“Why,” you ask? For starters, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the craziness that has overtaken other better-known national parks. You will find no crowded parking lots, no tour buses, and no crush of humanity on the trails. You’ll also find no charming gateway town, or any amenities to speak of. But if you’re after peace, quiet, and spectacular natural beauty, this is a place you’ll like.
Superb Hiking Trails And A “Twilight-Zone” Vibe In Town
The hiking is superb, with a variety of trails for everyone. Some paths meander along streams and wildflower-covered hillsides. Other trails start at 9,000 feet, heading steeply up into the mountains through groves of aspen and along the shores of alpine lakes. The park even boasts an ancient bristlecone pine forest, a limestone cave with beautiful formations, and some of the darkest night skies in the country.
An easy 200-mile drive from Snow Canyon, the long highway eased us into the remoteness of the park. Located in the vast high desert of eastern Nevada, far from major population centers, there’s not much for miles around. The tiny town of Baker, population 68, sits at the crossroads outside of the park. The main street is wide and dusty; two cafes with peeling signs, a combination motel/campground/bar, and a self-serve gas station with a strange Twilight Zone vibe make up the “downtown” area.
The Road Less Taken
Talking to the locals and the friendly park rangers leaves no doubt that this is definitely the road less taken for the 68 people who live here—there’s even a sign along the road to the park that expresses this sentiment. It’s a 70-mile drive for the most basic of groceries, further for more amenities. But that seems to be a small tradeoff for the peace and quiet and beauty of this place. (Would we live here? No. But we certainly enjoy visiting—we’ve even considered hosting at the park.)
We were here early this year, in late May, just before the roads opened to access Wheeler Peak and the high altitude trails. We contented ourselves with hiking the lower altitude trails along the creek surging with snowmelt, through meadows lush with bright yellow balsamroot and splashes of crimson Indian paintbrush. We even discovered a gorgeous, pristine natural spring where we harvested fresh watercress and mint.
Click on any photo for a larger version
Happening Upon A Bioblitz
Lucky for us, we happened to be in the park on the weekend of a bioblitz. (A bioblitz is a biological census that focuses on an overall count of the plants, animals, and other organisms that inhabit a place.) The focus of this bioblitz was on birds. How perfect is that? We signed up for a couple of workshops and hikes (all free) and had a great time helping find and count birds. As a relatively new national park, the rangers use citizen science to help document species in the park.
Although we were counting birds, our sighting of a marmot family was our best find.
If you visit the park, June is a lovely time, when all of the trails are open and there are still wildflowers in the meadows. Late September or early October, before the snows begin and the aspen are turning to gold, is also gorgeous. We’ve been in both seasons and found it spectacular. (You can read about those visits here and here.)
About The Campground
On our previous two visits, we stayed in the park in Upper Lehman Campground and loved it. However, the roads are tight, and the sites are small and ridiculously unlevel. The campground was closed for renovations while we were there—we’ll see on our next visit if improvements were made to make the sites more accessible and level.
This time, we stayed in town at Whispering Elms Campground, just six miles from the entrance to the national park. Initially, I wasn’t too enthusiastic (we always prefer national park campgrounds) but it turned out to be a fine option. The sites are gravel and large, with many pull-throughs, and we appreciated having full hookups in the freezing temperatures of early spring. There is a decrepit bathhouse and laundry, which we didn’t use. Surprisingly, we had unexpectedly good internet, courtesy of the campground (that’s because our site was close to the front of the park). We spent three peaceful nights and would happily return.
I would love to go there! Would June be still chilly or hot? I know what you mean by away from the swarm of humanity on trails. Yes, like you we like peace and solitude on trails.
How lucky you are to be there on a bioblitz. Did you get a good count of the birds?
Ahh to that family of marmot
ML, we were there in June 2014 and it was chilly and sunny. It’s a great time to go—the trails are all open, although there will likely still be some snow at the highest altitudes. And there are LOTS of wildflowers then!
Yes, we got lots of birds this time. It was fun. :-)
LOL at Still Life with Oil Drum! You crack me up! Now you’ve done it of course. You have written a glorious post advertising this park “wonderfully remote” park and it will be swamped by the time I can get there. That’s what happened to TRNP. When we were there, it wasn’t crowded at all and now I read that it’s become over run. So sad, sure wish I’d started this 10 or 15 years ago before everyone and his brother jumped in. Even Big Bend is being overrun I hear and that’s really remote.. I love the unloved parks but it looks like they don’t need my love any more. Hope you do host there. Maybe I can catch up with you. Great marmot pictures. They are so cute although they remind me a bit of my not favorite groundhog. Your “natural spring” picture is fantastic. Love the angle.
Haha, thanks Sherry! There was something about that photo of the old shack and the oil drum that was beautiful to me—I guess it was the light. :-)
Somehow I can’t imagine Great Basin NP becoming overcrowded. It’s just so far off the beaten path.
You would love this park. We were there too early this year for the truly amazing wildflowers and hiking. But we still had a great time!
One of the most beautiful parks that we’ve visited. We were there in the fall and the light and color were stunning…
R & K, we agree! It’s an absolutely stunningly beautiful landscape—although our photos don’t do it justice this time around. It was gray and chilly and there wasn’t a lot of color in May. But we were there in fall 2012 and the color of the aspens was magnificent. We want to return in the fall and do more photography (and hiking).
We were there a few years ago in late Aug or early Sept….who can remember what happened a few years ago? We really loved it! We were there during a dark skies festival, and many telescopes were set up in the parking lot. It was also the night of the ranger talent show….great fun.
