Great Basin National Park offers starry skies, ancient trees and glistening caves

Lehman Caves
Photo: Steve Marcus

No one-hit wonder, Great Basin National Park offers a multitude of natural attractions less than 300 miles north of Las Vegas. The almost five-hour drive is totally worth the trip; plan to stay a few days in order to explore the wide variety of sights and activities.


Tour Lehman Caves. Park rangers offer daily guided 60- and 90-minute tours ($9-$11) of this magnificent complex of natural caves. Enjoy a half-mile of stunning and rare rock formations, and learn the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. Tip: Reserve tickets in advance.

Watch an astronomy program. Thanks to its high elevation, low humidity and distance from bright lights, Great Basin’s views of the night sky are uniquely clear. It’s even been officially designated as an International Dark Sky Park. To enjoy the view, simply look up. For a deeper dive, the park offers free astronomy programs, full moon hikes and solar telescope viewing. Tip: Use a red flashlight to keep from spoiling your night vision.

See the ancient trees. The park is home to a few groves of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine trees, some of the oldest trees on the planet. It’s truly a spiritual experience to encounter a living being that’s thousands of years old. Hike the 2.8-mile Bristlecone Trail to reach a self-guided nature walk through a grove of ancients. Tip: Fit hikers can continue on the extended trail to see the only glacier in Nevada.

Gather pine nuts. Following ancient Native American traditions, visitors are allowed to gather edible Pinyon pine nuts from the park in the autumn. Limit 25 pounds per household.


Cost: Unlike more crowded national parks, this one is free. Call 775-234-7331 for park info.

When to go: The park is open year-round. Unless you’re into winter sports, plan to go in the spring, summer or fall. Since it’s north of Las Vegas, expect much cooler weather, even wintery conditions. An 8,000-foot elevation difference between basin and range makes for some wacky weather, including afternoon thunderstorms and unexpected snow in the summer. Tip: Check the weather and dress in layers.

How to get there: The park is incredibly remote (that’s part of the charm), so long drives are pretty much the only option.

Where to stay: For those who would rather not camp in the park, book a hotel or short-term rental in nearby Baker, Nevada (population 68). If Baker is sold out, reserve a room in Ely, which is an hour west.

Side trip: If you have a little extra time, there are cool attractions in the area, such as Cave Lake State Park, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park and the railroad Depot Museum in Ely, Nevada.

Cool-weather camping tips


Gardening classes (Various dates, Springs Preserve) Learn how to garden in the desert with an assortment of classes in English and Spanish. springspreserve.org

First Friday (Dec. 7, Jan. 4; Downtown Arts District) Enjoy the cool night air at this monthly arts festival. ffflv.org

Last Friday (Nov. 30, Dec. 28, 6-10 p.m., Henderson Events Plaza) Food, music, arts and crafts are on display in this monthly culinary experience in the Water Street District. justaddwaterstreet.com


The Turkey Rock (Nov. 22, PKWY Tavern, 9820 W. Flamingo Road) Before eating the big meal, go on a one-mile, 5K or 10K run along the Western Beltway Trail on Thanksgiving morning. jusrun.com/races/theturkeyrock

Paint with a Ranger (Nov. 22, Spring Mountain State Park) Learn how to paint outdoors with the help of a park ranger and some amazing subject matter. Watercolor supplies included. 702-875-4141.

Full Moon Hike (Dec. 22, Mount Charleston) Hike under the moon in Spring Mountains National Recreation Area with the help of a ranger. gomtcharleston.com

Las Vegas Great Santa Run (Dec. 1, Downtown) What other race includes a santa costume? This classic Vegas run benefits Opportunity Village. lvsantarun.com

Reindeer Dash 5K (Dec. 15, Pecos Legacy Park) Bring out your ugly holiday sweater for this costumed 5K and one-mile run along Pittman Wash Trail. 702-267-5707.

Rally in the Valley (Jan. 18-20, Valley of Fire) It’s not till late January, so you have time to train for this three-day running festival. calicoracing.com

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