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Great Basin National Park is definitely a bucket list destination. It has everything from the second tallest peak in Nevada (13,065 feet tall!), to incredible caves, to some of the oldest living things on Earth. We’ve loved exploring the park with our 5 kids, and want to share some tips, tricks, and things to do in Great Basin National Park with kids!
Whether you’re camping hiking, picnicking, staying in a hotel, driving to viewpoints, or even just learning about the history of the park from home, I hope this Great Basin National Park family guide is helpful and informative. You’ll find info on Great Basin activities, lodging, and food, as well as indigenous history of the lands, book recommendations, and more – perfect whether you’ve never visited or whether you’ve been 100 times.
I hope you enjoy this Great Basin travel guide!
Learn About Great Basin National Park
Before we visit a national park, our family loves learning about it! It helps us enjoy it more and appreciate the people who have stewarded it well before us. We love learning about the indigenous history, as well as about wildlife and ecosystems.
Here are a few ways to learn about the park either before a visit or as part of a Great Basin virtual tour!
Great Basin National Park History & Natural Features
Lehman Caves National Monument was created by President Harding in 1922.
The Great Basin area is a desert and gets less than 10 inches of rain per year.
In spite of this, Great Basin National Park gets much more. GBNP gets so much snow that much of it is closed between late Oct/early Nov and whenever summer really kicks in (June/July). It can actually snow any day of the year!
Bristlecone pine trees, the world’s longest-living tree and one of the oldest organisms on Earth, make their home in Great Basin. They can live for 5,000 years!
Quaking aspen, Utah juniper, and pinyon pine trees are also common.
Great Basin NP is a “sky island,” or an isolated mountain range that rises high above the desert beneath. Because it is separated and because of the widely varying climates, there are a number of endemic species that live there, including a millipede, a springsnail, and a rabbit.
Indigenous peoples have lived in the Great Basin for over 12,000 years.
Small family groups hunted and gathered to store enough food for winter.
Some primary groups who have inhabited the Great Basin are Western Shoshone (a subgroup of the Shoshone), the Goshute, the Ute, the Paiute (often divided into Northern, Southern, and Owens Valley), and the Washoe.
Prior to that, the Fremont Indians lived in this area in pit houses and other structures. Evidence includes rock art, including at Upper Pictograph Cave.
Great Basin National Park Discussion Questions
What is the highest place you’ve ever visited? What do you think it would feel like to stand on top of a mountain?
Think about your ideal habitat. For instance, would you prefer to live in an alpine tundra, or down in a meadow?
Which animal in Great Basin National Park would you like to learn more about?
Great Basin National Park Weather: What to Pack For a Great Basin Family Vacation
Great Basin National Park weather varies quite a bit by season. While the middle of summer can get quite hot, the winter is snowy and cold at higher elevations. Also, even within the same day, the temperature can vary by as much as 40 degrees. The different elevations can also vary greatly – Lehman Caves may be warm while Wheeler Peak Road may even see snow in July! It can be tricky to decide what to bring to Great Basin National Park.
Because of this, it’s important to pack a variety of clothing, and to be prepared with layers for a Great Basin National Park family vacation. Here are some of my favorite essentials to pack when traveling to Great Basin National Park with kids!
Great Basin NP can get quite warm and dry. It rises out of a high desert, after all! Especially when gaining elevation, it’s important to stay hydrated. These little backpacks are perfect so kids can sip away without needing to stop and take bottles in and out of backpacks. Also available HERE.
Definitely pack a jacket. We love these lightweight down jackets for adults and kids because they stay warm but are packable and thin. They’re a bit water resistant, but you’ll want something sturdier for heavy rains. For cooler weather, I LOVE this lightweight insulated jacket (here’s the men’s version) that is super warm, only weighs half a pound, and is weather resistant.
Sneakers will work fine for the shorter hikes. I recommend hiking boots if you’re doing longer treks (our favorites for men, women, boys, girls, and toddlers).
There is no public transportation to or inside Great Basin National Park, so you must drive in your own vehicle. If you choose to travel by RV, beware of vehicle length limits on Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and in campgrounds.
