Jeff Davis At Sunset
Great Basin National Park is in the middle of no-where on the Nevada/Utah border. In its remote location, your choices for hotel stays are extremely limited and your options for camping are legion. If you are looking at climbing Wheeler Peak, Wheeler Peak Campground is directly adjacent to the trailhead and is a great place to get the west’s most reasonable high-altitude camp experience
Wheeler Peak campground, located at the very end of Wheeler Scenic Drive, is situated in a high alpine forest at 10,000 feet. It is first-come, first-served. Talking to the rangers it sometimes fills-up on holiday and the occasional weekends in the summer. Arriving during the week or early on Friday morning increases your chance of securing a spot to a near certainty.
The 12-mile scenic drive to the campground is narrow, on an 8% grade and has sharp curves. Single vehicles and trailers in excess of 24 feet in length are not permitted on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive beyond the Upper Lehman Creek Camp. If you have a large rig, you might change your plans to either Upper or Lower Lehman Campgrounds.
There are numerous contingencies in the off chance Wheeler Campground is full; there are four other campgrounds in Great Basin and the area is surrounded by BLM land. Ask the rangers at the visitor center and they can help steer you in the right direction.
Near the Campground
The campground has 37 sites available scattered around a paved loop. Only one of the sites is wheelchair accessible. The sites are roomy (2 vehicles or 3 tents) and most are reasonably secluded (a couple are in odd spots right near traffic). Most of the sites are shaded or partial shade; be sure to consider where the sun will be in the evenings or mornings because the wrong spot gets awful cold. Pay for your site within ½ hour of arrival and check out before 10 am.
Wheeler Campsite closes during the winter and is open Jun through September. Call the rangers and ask specific dates for a year. Whether to bring winter gear is highly dependent on how late (or early) in the season you planning your trip; it may be 100 degrees in Utah but still snow-packed and freezing in June at Wheeler. Talking to the rangers, the trail to Wheeler Peak may be snow covered past the 4th of July on a given year. Even on years with early snowmelt, 10,000 ft of altitude skews the weather. You need to be prepared for high winds, hail, rain, odd snow flurries, and 30 degree temperature even in high-summer.
In Great Basin Park
Wheeler Peak Campground’s biggest advantage (besides its stunning surroundings, perfect mountain air and amazing night sky) is its location directly adjacent to the Wheeler Peak and Bristlecone trailheads. No driving…just sling your bag and head for the hills! The most popular things to do in Great Basin NP are the hiking Bristlecone trail, summiting Wheeler Peak and touring Lehman Caves.
Water pumps scattered through campground
Several “Pit” restrooms
Camp Host (Site #1)
Dead or Down Firewood is okay to collect (no Chainsaws)
Evening Campfire Programs (amphitheater, summer)
No Running Water
No Water at all during cold months
Non-dog friendly…no dogs on any trails
If you’ve never done “First Come/First Served” camping, once in the campground there is a kiosk with cards and payment envelopes. Get one of the cards. Drive into the campground and look for an open spot. Ones that have already been reserved have a card hanging on the post. When you find an empty site, fill out the card and hang from the post. Leave something on the site (chairs, cooler or gear), go back to the station, put the required money in the envelope and drop into the payment box.
HELPFUL HINT: BRING CASH (include small bills so you can drop the correct amount…there isn’t a ranger always on site to make change). Campsites were $12 in 2016.
Resupply options in Great Basin NP are limited to gathering firewood and/or filling up water. Everything else, from gas to food, is located down in Baker. Keep in mind that Baker is sort of a one-horse town; variety may be limited and store hours short. The biggest town where you have good chance of finding anything is Ely Nevada 50 miles north.
If you need to buy some firewood, Ferg’s Firewood in Baker is open, self-serve 24 hours for $5 per large bundle. Do it before you enter the park; it’s an 18 mile drive back to Baker.
Cell phone service is uneven throughout the park; it cuts out at random intervals. Because cell phone communication/mapping isn’t a sure thing, follow the usual precautions of letting someone know where are and when you’ll be back. You might also want to leave a note in your tent just in case (so the rangers can find you if you’ve been missing for a couple of days).
The 10,000 foot altitude can play merry hell with you in the form of altitude sickness. If you get headachy, chronically short of breath or have other altitude related issues you may reconsider your sleeping arrangements.
Wheeler Peak creates its own weather…how cool is that? With the weather creation comes wind and lots of it. In addition to localized wind, you get rain when there isn’t rain anywhere else and snow when it seems most unlikely. Check the weather specific to Great Basin National Park (Baker is located a good 5,000 feet lower). Be sure to bring the whole battery of clothes and heating devices even in the summer—shorts and a tank top probably won’t cut it. Bottom line: you need to prepare for most weather related contingencies. A call to the ranger station may be helpful before going.
Hiking the Glacier
Great Basin animals tend to be the non-people eating type---no bear boxes provided. That being said, there are several species that can inflict severe bodily harm if annoyed to include coyotes, cougars, and badgers. The most common threat, however, is the multitude of small ravenous critters that’ll shred your $962 Shelby Glamping Tent to get to a $1.28 Pop-tart. Squirrels, chipmunks, and rat-like-creatures abound. Secure all your food in animal proof containers.
Camping at Wheeler Peak Campground costs $12 a night (2016 prices). Entry into Great Basin National Park is free (good deal ‘eh?)—you just have to drive there. Besides camping, the only other potential in-park cost is a visit to Lehman Caves, which is $8 for the hour tour and $10 for the 90-minute tour.
Eating at Wheeler Campground is a do-it-yourself proposition. There are no restaurants near the campground and the only place to eat actually in the park is at the Lehman Caves Cafe and Gift Shop, located at The Lehman Caves Visitor Center (closed in the winter). Otherwise you have to go to Baker for any commercially served meals.
Directions and Contact
(From NPS website)
From the east or west: From U.S. Highway 6 & 50, turn south on Nevada State Highway 487 and travel 5 miles to Baker, NV. In Baker turn west on Highway 488 and travel 5 miles to the park.
From the south (Utah): Travel north on Utah State Highway 21 through Milford, UT and Garrison, UT, which will become Nevada State Highway 487 as you cross the border. Turn west on Highway 488 in Baker and travel 5 miles to the park.
From the south (Nevada): Travel north on U.S. Highway 93 (Great Basin Highway). At the junction of U.S. Highway 6 & 50 drive east to Nevada State Highway 487 and turn south. Travel 5 miles to Baker, NV. In Baker turn west on Highway 488 and travel 5 miles to the park.
Great Basin National Park
100 Great Basin National Park
Baker, NV 89311
Call Park Headquarters: (775) 234-7331
Lehman Caves Tours Advance Ticket Sales: (775) 234-7517