Great Basin National Park in Eastern Nevada is one of the least visited national parks in the system. Several of my favorite travel bloggers have been to Great Basin and every one has said it is a hidden gem. We needed a place to spend a few days on our way home from Glacier National Park so we chose Great Basin.
Great Basin is in the middle of nowhere. Literally. The closest town is Baker with a population of 68. The town does sell ice and has a 24 hour unmanned gas station, so that’s a plus. Make sure you have everything you need though when you head this way.
We take our family pictures using a tripod and set it to take 10 pictures. Our hope that everyone will be looking at the camera in at least one of them. This trip we told the kids to look decent for the first couple pictures and after that they could be silly. In this picture they decided to charge the camera. Hilarious. My favorites are actually the crazy ones at the end.
All of the campsites in Great Basin are first come first serve. I’m not a huge fan of this method. The thought of possibly not having a place to stay makes me a little uneasy. Prior to selecting a campground we stopped at the visitor center to get Junior Ranger packets and to learn about the park. I asked one of the rangers about camping and he suggested the Wheeler Peak Campground and said it is the best in the national park system. He said Baker Creek is also a great campground and recommend one of the two. Best campground in the national park system is a pretty big deal so we decided Wheeler Peak would be home for a few days.
The ranger was right. This was our view for three days:
We arrived early in the afternoon and there were plenty of sites to chose from, but the ranger did say the campground usually fills by evening. We had the most incredible campsite view, a grassy meadow to play in, aspen trees surrounded our picnic table area, cool weather, and I was able to wear my jacket almost the entire time we were there(!!!).
The Wheeler Peak Campground is at the end of the of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which is near the top of the mountain. The campground sits at 9,800 feet. Heads up…vehicles must be under 24 feet in length including any trailers. The road up the mountain is steep, narrow, and has some tight corners. We are right at 24 feet with our popup so we barely made the cutoff. Many of the sites sit right on the Baker Creek but there are a handful of sites that border the grassy meadow. That is where we were camped, in site 24, and feel that we had the perfect site. Our camper was tucked nicely in the trees and we had a nice patio just a few steps away. And then there is the view and the meadow. The site also has a tent pad that is nestled in the aspen trees.
There is so much to do in Great Basin. The park is home to the Lehman Caves, the oldest trees on earth – the bristlecone pine, glacial lakes, a creek, desert and forest hiking, the 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak, and some amazing night skies.
Our favorite hike was the Bristlecone Trail. It’s a short hike at only 2.8 miles roundtrip but there is a 600 foot gain in elevation and is above 10,000 feet. The trail was mostly in the shade and takes you to a bristlecone pine forest. The bristlecone pine is the oldest living tree on earth. Many of the trees are several thousand years old where a few are at least 5,000 years old. The trees thrive in harsh environments and grow very slowly. Sometimes only a portion of the tree is alive. Much of the tree is dead looking and one or two branches have pine needles.
At the top of the trail is a short interpretive trail through a bristlecone pine forest. Many of the trees have placards telling about their history and age.
The Husband and I left the kids at the entrance to the interpretive trail so that we could walk through the forest and read the signs in peace. We were not the only ones to do this either. Ha. We were never very far from the kids and they were happy to not have to walk any further. I secretly picked up their favorite candy at a gas station and surprised them with it once we go to the top of the trail. It sure turned their frowns upside down!
The bristlecone pines have so much character. Imagine the stories they could tell.
There are great views of the valley below from the top of the Bristlecone Trail.
Great Basin is a designated International Dark Sky Park, meaning their night sky is AMAZING! They have astronomy programs several nights of the week complete with telescope viewing. The program takes place in the parking lot of the Lehman Caves Visitor Center so be sure to bring chairs with you. The sky was incredible and the milky way was visible almost immediately. The grassy meadow next to our campsite made for a great night sky viewing area as well.
The road to Great Basin is referred to as the Loneliest Highway in America. It wasn’t very lonely when we were on it but it was long and straight. Actually, the majority of the highways we were on in Nevada looked just like this. I would not want to drive through Nevada by myself.
We had a great time in Great Basin and it certainly lived up to its reputation of being a hidden gem. Here are a few tips that we learned during our stay.
- Campers are supposed to take their own tags off the reservation pole upon vacating the campsite. At least this was the case at the Wheeler Peak Campground. We found that not everyone had done that though. Several sites appeared vacant but still had tags on the pole. We had our eyes on a site that was completely empty but still had a tag. The campground host was off duty so we ended up reading the tag and confirmed that the person had left. Just something to keep in mind when you are looking for a site. We actually almost forgot to take our tag off when we left. We were halfway out of the campground before we remembered, so we circled back around and grabbed it.
- Wheeler Peak Campground is at at 9,800 feet. The wind picked up as the day went on and it was pretty windy at night. We noticed a similar pattern everyday so I’m not sure if this is normal, but the campground is near the top of a mountain. Be sure you bring your strong tent stakes.
- All of the the hikes that start near the Wheeler Peak Campground are at high elevation. Be aware of the signs of altitude sickness and make sure to stay hydrated. It took me two days to adjust to being at high elevation.
On our way to Great Basin we spent two nights in Twin Falls, Idaho to shower, restock our groceries, do laundry, and do a little site seeings. We stayed at the Twin Falls KOA. I have mixed reviews of this KOA. It ended up working out but the beginning was a little rough. For the majority of their RV sites, the RVs alternate which way they enter the site. We were basically facing our neighbor and shared a little grassy area. It was rather awkward and we were not terribly happy. Fortunately, our neighbor left after the first night so we had a little breathing room. The other downside was that there were so.many.birds. I enjoy the sound of birds but this was too much. It left like we were in an aviary…all day long. The staff was friendly and the kids enjoyed the pool, play ground, and renting campground bikes. Would we stay here again? Probably not but if we did we definitely would not stay in the alternating RV sites.
While in Twin Falls we did a little site seeing. Twin Falls is home to Shoshone Falls, which is known as the Niagara of the West. The falls are taller than Niagara Falls but not as wide. Shoshone Falls is beautiful and it does not take much effort to visit. The viewing platform is about a 30 second walk from the parking lot. Also, it’s windy.
The Perinne Bridge is popular among BASE jumpers because it is legal to jump from and does not require a permit. On our way out of town we saw half a dozen people standing on the edge so we quickly pulled over and watched a couple of them jump. There is parking on both sides of the road and a multi-use path along the top of the canyon. BASE jumping is definitely not something on my bucket list but my kids thought it was cool.
We had such a great time on vacation. In fact, I’m itching to hit the road again and we’ve only been home a couple weeks. Have you visited Great Basin or Twin Falls? I’d love to hear about your visits in the comment. Until next time, my friends.
SUMMER ROAD TRIP 2016
This post is one of several from our trip this summer. Visit these other links to read about the rest of our travels.