Most visitors to Great Basin National Park come to see either the soaring granitic spires of Wheeler Peak or the well-known Lehman Caves. These extensive caverns are something to see, with fantastic displays of stalactites, stalagmites, sculpted stone columns, rock curtains, and even mushroomlike rock formations.
The centerpiece of the park is Wheeler Peak, Nevada's second tallest mountain at 13,063 feet. The main park road travels up to its 10,000-foot level. From there, a trail leads to a stand of bristlecone pines, the world's oldest living trees.
While the surrounding lowlands of sagebrush and creosote receive only about ten inches of annual precipitation, the high country of Snake Range receives three times that, resulting in grassy meadows, thick forests, and lingering snowfields.
Hikes From Wheeler Peak
Great Basin's only glacier lies near the 13,063-foot summit of lovely Wheeler Peak, close to a stand of bristlecone pine trees. The summit can be reached by car and by foot.
From the main park road, visitors follow a trail that leads up the mountain to the Wheeler Peak Campground. Along the way the environment changes from a pinon and juniper forest, which is able to withstand drought, to a high-altitude world of spruce, pine, and aspen. At the 10,000-foot level, visitors have a choice of several trails into the park's backcountry or a trail to the peak's summit 3,000 feet above.
One of the most popular hikes is the 2.7-mile Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. It leads to a spectacularly scenic alpine setting, with a ragged mountain ridge rising high above a lake. Another trail follows the ridge up to the summit, which is populated by pikas and marmots and decorated with wildflowers poking out of niches in the rock.
Exploring Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves are on the lower slopes of Wheeler Peak, at an altitude of around 6,800 feet. The caverns are an underground wonderland filled with intricate and spectacular formations. Rangers lead visitors through approximately one and a half miles of trails.
The caverns are filled with latticed columns, undulating draperies, helicites, and stalactites. These formations are so dense that the caves' first explorers took along sledgehammers to clear a trail.
Great Basin National Park Photo Opportunities
The Snake Range provides an excellent backdrop for the sweeping meadows and alpine lakes scattered throughout Great Basin National Park. Here are some can't-miss photo opportunities:
- Lexington Arch: Rising from the floor of Lexington Canyon in the southeast corner of Great Basin, Lexington Arch is a stunning natural limestone formation. Because most arches in western America are formed from sandstone, there is speculation that the Lexington Arch may once have been part of an underground cave system.
- Wheeler Peak Summit: The trail to the summit of Wheeler Peak winds through five miles of rugged terrain and climbs 3,000 feet in elevation -- so only hearty sightseers should attempt this hike. But the panorama from 13,063 feet is stunning.
- Lehman Caves: With underground pools, latticed columns, and unusual cave shields, the Lehman Caves offer intriguing sights around every bend. Be sure to bring a camera with a flash.
The Lehman Caves contain a high concentration of cave shields, an unusual and fascinating rock formation. On the next page, we'll take a closer look at this unusual geological phenomenon. In addition, read about the park's bristlecone pine groves, where the oldest trees in the world grow.