Here are some distances to get to Great Basin National Park from nearby cities and airports:
St. George: 3 hours
Salt Lake City: 4 hours
Las Vegas: 4.5 hours
Reno: 6 hours
Where to Stay in Great Basin National Park with Kids: Great Basin Camping for Families
Great Basin National Park Camping
There are 5 Great Basin campgrounds, though only 1 is open year-round. Great Basin National Park camping makes it easy to sightsee either in your rig or with a smaller vehicle. RV camping is allowed in several of the campgrounds. All sites are $20/night, or $10 for senior/access pass holders.
Lower Lehman Creek Campground. Includes some sites that fit up to a 40 ft. RV. One ADA accessible site. Just a few minutes from Lehman Caves Visitor Center. Pretty bird-watching area. No cell phone reception. Dump station is not within the campground.
Upper Lehman Creek Campground. 23 sites with one reserved for specifically for an RV. 3 miles up Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and surrounded by stunning Great Basin trees. No cell reception, dump is not within the campground.
Wheeler Peak Campground. 37 sites; typically open from June-October. (Closed for the 2021 season.) Near trailhead for Bristlecone Pines and Alpine Lakes. Max RV length 24 feet.
Baker Creek Campground. 37 sites available on a first come, first served basis. The campground is open seasonally. RVs up to 50 feet allowed on the lower loop.
CHOCKS. Chocks are super useful if the ground isn’t perfectly level. Makes it much easier to sleep when the vehicle is flat! They’re inexpensive and easy to use.
HANGING SHOE RACK. An inexpensive shoe rack is my favorite RV hack – helps keep all the shoes organized and helps keep dirt out of the vehicle.
CAR BATTERY JUMP STARTER. This car jump starter is invaluable if the battery dies. It’s so nice to not worry about finding someone else to ask and lining up the vehicles. Super powerful. We have one we leave in the RV and one we leave in our minivan at home.
TIRE INFLATOR & AIR COMPRESSOR. We once needed a roadside tire change on the RV, but the tech who did it didn’t have anything to inflate our spare tire for us! We were SO glad to have this on hand and now always leave one in both the RV and the car.
LIGHTWEIGHT VACUUM. I thought my husband was being fussy the first time he suggested bringing a vacuum in the RV. Turns out, we use it ALL the time to get out dirt and debris. This one is lightweight and easy to charge in the RV, but also super powerful. We love it at home, too, and it’s less expensive than the newer models.
Be sure to check seasonal hours ahead of time! Ely is about an hour away and has quite a few more options, including grocery stores for snacks and picnic items. I recommend packing in some picnic food!
As I mentioned before, the weather in GBNP can vary quite a bit by season, so you’ll want to make sure you pack appropriately whenever you go. Each season has its own magic, but quite a few activities become inaccessible during the winter months. Here are some tips on the best time to visit Great Basin National Park.
Great Basin has relatively few visitors compared to other national parks, but it does still get more crowded during the summer months. This means it can be harder to get tickets for a cave tour. It can also get quite hot. Winter is beautiful and the caves are open (and usually uncrowded), but it’s usually very cold and snowy, and Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is typically closed from November to June.
I highly recommend visiting in the early fall months – late August through early-to-mid October. The weather is usually beautiful, and there are fewer crowds. Snow won’t be blocking Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, so you’ll be able to see some spectacular views and bristlecone pine trees at the top. Keep an eye on the weather once you hit October, as an early snowstorm isn’t out of the question!
What To See in Great Basin National Park: Top Great Basin Checklist: Great Basin National Park Itinerary
If you have limited time and are wondering about the top things to see in Great Basin National Park, here are some of our favorites. These would all be wonderful as part of a Great Basin National Park itinerary. And all of these things are truly incredible so I’d try to plan sufficient time to do all of them if you can!
Go on a hike (I recommend the Bristlecone and Alpine Lakes Loop)
Attend a ranger program, especially a dark sky one
Go stargazing – these are some of the darkest skies in the contiguous United States!
Have a picnic
Best Hikes in Great Basin National Park
There are so many Great Basin National Park hiking trails! While you don’t have to hike in Great Basin National Park, it’s definitely one of my favorite suggestions when planning what to do in GBNP since it can be great for families of all ages and abilities.
