Adventure in Great Basin National Park

You guys, Great Basin National Park is my new favorite national park, and perhaps the most underrated park in the entire national park system. If not a favorite for its many unique perks (which I’ll get to shortly), then most certainly a favorite for how uncrowded it is. Great Basin National Park, after all, is located off the highway dubbed the Loneliest Road in America.

Great Basin’s underappreciation could be due to the fact, in part, that it’s one of the newer national parks, designated a national park just 30 years in in the fall of 1986 (Happy 30th!). It welcomes approximately 100,000 visitors per year, which is a stark contrast to other West Coast national parks like Yosemite, in nearby California, which was established in 1890, and receives nearly 4 million visitors per year. For those keeping track at home, that’s 40 times the number of visitors.

But what Great Basin National Park lacks in numbers of visitors, it makes up for in unique attractions. Most notably is Wheeler Peak, rising high above the national park (and currently snow-covered), standing at 13,064 feet, the second-tallest peak in Nevada. Additionally, Wheeler Peak is unique in that it features the only glacier in Nevada, and one of the southernmost glaciers in America.

But Wheeler Peak still boasts more. You can hike up Wheeler Peak on the Bristlecone Pine Trail to a bristlecone pine grove, which is believed to be the oldest living thing in the world (considered several thousand years old). That’s right ladies and gents, deep in the cut of Nevada off the Loneliest Road in America is the oldest living thing in the world. Who says America doesn't have history? Summer allows for self-guided hikes or ranger-led interpretative walks led by park rangers.

At the base of Wheeler Peak is Lehman Caves, which was originally designated a national monument in 1922 before being incorporated into the national park in 1986. Discovered by Absalom Lehman in the late-1800s, the Lehman Caves is a marble cave featuring stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations. Though not as grandiose as some of the other well known caves in America, it’s one of the larger known caves in Nevada. Perhaps most unique are the hundreds of shield formations, which are rare to find in many U.S. caves.

Lehman Caves offers a couple of different guided tours. The one we went on, the Lodge Tour, is the shorter of the two, lasting 60 minutes and going to a few different rooms in the caves. The 90-minute tour, called the Grand Palace Tour goes to the same rooms, but with the addition of the Grand Palace room, which includes the "Parachute Shield" formation, considered one of the most unique, famous formations in the cave.

The takeaway from my visit to Great Basin National Park, like so many of America’s national parks, was the unique, natural features that you can’t find just anywhere in the world, such as the bristlecone pine grove. Furthermore, I don't think I've ever been to any other national park that felt so uncrowded. It was the best of all worlds.

What's your favorite national park?