Utah has 5 National Parks: Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef. I like to think of Great Basin as Utah’s sixth National Park, even though it is in Nevada. A lot of people aren’t aware that this park is so close– just 3 hours from Salt Lake City. Some people know the park for what makes it famous, the Lehman Cave.
Last weekend we camped at Great Basin National Park, and it was really fun. There are 4 campgrounds in the park, and each site is only $12 per night. The park itself is free. The only thing you need to pay for is access into the cave.
There are a lot of things to do at Great Basin. There is a Visitor’s Center in the small town of Baker nearby, and another Visitor’s Center in the park. Of course we did the Junior Ranger Program, and the kids earned a Cave Cadet badge for being good spelunkers. We also did some animal watching, stargazing, and hiking. (For hiking information, check out Great Basin Kid Hikes.)
Great Basin is surprisingly cold and high, even in the summer. It’s 7000 feet at the lower campground (10000 at the upper) and we actually got snowed on one Labor Day. There is a drive up to the top of the mountain and the upper campground that is a great place to see animals. We saw a 4 foot gopher snake crawling across the road, both cottontail bunnies and jackrabbits, lizards, squirrels, chipmunks, kangaroo rats, and a lot of deer. We saw a doe and her twin fawns, still with spots on their sides that were adorable. Farther up, we saw 4 trophy bucks, though we only got a picture of 1 of them. We even saw wild turkeys crossing the road on two different occasions (I was told they are not native to the area). For the bird watchers, there were also red-tailed hawks and pinyon jays. The drive up the mountain takes nearly 25 minutes, and we did it right before dawn to see most of those animals.
Great Basin is a dark sky park, and they have a great astronomy program. Our kids earned their Junior Night Ranger badges and really enjoyed the night sky. The ranger in charge showed a video and did some activities for the kids. Then she broke out two large telescopes, through which we saw Saturn, Albireo (a double star), and the Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra.The sky was amazing, and I took my binoculars and spent some time with the night sky. The Milky Way was beautiful and obvious in the dark sky.
The main focus of Great Basin National Park is the cave tour. There are different lengths of tours that go to different rooms and cost different amounts. We took the long tour without our baby, and then the shorter tour with him because he liked the caves at Craters of the Moon so much.He did great throughout this longer cave as well. Even the the short tour took the same route, eliminating one turn with some extra rooms, the tours were amazingly different because we had 2 different rangers to guide us. The second time through we were lucky enough to see 2 bats hanging near the natural entrance! We enjoyed the second as much as the first. It is chilly in the cave, so pants and jackets are recommended.
It’s a shame more Utahns don’t take advantage of Great Basin National Park. It’s located 100 miles west of Delta on Hwy 6 (50) just over the Nevada border.