Joan, that must have been so much fun to be there for the ranger talent show! We were there for a night skies program in fall 2012 and loved it. Great Basin is a wonderful park in every way, including the rangers—they really seem to care about the park and put a lot of effort into making it special.
Wow – what a gem and to be there for the bioblitz. Beautiful photos.
Did Eric ebird your sightings? It would be great to get a sense of your bird sightings.
We just participated in a bioblitz for the Chiricahuas and we thought it was a blast!
Bettina, we were thrilled to be there for the bioblitz—it was pure happenstance but we pitched right in. :-) How cool that you participated in a bioblitz for the Chiricahuas! (I’ll have Eric email you about his sightings—we would love to know what you’ve seen in the Chiricahuas, too.)
Wow, the pictures were great! I am all about the solitude and no crowds.
For Sherry who commented on Big Bend, if you haven’t already tried it, may I suggest you try Big Bend Ranch State Park just north of BBNP. Very remote but still beautiful in a Big Bend kind of way.
Nancy, thanks so much for the suggestion about Big Bend Ranch State Park. We’re headed that direction this fall, so that’s great information to have! I agree with you, solitude and no crowds is the best. Glad you enjoyed the photos.
We remember that looooong road but missed this great park. We love the marmot family and the art.
Debbie, you two would love the hiking at Great Basin NP. We weren’t able to access most of our favorite trails this time because of the snow at high elevations, but we still had a good time. The marmots were adorable! We get a kick out of the random artwork, too. :-)
Lovely shots….miss you guys….We are building a new house in the Spring east of Columbus Ohio. Put us on your radar…Apple Valley lake…we will be on the golf course and there is a small private campground to park the rig in the neighborhood. Take a break from the road and enjoy our “guest” quarters..after July 2017! Ed and Diana
Wow, congratulations on your new home! But wait….does this mean that we won’t be seeing you this winter? We miss you, too, and are looking forward to more birding adventures with you guys. So glad to hear from you.:-)
How fun to be there during the blitz. So wonderful to see you two in jackets – I miss jackets!! I love that the marmot family read the sign :-) The natural spring photo is very powerful, it draws me in.
Jodee, we were delighted that the adorable marmot family knew just where to be. It was especially wonderful to see them because they hibernate nine months of the year. And that spring was amazing! One of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
One of our favorite memories of Great Basin was the full moon hike to the lake. So beautiful, and no flashlights allowed! The wildflowers there are also spectacular. I can see why you have returned three times. I hope we can get back there soon as well, eventually, when house things are done.
Sue, that must have been a truly magical hike. Great Basin NP seems to offer some really special events. Even though this wasn’t the most spectacular season to be in the park (the wildflowers are much more prolific in June, and the fall colors are incredible), we still had a wonderful time. I’m glad you know and love this park, too.
We loved Great Basin as well. The marmot family is soooo cute! It’s a good thing you didn’t use the laundry at Whispering Elms, it was quite gross…but I did enjoy hanging my sheets out to dry on their clothes line!
Lisa, we were nicely surprised by Whispering Elms—it made for a peaceful stay. But I’m going to try to avoid ever having to do laundry there (or take a shower in the bathhouse). :-) We loved seeing the cute marmot family!
Last year we attempted to visit Great Basin, and did, but they were in the midst of a wildfire, and the main artery was closed due to fire and downed trees. Most all of the trails we had hoped to hike we could no longer get to and the air quality was a problem. We made the decision after doing a bit of exploring that we would just need to come back. Love those photos of the marmots…adorable!
LuAnn, you guys would love this park. The trails are wonderful—especially the high elevation trails that lead to beautiful alpine lakes. We’ll definitely return to Great Basin for more hiking—and to repeat our favorite hikes! The marmots were so much fun to watch.
We so enjoyed this beautiful NP. The lack of people was perfect. I am guessing the upper campground wasn’t open yet!? That is such a nice one with paved sites and newer but meant for smaller units, not us:) At 10,000 ft it probably isn’t open very long. We need to return to bag Wheeler Peak now that we have hiking poles to get across that last climb to the top. Love that you found fresh watercress:)
Pam, the road wasn’t open to the upper campground —we couldn’t even get to our favorite high elevation trails. But we still had a wonderful time. The hike to Wheeler Peak is a tough one—we haven’t done it yet, either! Maybe we should go together. :-)
LOVE this park. Remind me to sing for you the song I wrote when we were there, prompted by the blessed QUIET. It is a gem.
I’d love to hear your song, Gretchen. So glad you know this special place, too. :-)
tranquility sounds lovely just now, we are at Niagara Falls which is a tourist circus, walking through the throngs of people to get back to the border last night was definitely not tranquil.
Ugh, “tourist circus” is a great description. :-(
Great Blog. A quick question: Was there diesel at the gas station in town?
We just finished our gig with Coronado NF near Portal, AZ. We’re going to head to Sierra Vista today from Tucson (broken window fixed) to do some birding for a week or so before heading to California.
Big hugs to you both,
Eric says he recalls that there was diesel at the (strange) little gas station. You guys would love Great Basin! Where will you be in California? We would love to meet up with you. Big hugs to you two, too. :-)
You guys get the best photos! Love the marmots and the ‘gate’. This sounds like a place we would like to visit. Another one on the ‘to do’ list!
Loretta, the marmot family was so darned cute! Great Basin is a wonderful park—I know you and Henry would really enjoy it.