Deserts ease into alpine forests, which top out at more than 13,000 feet in elevation.
If you think you know Nevada because you’ve been to Las Vegas, you should know that there’s so much more beyond the glitz and glam of Sin City. Head north of the city by about five hours, and you’ll hit the state’s only national park, Great Basin National Park, a diverse region that ranges from the dry desert valley to the state’s second highest peak. Located at the end of the Loneliest Road in America, Great Basin National Park is not particularly popular with visitors and quite under appreciated (in fact, there’s no entrance fee), but those who make the long drive from anywhere are generally pleasantly surprised by what they find.
If you’re willing to make the drive in from anywhere, there are a few things you should know to better enjoy your visit.
Pack warm clothes.
If you’re planning on arriving in Great Basin National Park after visiting any other scorching part of the state, you might assume that a tank top and shorts are all you really need. However, the national park is located at an exceptionally high elevation, and, especially if you camp in the northernmost campground, it may get cold in the evening. If you plan on hiking up Wheeler Peak, it can also get fairly windy and chilly on the exposed mountain face.
Most national parks offer a variety of hikes ranging from short, family friendly trails to multi-day, strenuous backpacking treks, but Great Basin National Park definitely leans more toward the lengthy options. There are three short nature trails in the park, all of which are under half a mile, but the next shortest trail after that is 2.7 miles round trip. Many more trails are five to 13 miles in length with at least moderate elevation gain.
Seek out the sky.
This part of Nevada is the darkest part of the lower 48 United States, so take advantage of the star gazing while you’re in the park. Get away from the campgrounds briefly for the best viewing options.
Drink lots of water.
You may be hiking through an alpine forest, but you’re surrounded by desert and relative humidity can be low. Stay hydrated as you hike throughout the park with plenty of water. This is especially important if you’ll be hiking a longer trail, as there are no facilities along the paths.
Prepare for freak weather.
In addition to the somewhat surprising cool weather in the evenings, freak afternoon lightning storms occur frequently. If you plan on climbing Wheeler Peak, leave early in the morning, and descend the mountain if inclement weather is on the horizon, as there is no where safe to hide for protection on the mountain.
One of the most popular activities in Great Basin National Park is touring Lehman Caves, an extremely fragile ecosystem. There are several tours available every day, and there are a variety of different types of tours guests can go on, but because so many people want to go through the caves, you need to reserve your spot in advance. When you arrive in the park, make your reservation right away if you’d like to take a tour.
Come prepared with provisions.
Unlike other national parks that come equipped with lodges and small convenience stores, Great Basin National Park doesn’t offer a whole lot of provisions for visitors. Come prepared with food, snacks, paper towels and anything else you might need for your trip. Also, there aren’t many gas stations near the park, so fill up with fuel every chance you have on your drive into the park. There are a few homeowners outside the park that sell firewood, but this is on a case-by-case, honor system basis. Also, don’t count on having cell phone service in and around the park.