As with many national parks, the part accessible by road is only a small portion of the park. As you would expect, that part of the park has many things to see. Wheeler Peak, at 13,063 feet (3,982 m), is the second highest point in Nevada, and the road goes up to the 10,160 foot level. At that point, the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail begins ascending 2,900 feet (890 m) to the top on an 8.6 mile (14 km) round trip hike. The hike is a fairly steady climb. As is often the case on a mountain hike, there is a point where you think you are near the top, but it turns out to be just a brief leveling off. As you approach the “top,” the rest of the mountain appears, looming over you. My own name for that point on Wheeler Peak is You-gotta-be-kidding-me Ridge. Well, actually I did not use the word “kidding” at the time. Though it does take work to get to the top, the hike is relatively easy, not counting the normal gasping for breath. The payoff is the view of other mountains, lakes, valleys, and clouds. Because of the relative lack of surrounding scenery, the view is not as grand as at Yosemite or Glacier, but a plain old mountaintop view is still better than almost any other view. Being a bit younger at the time, I didn’t mind dragging my heavy tripod with me, and I took my favorite photo of myself at the top of Wheeler Peak.
Near the Wheeler Peak and Bristlecone Pine Trails is the Alpine Lakes Loop. This is a nice hike past Stella and Teresa Lakes.
Finally, Great Basin National Park has a cave. Indeed, the original name of the park was Lehman Caves National Monument. I remember that I enjoyed the cave trip, as I always do, but truthfully I do not remember anything about the cave. If you have seen Mammoth Cave or Carlsbad Cavern, there is little need to see Lehman Cave. Of course, if you are there anyway, why not?
Though Great Basin National Park does not have the spectacular scenery of the nearby Utah parks, it is definitely worth a visit, especially for the bristlecone pines. Moreover, Wheeler Peak is probably one of the easiest 13,000 footers. The facilities near the park are rather limited, befitting a park that is in the middle of nowhere. The nearby town of Baker has one motel with seven units and a restaurant or two. It is (or at least was in 1998) refreshingly devoid of the circus-like atmosphere present in many National Park gateway towns.
My visit: September 1998