Sunday, April 18, 2021

Tips for Visiting Great Basin National Park in Late Spring/Early Summer


Late spring and early summer can be a great time to visit Great Basin National Park, as long as you don't expect to go up into the high country. The snow stays up there in large amounts usually until mid-May to mid-June. In other words, don't expect to see the bristlecones, sub-alpine lakes, or climb Wheeler Peak unless you're willing to do a substantial amount of snowshoeing at high elevation. Fortunately, there are other fun things to do, but they might not be apparent at first. Here are some suggestions.

1. Lehman Caves Visitor Center -- Check out the new exhibits focused on Discover the Dark, about the cave and night skies. While you're there, you can see a lone bristlecone tree in the island between parking lots (transplanted there in 1976). The nearby Mountain View Nature Trail is 1/4 mile long and goes through pinyon-juniper woodland and next to the natural entrance of Lehman Caves. (Very) limited Lehman Caves tours (only 6 tours per day with 20 people on a tour) start May 26. Reservations only, available one month ahead of time. You can see this cool Virtual Cave Tour that takes you through extra parts of the cave. (The Great Basin Visitor Center in Baker will be closed all year due to staffing shortages.)

2. Easy hikes - In addition to the Mountain View Nature Trail, here are a few other easy hikes:

Baker Creek area: Pole Canyon hike is an out and back with nice spring wildflowers and is great for kids. If you want something longer, you can make a 7-mile loop with Timber Creek, but be prepared for snow at the pass. There's a lovely 1/2-mile trail between Grey Cliffs Loop C and Baker Creek Campground (part of the longer 7-mile loop). Most people miss this one. It goes through a variety of habitats and has fantastic birding opportunities. As snow melts off, the South Fork Baker-Baker Creek loop (3.5 miles) is lovely, but early in the season you will get wet feet.

Lehman Creek area: The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive follows along Lehman Creek. At Upper Lehman Campground, you can hike the 3.4 mile-trail up to Wheeler Peak campground. It will be snow-covered at the higher elevations into June. At the Osceola Ditch pulloff is the lovely Osceola Ditch trail that goes down into the ponderosa pines and then follows the rather flat ditch route to Strawberry Creek. There is often a lot of water running across the first part of the trail, and then snow drifts later on, but this is one of the better early season trails. 

3. Interesting Drives

Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive - the drive opens in stages as the snow melts. During the winter it's closed at Upper Lehman Campground. Then the road opens to Osceola Ditch, then to Mather Overlook, then to the Summit Trailhead, and then finally to the Bristlecone Trailhead. You get great views, but beware that there aren't guardrails for most of it and be sure to put your vehicle in low gear on the way down so you don't burn up your brakes.

Baker Creek Road - look for marmots and drive slowly, as they aren't the brightest creatures around! But they are cute! And the custom-made marmot crossing signs are fun to see.

Strawberry Creek - check out how the watershed is doing after a 4,500 acre wildfire in 2016. At the end of the road is a lovely 1.5 mile loop trail up through a meadow and back through a burned area.

Snake Creek - located south of Baker, the road follows the creek closely. The Serviceberry Trail makes for a good hike, although will have snow on it probably until June. Trails at the end of the road lead up into the high country, and will be snow covered at higher elevations. The Spring Creek Rearing Station is outside the park and allows visitors. There's not much to see, but if you've never seen where trout are raised to stock streams and lakes, it's worth a short visit. 

Lexington Canyon -  the road towards Lexington Arch is currently in decent shape. It's gravel and dirt (like most roads around here) and if it's been dry for awhile, it will be dusty. On the way to the new trailhead area for the arch you pass some beautiful wildflowers and see another area recovering from a big wildfire, this one in 2013. The Arch is a nice spring/early summer hike. There's very little shade, so it can get hot when the temperatures rise. The trailhead has been washed out by post-fire floods, so you'll have to park when the road gets bad and hike from there. It adds about a mile each way.

4. Camping

1. Park campgrounds-This year Upper Lehman, Lower Lehman, and Grey Cliffs Campgrounds went to a reservation system (, with reservations allowed up to 6 months in advance. Summer weekends are mostly booked already. Wheeler Peak campground is closed for the summer due to renovations. Baker Creek Campground is first-come, first-served and will probably fill by 1 or 2 pm all summer long. Checkout is at 12 pm. 

