Utah has 5 National Parks: Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, 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: Lehman Caves.
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 very affordable. The campgrounds are shady and have picnic tables and water. There are flush toilets at all 5 of the campgrounds in this park.
The park itself is free. The only thing you need to pay for is access into the cave and campground fees if you camp.
Visitor Center and Junior Ranger
There are a lot of things to do at Great Basin. There is a Visitor Center in the small town of Baker nearby for Great Basin National Park, and another Visitor Center for Lehman Caves. Of course we did the Junior Ranger Program, and the kids earned a Cave Cadet badge for being good spelunkers. We also participated in the Night Explorer program when we attended an ranger-led astronomy program.
Animal and Bird Watching
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. Wheeler Peak Scenic drive up to the top of the mountain 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.
There are a few trails to hike, and most are at the top of Wheeler Peak. Our favorite trail is Lake Stella, and we even hiked it through the rain. You can read all about the easy, family-friendly trail on our Great Basin Kid Hikes post.
Great Basin National Park is a dark sky park, and they have a great astronomy program. Our kids earned their Junior Night Explorer 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.
Cave info for 2021: There is only one tour being offered that walks straight to the parachute shield and back.
The main focus of Great Basin National Park is the cave tour. Entering the cave is only allowed through a guided tour. There are different lengths of tours that go to different rooms and cost different amounts. We took two different tours. The Lodge Room Tour is shorter and all ages are allowed on it, so we took our baby on this one. The Grand Palace Tour is longer and children must be ages 5 and older.
The shorter tour took the same route as the Grand Palace tour, but it eliminates a few extra rooms. Both of the tours seemed very different because we had two different rangers guiding us. The second time through we were lucky enough to see 2 bats hanging near the natural entrance! We enjoy our visit into the cave every time. It is chilly in the cave, so pants and jackets are recommended.
The best time to visit is definitely summer or early fall. Great Basin has a lot to offer and is a great day trip. 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. If you head that way, use our Things to do Near Delta post to enjoy your drive out to Great Basin National Park.