When going on hikes in Great Basin National Park, please be aware that the altitude can make a big difference in how strenuous a trail feels. Be sure to drink lots of water and above all, take it easy with some shorter hikes to test out how you’re feeling before jumping into something really strenuous.
Easy Great Basin National Park Hikes: Great Basin National Park Hiking with Kids
ALPINE LAKES LOOP TRAIL – 2.7 miles RT, 472 ft elevation gain. One of the most popular in the park, and for good reason! It goes by two stunning lakes and is just pretty stunning the whole way with views of Wheeler Peak. The trailhead is at the end of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
BRISTLECONE TRAIL – 2.8 miles RT, 500 ft elevation gain. A gorgeous trail that leads to a grove of ancient bristlecone pine trees. A truly unique and special experience. It’s truly a magical place when hiking Great Basin National Park.
MOUNTAIN VIEW NATURE TRAIL – 0.4 miles RT, 42 ft elevation gain. This short little trail starts just behind the Lehman Caves Visitor Center and is a lovely and quick way to get a feel for the flora and fauna of the park. It’s a perfect one to do if you have a bit of time before taking a cave tour!
SKY ISLAND FOREST TRAIL – 0.3 miles, 19 ft elevation gain. A wheelchair-accessible loop trail that begins at the end of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and meanders through a high alpine conifer forest.
Moderate Great Basin National Park Hikes: Best Hikes in Great Basin National Park
BRISTLECONE & ALPINE LAKES LOOP – 5.3 miles RT, 1020 ft elevation gain. This trail combines the Alpine Lakes Trail with the Bristlecone Trail to create a truly stunning loop. If you have time and ability and are only doing one hike in the park, this is the one I would recommend. It’s absolutely one of my favorite Great Basin National Park hikes.
GLACIER TRAIL – 4.8 miles RT, 1040 ft elevation gain. After reaching the bristlecone pine grove on the Bristlecone Trail, you can choose to continue walking to the only glacier in Nevada. A beautiful and unique hike.
BAKER CREEK TRAIL – 3.3 miles RT, 850 ft elevation gain. If you’re staying at Baker Creek Campground, this is a nice, moderate trail that goes along forests, meadows, and along Baker Creek.
Hiking in Great Basin National Park with Older Kids: Best Great Basin National Park Hikes
While most of the hikes above are accessible to kids and families of all ages, here are some other hikes that may be suitable for older kids or ambitious families. These are definitely hikes that require some experience and stamina, and are great for older, more experienced children (generally middle school+).
LEHMAN CREEK TRAIL – 6.4 miles RT, 2050 ft elevation gain. You can access this trail from either end, and it takes you through a variety of habitats and ecosystems during the climb up or down.
WHEELER PEAK TRAIL – 8.6 miles RT, 3100 ft elevation gain. This strenuous hike is one you should only attempt if you both have some experience and also are prepared to start very early in the morning due to the risk of afternoon thunderstorms. You’ll be summiting the second-highest peak in Nevada, so definitely come prepared. It requires some scrambling at the end and also has some intense elevation gain at altitude, so don’t underestimate the difficulty.
Best Things to Do in Great Basin National Park with Kids
If you’re still not convinced and are wondering, “Is Great Basin National Park kid friendly,” here are a bunch of activities that are perfect for a Great Basin family vacation:
1. Great Basin Scenic Drives
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is breathtaking! It’s a 12-mile paved road that is fairly steep and winding. (However, please note trailers and RVs over 24 feet long are not allowed past Upper Lehman Creek Campground at mile marker 3.) The upper sections are typically open from June-October, and are closed for the rest of the year due to snow. Then visit the Mather Overlook and Wheeler Peak Overlook as they both are beautiful viewpoints.
2. Great Basin National Park Cave Tours
Lehman Caves are a wonder and one of the best things to do in Great Basin. You may only enter the caves on a ranger-led tour, which you can book right here. The tours do often sell out so be sure to reserve it in advance if possible. It’s so fun to learn about the history and formation of the caves, including some indigenous history. We loved it! They do also have baby carriers for loan in the Lehman Caves Visitor Center in case you forgot your own.
