A mini break to Great Basin National Park

About 10 hours drive east of San Francisco on the Nevada/Utah border is Great Basin National Park. One of the remotest national parks in the US, Great Basin is a diverse park with 78,000 acres of wilderness. This was our first visit.

We left San Francisco on Wednesday night and took the I80 East to Reno. Our stay in the Siena hotel and casino was more than satisfactory. In the morning we grabbed pastries and coffee from The Homage before heading east across the desert to Great Basin.

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After taking the I80 for a while we turned onto the US50, the loneliest road in America.

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We eventually reached Great Basin after 5 pm. We had some BBQ dinner and then headed off to the night sky ranger program. Sadly it was too cloudy so see anything through the telescopes but we admired the lightening show in the distance and considered them our July 4th fireworks instead.

The next morning we wandered around the mountain nature trail at Lehman Caves Visitor Centre before taking our Grand Palace tour in the Lehman Cave. This is a 90 minute tour which takes in all the public areas of the cave.

Lehman Cave is limestone and marble solution cave that was first discovered in 1880s by Absalom Lehman and is famous for its shield formations. Many of the formations we saw were drier than those we had seen in Crystal Cave at Sequoia and so looked less polished but also less slimy. Volunteers who help on the tour become proud cave cadets!

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After a few snacks for lunch we began the Bristlecone Trail hike. This trail takes in the bristlecone pine grove below Wheeler Peak. It was a fairly easy trail up and the reward was a saunter through the majestic and elderly pines. The interpretive tour taught us that many of the trees germinated well before the birth of baby Jesus and some still standing had died before Christ!

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As we had made good time on the Bristlecone Trail we decided to take in the Alpine Lakes Loop as well. Teresa and Stella Lakes were both fairly small and shallow but the views along the trail, as well as the alpine streams, made for a very picturesque and peaceful hike.

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On our final day in the park we packed up camp and traveled south to the Snake Creek entrance of the park. We took the 7.5 mile trail to the historical Johnson Mill and Lake. It was a steep and hot climb 2500 ft up but we were rewarded by bright summer meadows and some interesting mine ruins to poke about in. Again the lake was a little lacklustre compared to lakes out west but it was still a pretty sight to signal the turnaround point.

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We ended our day in the Great Basin area at the Ward Charcoal Ovens state historic park just outside Ely. The ovens were used to create charcoal to smelt silver ore. The cool breeze inside the oven was a nice respite from the hot day. A strange contrast to what they used to be like!

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As before our journey back to San Francisco took us across the lonely road again but this time in the evening. The landscape and solitude did not make the journey long but served to amplify the colours of the setting sun and twinkle of the stars. A suitable way to end our trip from the emptiness.

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4 comments

  1. Cara

    Hi, Can you please tell me where you stayed in Great Basin and was one day enough? Trying to plan a trip with my kids and feeling a little lost. I will take the advice to stay in Reno then head east. We’re traveling from San Francisco also, if you have any additional bits of knowledge you’d be willing to share I am very receptive to hearing it. Thank you!

    • suziejprince

      Hey Cara. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’d love to help.

      We tent camped in the park at Lower Lehman Creek close to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. This was a quiet ground with pitches close to a lapping stream. I believe there are three other campgrounds in the park and all are pretty close to the main sites. All are available first come, first served and we had no issues getting spots. If you’re going now (in summer) all campsites will be open but some are closed in winter due to snow. I recall seeing sites with camper vans as well as tents. If you’d prefer a roof over your head I think Baker, NV (the closest town) had some inns although we did not visit them.

      You could fit the main attractions into one full day if needed but I think, to be unhurried, two days might be better. And at a minimum one night so you can experience the night sky there. It’s mind blowing and I’m sure kids would love it.

      As for other advice – the loneliest road from Reno across to Great Basin is wonderful but it’s long and it’s remote so make sure you have gas, food and water etc… in the car before you start. It’s best to be prepared.

      Finally we enjoyed a detour to Virginia City on the way back to San Francisco. It’s an old mining town, once home to Mark Twain, with lovely churches, bars and store fronts. Another place I think kids would enjoy.

      Hope that helps. If you have other questions feel free to ask me. We had a lovely time and I hope you will too.

      Cheers Suzie

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