2. Snake Creek has free campsites, first-come, first-served.

2. Private campgrounds/RV sites are available at the Whispering Elms, Baker Fuel and RV (run by Stargazer Inn), Hidden Canyon Ranch, and the Border Inn. Whispering Elms and Hidden Canyon Ranch have the most shade and books out far in advance. See Where To Stay in Great Basin | Baker, Nevada — Discover Great Basin (

3. Sacramento Pass Recreation Area is a free campground run by the BLM. It is about 10 minutes from Baker on Highway 6 & 50. It is the main overflow for the Park and also fills quickly. You can find other places to camp outside the park.

4. Dispersed camping is allowed on BLM land. Some of the basics: 14-day limit, try to use an area that's already disturbed, don't make new fire rings (there are some nifty portable fire rings available), haul out human waste or bury at least 6 inches deep, and overall leave no trace

5. Lodging and Food

There are a variety of Motels/hotels/AirBnBs in the area. They are already booking far ahead this summer. Find more at Where To Stay in Great Basin | Baker, Nevada — Discover Great Basin (

For Food, 2021 may be the best Food year for the area! It's looking like more options! The Border Inn is open 7 days a week, with the kitchen from 6 am to 10 pm and convenience store 24 hours. Highway 487 grill is open 6 days a week (closed Wednesdays) for lunch and dinner. The Great Basin Cafe is open 7 days a week for brunch, lunch, and early dinner. Sugar, Salt, and Malt is expecting to open in early May for all three meals. Kerouac's opens May 21 with special drinks and small plates. And there may be a Mexican food truck option also. Plus Hidden Canyon does special dinners for their guests. Find out more at Where to Eat and Drink In Great Basin — Discover Great Basin (

Crystal Ball Cave with its amazing crystals

6. Worthwhile Options Outside the Park

Baker Archaeological Site - this is a short stop, but interesting to learn about how the Fremont people had a small village near Baker hundreds of years ago, with buildings aligned with the sun and stars. Use the booklet as you take the self-guided trail to learn more. Nice covered picnic area and pit toilet. Day use only. 

Pruess Lake - located south of Garrison, Utah, this is where we go to swim, kayak, paddleboard, fish, and sail (and ice skate in the winter). Lake levels drop throughout the summer, so early to mid summer is the best time for swimming. 

Crystal Ball Cave - this BLM cave is managed by site stewards with cave tours. The cave is very cool, like going into a giant geode! Cave tours are Monday-Saturday, reservations required (this cave tour is amazing, recommended donation $12-$15/person). You might like to combine it with a trip to nearby Devils Gate Slot Canyon, a short but fun canyon.

Sacramento Pass Trails - along with free camping, the Sacramento Pass Recreation Area has single track mountain bike, equestrian, and hiking trails. These are great early in the season or early in the day. There's also a pond with good fishing.

North Snake Range Hikes - The North Snake Range is a rugged wilderness filled with surprises. There's great hiking at Hendry's Creek and Smith Creek. Hampton Creek takes more effort, but you can find some garnets and an old mining area. Silver Creek is fun for mountain biking. The Table and Mt. Moriah top the range and are an all-day effort (or more) to visit and should be saved for later summer and autumn.

Crystal Peak  - Volcanic rock sparkles like crystal in the late afternoon sun. Check out they pygmy ponderosa pines. Along the edges is a fossil-bearing rock, the same as found at nearby Fossil Mountain.

Ibex/Tule Valley - Located 45 minutes east of Baker towards Delta, we like to go to Ibex and Tule Valley for rock climbing at Ibex Cliffs and bike riding on the dry playa. This is also a good place to camp.

Notch Peak  - Notch Peak is an obvious peak to the east, with the highest limestone cliff in North America. Base jumpers frequent it. I find hiking to the top plenty of excitement for me. Snow may be hanging out in shady spots into late May. Bristlecone pines are found to the north.

Cleve Creek - Found in Spring Valley, about 9 miles north of Highway 6 & 50, designated campground and beautiful area in the Schell Creek Range.

Ely, NV: 

Delta, UT: 

Milford, UT: 

All over: look at the amazing night skies Tips for Milky Way Photography

These are just a few suggestions, click on the links to see additional information. If you'd like more, read my book! It is full of natural and cultural history of the area, places to visit, and more.

I hope this gives you a little better idea of what to expect. There are lots of things to do in the area, but they might not always be apparent and they might require a little more work than other places. I find that's part of the charm. 

Things change slowly out here, and that's rare in the world these days. It's nice to find a place where you can get out of cell range (or put your phone in airplane mode and pretend you are), see the amazing Milky Way galaxy at night stretching across the sky, and listen to the sounds of nature. 

Time seems to move at a different speed out here, and if you come out, I encourage you to take a deep breath and settle in. This is a place that grows on you. 

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