We took the Parachute Shield Tour and it was perfect with kids. We got to see several of the major formations and rooms and it was the perfect length (1 hour). You can find more info about the different tours and requirements to take them on the NPS website.
3. Great Basin Junior Ranger + Junior Ranger Night Explorer
The Great Basin Junior Ranger program is really well done with TWO interesting and in-depth booklets. One focuses on the history and geology of the area, and one is a night explorer booklet focusing on astronomy. There are also ranger programs available. But, don’t forget to turn in your booklet at any visitors center to earn your badge!
4. Stargazing at Great Basin Nevada
Great Basin National Park is one of the best places in the contiguous United States to go stargazing! The park boasts some of the darkest night skies in the country. The Baker Archaeological Site is a great place, as is the Mather Lookout. But most areas have great viewing – just try to get far from any light sources and try to go on a clear, moonless night for best viewing conditions.
The Great Basin Star Train provides an incredible and unique opportunity to view the stars. Dark Rangers from Great Basin National Park even come on board with you!
If you’d like to really dig deep into stargazing, the annual Great Basin Astronomy Festival in September is a perfect time for it. The festival will include guest speakers, ranger activities, discussions, telescope viewing, and more. Such an amazing event for the whole family.
Here’s more info on stargazing at Great Basin as well as info on night sky ranger programs.
5. Wildlife Viewing at Great Basin
Wildlife viewing is such a fun Great Basin National Park activity. Some of the best animals to see are rattlesnakes, Great Blue Herons, Rosy Finches, or even mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats. Don’t forget to pick up a bird list at the visitors center. However, PLEASE be careful to stay far from wildlife, do not leave any food or trash, and do not interact with them in any way.
6. Snow Play + Winter Sports
On the other hand, if you’re looking for things to do in Great Basin National Park in December or planning for Great Basin National Park in winter, snow play can be really fun for little ones and grown ups alike! While the lower elevation points don’t get tons and tons, it’s certainly enough for some snow play. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are fun options.
Just be aware of Great Basin National Park winter road closures – for instance, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive closes for the season usually by November and doesn’t reopen until about June
If you’re up for something a bit more, there’s fantastic snowshoeing and skiing all around. Perfect for adventurous souls!
There’s something so incredible about the peaks and trees at Great Basin. A photography tour is the perfect way to learn more about scale and composition when capturing them. Astrophotography is especially fun – the park astronomy programs may be a fun time to practice.
Fishing is actually allowed within Great Basin National Park! You can head here to find out all the information about permits and licenses. (Be aware that you cannot get them in the park.) Baker Creek and Lehman Creek are popular areas to fish.
9. Picnicking in Great Basin National Park
Perhaps you just want to chill and take in the surrounding beauty – Great Basin National Park is great for that, too! If you prefer to just relax and enjoy nature, I recommend packing a picnic and heading to the Wheeler Peak Campground area or up the Alpine Lakes Trail. You’ll be surrounded by spectacular views and plenty of open space. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Great Basin National Park with toddlers!
10. Work on Survival & Safety Skills
Being out in nature is a perfect opportunity to work on some survival and safety skills. Think: first aid, pocket knife skills, knot tying, review water safety, food storage (using bear boxes and bear safe trash cans!), and hiking safety (always stay with a buddy and leave no trace).
Here’s a fantastic video for a Great Basin National Park virtual tour! It’s the same video that’s shown in the visitors center, so it’s a great way to learn about Great Basin before visiting.
Here’s a shorter video if you don’t have quite as much time!
Enjoy Your Visit to Great Basin National Park with Kids!
We’ve loved putting together this Great Basin National Park travel guide to take an in person or virtual visit to Great Basin with kids. We’d love to hear if you do any of these activities on a family trip to Great Basin!
We hope to inspire curiosity and connection through exploring and learning, and we hope this guide helps you and your families. Please share any activities you do with us over on our Instagram. And we’d be delighted if you passed this guide to GBNP with kids along to others, as well!
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