Great Basin National Park
Last July (2017) we made a boys trip to Great Basin National Park. Because of its remote location it gets much fewer visitors than most of the parks in the west. When you consider the drive from Salt Lake or Las Vegas and the other National Parks that you can go to instead the park gets much fewer visitors. I say this not to speak ill of the park but to set the scene.
We stayed in the Grey Cliffs Campground. This is the only place you can book ahead. There are some other amazing campgrounds in the park that operate on a first come basis. Wheeler Peak Campground and the two Lehman Campgrounds specifically. Driving out there with 3 boys and Grandpa we did not want to risk not getting a place. Funny thing we got the last place in that could be reserved but our camp area was empty. My theory is people reserve in Grey Cliffs to make sure they have a place but then go stay in the other campgrounds. I can see why Grey Cliffs is a very cool area but much more dry than the other areas, lots of sage brush and because of the elevation even that is drier than you would expect. The other campgrounds are much more alpine more trees and higher in elevation.
We spent 2 nights here but really only 1 full day in the park. In the morning we went to Lehman Caves. I would recommend booking your tour in advance. You can do so online, over the phone or in person. There are no entrance fees to enter the park but camping and cave tours do cost. The cave was amazing. Stalactites and stalagmites and other cool cave formations everywhere. The tour took an hour, there is a slightly longer one available as well. This is a must do if you come here.
For lunch we drove to 10,000′ and the parking lot near the Wheeler Peak Campground. Many trails start here. There is also picnic tables. We opted to hike to Rock Glacier and take the slight diversion through the Bristle Cone Grove. Both are a must.
The hike to the glacier round trip should be a little over 5 miles. That being said 5 miles at 10,000′ feet with 3 kids is different. I didn’t know what to expect but knowing them i packed treats to get them to the snow. 2 miles in the boys started losing their minds as kids do. The hike seemed to be going nowhere and there was no snow in sight. After bribing them with treats and the promise of ice cream in the sleepy town of Baker, NV after the hike we made it to the Bristle Cone Grove. the trail at this point is large chunks of granite gravel. But for whatever reason this is also where the boys minds were changed and the hike was fun. We could see snow and they thought that being around trees that were upwards of 3,000 years old was very cool. We hiked through the grove coming and going from the glacier it does not add much to the length of the trail but should be done at least once, I looked at the other trail it is straight shot so probably faster but you miss all the views and the trees. The Bristle Cone Grove is on a ridge and provides tremendous views.
From the Grove the glacier is not very far. When we made it to the snow that was a few hundred feet from the Glacier my kids were immediatly energized. Snow was flying in all directions I took some direct hits as well as some collateral damage. It was so much fun. My dad and one of the boys decided to hike to the actual glacier and I stayed with the other 2 boys and made a snowman. While there are other hikes in the area including to the top of Wheeler Peak which is over 13,000 I would highly recommend making this hike part of your trip because of the snow, geology and history.
Promised ice cream in Baker…. Baker, NV is small it is not your typical town near a National Park. There was a general story place that did have some ice cream, thank goodness. But there is really nothing to do here.
All in all the trip was amazing. For people who have never been to this part of the country I might suggest skipping Great Basin for some its more famous friends Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon or Death Valley National Parks. But if you are in the area or driving through it is worth a stop and doable in a day or even a half day.
The other thing worth noting is because of the location Astronomy is a big thing in the area. The park does offer Astronomy Programs the one that was going while we were there was cancelled due to a quick rain shower. By 11 that night though the sky was clear and the Milky Way was bright, clear and could be seen with the naked eye. If you have never seen the Milky Way it should be added to your list of things to see. I have seen it a few times in my life and it never gets old.