If national parks were considered children, then Great Basin National Park is Nevada’s only child. Great Basin is often overlooked for other national parks but it offers just as many wonders. It is home to Wheeler Peak, the second highest mountain in Nevada; the Lehman Caves; some of the oldest living trees in the world; plus miles of hiking trails, camping areas and some of the darkest night skies in the country.
Great Basin took its first step to becoming a National Park in 1922, when President Warren G. Harding declared the Lehman Caves a National Monument. Fast forward to 1986, when Representative Harry Reid played a large role in writing the proposal to create the new national park at a size of 129,000 acres. Senators Laxalt and Hecht created another bill that cut down the proposed park to 44,000 acres, mainly to protect mining and grazing in the area. After negotiation, the final bill passed by Congress set the park at 76,000 acres. President Ronald Reagan signed “The Great Basin National Park Act” into law on October 27, 1986, making Great Basin the 47th National Park and Nevada’s first.
The park is located in eastern Nevada, close to the Utah border. The most popular attraction in the park is the Lehman Caves. They extend a quarter mile into marble and limestone and guided tours are offered that give visitors a chance to view up close hundreds of intricate formations. Wheeler Peak is in the center of the park and is the second highest mountain in Nevada. It is an alluring mountain to climb for both professional climbers and day hikers.
Bristlecone Pines are trees that can be found just below tree line in the park and on Wheeler Peak. In 1964, a living Bristlecone Pine since named “Prometheus” was cut down for research purposes. Researchers counted 4,900 rings on Prometheus, making it one of the oldest trees recorded. The park is also considered one of the darkest places in the country, so stargazing and astrophotography are popular activities. If there’s a meteor shower coming up, this is the place to watch it!
With one month left this year, the park has already set a new annual record with 105,858 visitors. Compared to Yellowstone’s three million annual visitors, it’s not a surprise that it’s easier to get around and have more solitude there than at most of the big-name parks.
Only four hours from Las Vegas and six hours from Reno, Nevadans have a beautiful park in their own backyard perfect for a weekend trip. Traveling to or from Great Basin is another adventure in itself, as it’s surrounded by desert beauty and surprising places along US 50 (Loneliest Road in America), US 93 (Great Basin Highway), or State Route 318 (Silver State Classic Challenge Highway). Don’t miss out – make your next trip a visit to Nevada’s first National Park.