Hiking in Great Basin National Park
You'll witness beautiful views by driving along the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and other park roads, but hiking allows an in-depth experience that just can't be matched. Trails at Great Basin run the gamut from relaxing ¼-mi trails to multiday backpacking specials, so everyone can find a path that matches personal ability, fitness level, and desired destination, be it mountain peak, flowered meadow, or evergreen forest. When you pick up a trail map at the visitor center, ask about weather and trail conditions (many are unpaved, and some are maintained less than others) and bring appropriate clothing when you set out from any trailhead. No matter the trail length, always carry water, and remember that the trails are at high elevations, so pace yourself accordingly. Do not enter abandoned mineshafts or tunnels, for they are unstable and potentially dangerous. Those who head out for the backcountry need not obtain a permit, but are encouraged to register at either of the two visitor centers. Though Great Basin is a high desert, winters can be harsh, so always inquire about the weather ahead of time at the visitor center.
Mountain View Nature Trail. Just past the Rhodes Cabin on the right side of the visitor center, this short and easy trail (0.3 miles) through pinyon pine and juniper trees is marked with signs describing the plants. The path passes the original entrance to Lehman Caves and loops back to the visitor center. It's a great way to spend a half hour or so while you wait for your cave tour to start. Easy. Trailhead at Lehman Caves Visitor Center, Great Basin National Park, NV, 89311.
Osceola Ditch Trail. In 1890, at a cost of $108,223, the Osceola Gravel Mining Company constructed an 18-mile-long trench. The ditch was part of an attempt to glean gold from the South Snake Range, but water shortages and the company's failure to find much gold forced the mining operation to shut down in 1905. You can reach portions of the eastern section of the ditch on foot via the Osceola Ditch Trail, which passes through pine and fir trees. Allow 30 minutes for this easy 0.3-mile round-trip hike. Easy. Access from Wheeler Peak Scenic Dr., Great Basin National Park, NV, 89311.
Bristlecone Pine Trail. Though the park has several bristlecone pine groves, the only way to see the ancient trees up close is to hike this trail. From the parking area to the grove, it's a moderate 1.4-mile hike that takes about an hour each way. Rangers offer informative talks daily in season; inquire at the visitor center. The Bristlecone Pine Trail also leads to the Glacier Trail, which skirts the southernmost permanent ice field on the continent and ends with a view of a small alpine glacier, the only one in Nevada. From there it's less than 3 miles back to the parking lot. Allow three hours for the moderate hike and remember the trailhead is at 9,800 feet above sea level. Moderate. Access from Summit Trail parking area, Wheeler Peak Scenic Dr., 12 miles from Lehman Caves Visitor Center, Great Basin National Park, NV, 89311.
Baker Lake Trail. This full-day, 12-mile hike can easily be made into a two-day backpacking trip. You'll gain a total of 2,620 feet in elevation on the way to Baker Lake, a jewel-like alpine lake with a backdrop of mountainous cliffs. Difficult. Access from Baker Creek Rd., going south from just east of the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, Great Basin National Park, NV, 89311.
Wheeler Peak Summit Trail. Begin this full-day, 8.6-mile hike early in the day so as to minimize exposure to afternoon storms. Depart and return to Summit Trailhead near the top of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. Most of the route follows a ridge up the mountain to the summit. Elevation gain is 2,900 feet to 13,083 feet above sea level, so hikers should have good stamina and be prepared for altitude sickness and/or hypothermia due to drastic temperature and weather changes. Difficult. Wheeler Peak Scenic Dr., Summit Trail parking area, Great Basin National Park, NV, 89311.
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