advertisement

Great Basin National Park, along the Utah-Nevada border, provides an intimate glimpse of a vast, rugged section of America, with opportunities for outdoor (and underground) adventures. A region of desert, valleys, mountains, lakes, and streams, North America's Great Basin includes Nevada, Utah, and parts of California, Oregon, and Idaho. It got its name because the rainwater that falls here has no outlet to the sea.

Founded in 1986, this park not only looks out at the Great Basin's expanse of desert and mountains from the summit of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, but also descends beneath the earth's surface for a subterranean tour of the intricate and delicate stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations in the surreal world of Lehman Caves.

Hiking trails abound, through pine and aspen forests, or above the tree line to a world of barren, windswept rocks. Camping in the park is a delight, with quiet campgrounds, plenty of trees, and splendid scenery. The park contains forests of bristlecone pine -- a species scientists believe is the oldest living tree on Earth -- as well as pinyon, juniper, spruce, fir, pine, and aspen. You'll see wildflowers like yellow aster and Parry's primrose during the summer; also watch for mule deer, bighorn sheep, squirrels, and golden eagles.

Like most of the American West's other national parks, Great Basin offers ample activities to keep you busy for at least a week, and we strongly suggest you plan to spend at least 1 full day in the park. For the best experience, try to allow at least 3 full days, to provide enough time to tour Lehman Cave and explore the scenic drive, and to hike to the bristlecone pine forest and perhaps to one of the park's high-mountain lakes.

Because of its remoteness -- Great Basin isn't near any other popular tourist destinations or even along a route to one -- you'll find it relatively quiet and uncrowded, similar to what you would have found 30 or 40 years ago in America's loved-to-death parks such as Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Although Great Basin National Park is in Nevada, many visitors are Utah residents on long-weekend excursions from Salt Lake City. Visitors to the national parks of Arizona and Utah who start their trips in Las Vegas, Nevada, can easily add Great Basin to the beginning or end of their driving loops.