Great Basin National Park can sorta be thought of in two pieces: the area surrounding Lehman Cave, and the area around Wheeler Peak.
To get to the Wheeler Peak portion you have to follow the whole scenic drive from the park entrance until it ends at the Bristlecone parking area. It takes awhile to get up there, but it is worth the effort because this is where all the best hikes in Great Basin are located.
Besides Wheeler Peak itself, here are my top picks for hikes in the Wheeler Peak and Bristlecone parking lot area:
Sky Islands Forest Trail, 0.4 miles round trip
“This gentle, wheelchair accessible, trail winds through a high alpine conifer forest. Interpretive signs explain how this forest exists, cut off from other forests by distance, elevation, and time. Begin at the Bristlecone Parking lot at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.” (NPS website)
No matter which national park I go to, I always do all of the short little nature trails. Because why not? They are short and easy, plus they always lead to interesting sights. Doing this trail will only add a few minutes to your day, which is totally worth it once you see all the beautiful trees and little alpine streams.
This is a great hike for those who are unable to do the full Alpine Lakes Trail.
Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, 2.7 miles round trip
“The trail passes two beautiful alpine lakes, Stella and Teresa Lakes, with great views of Wheeler Peak. Begin at the Bristlecone Parking Area, near the Wheeler Peak Campground.” (NPS website)
This is a very pretty hike. It crosses over beautiful alpine meadows, with the imposing Wheeler Peak looming in the background.
It is also relatively flat, making it a good hike to do to help you acclimate to the higher altitudes in the park. And it leads past two stunning lakes. Total win.
Stick your hand or feet in the water…it is impressively cold. I mean, it is basically just melted snow still surrounded by frozen snow, keeping it chilled.
Bristlecone and Glacier Trail, 4.6 miles round trip
“Interpretive signs in the bristlecone pine grove explain the lives and significance of these ancient trees. The Glacier Trail is the continuation of the Bristlecone Trail. It continues beyond the bristlecone pine grove to the only glacier in Nevada, nestled beneath Wheeler Peak.” (NPS website)
This hike was super cool and a lot of fun. The trail starts at the same trailhead as the other two hikes, and then splits off towards the glacier and bristlecone pine grove. It isn’t a difficult hike, and is absolutely a must-do when in Great Basin, especially for the bristlecone pines. They are the oldest living things on the planet, and don’t grow in many places.
To get to the bristlecone pines, follow the trail towards the glacier. After a while you will see the Bristlecone Pine Grove Interpretive Trail to your left. It is just a quick little loop, but will put you up close and personal with these ancient trees (and by ancient, we’re talking over 5000 years old). Pretty awesome.
The hike to the glacier was a bit more of challenge. After the bristlecone grove, much of the trail was covered in snow drifts (we were there in late June, for reference). However, you could see the trail pick back up after each snow drift, so we knew we wouldn’t get lost if we wandered across the snow. Plus other people had already crossed the snow before us, so we knew it was safe as long as we followed their footsteps. Literally, haha.
Seriously though, really do be careful when crossing snow drifts…you never know what is underneath them, or how deep the snow goes.
Was it worth it? Yes. Did it make for some really cool photos? Definitely yes.
All three of these hikes start from the same trailhead, and could easily be done in one day. Normally I try to give you my pick of the best hike in the park, but it is hard to choose between these. If time permits, seriously try to do all of three of these hikes. They will give you a really good sampling of all the coolest stuff to see in Great Basin. But if you can really only do one hike, pick the Bristlecone and Glacier Trail. That trail will take you to the only glacier in Nevada, nestled at the base of (arguably) the tallest mountain in Nevada, and past the oldest living things in the world. That’s a pretty epic round-up for just 4.6 miles!
And be sure to check out those scenic overlooks as you drive back to camp or wherever your next destination may be!