There is a National Park in the Nevada desert that you’ve most likely never heard of. It’s low key, non-descript and lacks the “National Park” feel you may experience at Yellowstone, Arches or Bryce. It’s remote and has absolutely no established tourist town supporting it like Springdale, UT is for Zion. There are no crowds (save for maybe those wanting to tour Lehman Caves). Hell, you can’t even purchase firewood in a 50 mile radius of the park. Oh, and the trails are amazing. In short, it’s camping and trail running perfection.
The drive to Great Basin National Park from Ogden, UT is supposed to be around 4 ½ hours. So naturally, it took Breein and me roughly 7 ½ hours. Thankfully we decided to purchase firewood at one of the last towns before crossing the Nevada border. We later learned that the only source of firewood in Baker, NV had since abandoned his business due to the tourists “ripping him off.” During the journey a number of events took place; I purchased a ceramic skull at a gas station casino for the purpose of burning incense through his eyes. Breein talked, I listened. Before we knew it, big mountains rose up from the middle of the desert.
We arrived around 4 PM on the Friday of Labor Day. In a normal National Park, there would be no way we could have secured a “first come first serve” camp site. Not a problem at Great Basin, we had our choice of a few spots at Wheeler Peak CG. We set up camp and prepped for our first day of exploring.
Day 1: 16 Miles
The wind that first night was pretty intense. This should have been somewhat of an indication of what the attempted climb up Wheeler Peak would be like, but we didn’t quite make the connection. Only later did we learn that there was a wind advisory for the park and hikers were strongly advised to not attempt a summit of the 13,000 foot peak.
The trail up towards Wheeler Peak was scenic to say the least. It meandered up through pine and aspen trees, opened up to a meadow near Stella Lake and climbed up at a fairly steep (at times) grade towards the summit. We admired our surroundings and braced ourselves in the wind as we ascended up towards about 12,000 feet. Around this time is when the wind gusts really picked up. Breein had a hard time remaining upright against the 80 MPH gusts. I leaned into the wind the best I could. A British man came down from above us and stopped and chatted with us. He abandoned his attempt, we soon followed suit.
On the way back down Wheeler we climbed another random ridgeline to get a better view of the mountain range towering above Stella Lake. We searched for fossils, petrified wood and fun rocks before calling it a morning and heading back to camp.
Our second run was also out of the Wheeler Peak CG trail head. We headed out towards the bristlecone pine loop as well as Glacier trail. What the Park Service neglects to tell you in all the trails at Great Basin is exactly how beautiful and diverse each trail is. This relatively short jaunt of 7 to 8 miles was stunning. We meandered through 5000 year old trees and then over rocks to the base of Wheeler Peak. We were surrounded by rock walls looking at a glacier and completely alone. We returned through the bristlecone pines marveling at how we could be so lucky to be sharing these trails together, in complete isolation.
Day 2: 17.6 Miles
Night two brought much calmer winds and a renewed (false) confidence on summiting Wheeler Peak. I won’t spare you the details, but this attempt was also a failed one due to the same 80 MPH wind gusts we encountered on day one. We took shelter around 12,500 feet, assessed our situation and decided that the winds weren’t worth the risk. We descended to a lower elevation and planned our afternoon run.
For the afternoon we decided to run at lower elevation (8,000 feet) from Baker Creek. Our run consisted of Timber Creek trail, Johnson Lake trail and back around on Baker Creek trail. This route was incredible and featured some impressive aspen groves, my new favorite place on earth (a rolling meadow at 9,000 feet) as well as some elk and deer. Our trip back on Baker Creek was a fairly technical and fun descent back to the car at Baker Creek TH. Overall, the route we took was around 7 or 8 miles. We drove back to camp as the sun was setting.
Our third night in Great Basin was a restful one. We had around 36 miles in our legs and were fortunate enough to explore a piece of what this National Park has to offer. As we made our way back to Ogden, we ran through the previous day’s events and listed the different trails were weren’t able to get on. We quickly came to the conclusion that a return trip(s) were in order. See you soon Great Basin!
Where should you camp?
There are a few campground options, but we chose Wheeler Peak. The elevation is just under 10,000 feet and provides easy access to higher elevation trails. The drive from the entrance of the park is about 12 miles, but it’s well worth it.
Where should you run? There are too many to name and too many we’ve yet to explore. Our favorite was the just outside of camp. Start your run out from Wheeler Peak Campground. Go see the glacier (Glacier Trail) and hike amongst 5000 year old trees (Bristlecone Interpretive Trail) and then do the twin lakes loop. All of this was around 8 miles.
What should you do? (Other than run)
Look at the stars:
Apparently Great Basin National Park has some of the darkest skies in the country. While I’m not an astronomy expert, I can tell you that these stars were amazing. Without light pollution you can see the Milky Way. The longer we laid in a field, the more stars seemed to appear.
Hug a 4000 year old tree:
The Great Basin Bristlecone pine tree is said to be the oldest (non-cloned) species of tree in the world. We explored the grove of trees at the base of Wheeler Peak, but two other Bristlecone pine tree groves exist within the park. The largest grove in the park exists on Mt. Washington, a destination for our next visit to Great Basin.
Is Great Basin just for Ultra-Runners?
Nope. While the variety and accessibility of trails could lend itself to linking up a 30 mile outing, each section can be cut into shorter jaunts. With most sections of trails being in the 8 to 12 mile variety, Great Basin is a perfect destination for any runner or hiker.