basin National Park Caves
After the backpacking trip, I took a tour of Lehman Caves – again, spectacular and something that you definitely need to do if you go to Great Basin!
Lehman Caves can only be entered with a guided tour. Cave tours are offered daily, year-round, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Lehman Caves offers 2 different guided tours:
- the Lodge Room Tour (about 60 minutes long)
- the Grand Palace Tour (about 90 minutes long)
I did the Grand Palace Tour, and unless you’re traveling with children under the age of 5, I definitely recommend doing the Grand Palace Tour because you get to see more of the cave!
How to Book A Cave Tour
Cave tours regularly sell out.
It is possible to get same-day in-person tickets at the visitor’s center, but reservations are strongly recommended.
My group actually got really lucky and got tickets the same day without making a reservation, but I wouldn’t count on it!
You can make reservations through recreation.gov here.
Plan Your Visit to Great Basin
Now you have all the major information you need to plan your trip to Great Basin National Park. I loved every minute I was there and can’t wait to go back!
For some visuals of what I wrote about in this post, check out this video below that I made all about Great Basin, including a sneak peek into the caves and the hikes I went on. Enjoy!
If you want to avoid the crowds and get a fantastic experience enjoying nature from the mountains to the caves, Great Basin National Park is the place to visit!
If you have any questions as you plan a trip, feel free to ask me in the comments below.