Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park offers extensive areas for backpacking trips. Though there are a number of established routes, much of the park is trailless. During the next few years many of the narrow, overgrown trails will be improved. Even so, much of the park, especially the fragile alpine areas, will remain wild country without trails. Backpackers should be prepared to hike cross-country on faint, hard-to-follow routes; or to follow drainages, ridges and other natural features. Skills in map reading are essential to any off-trail travel in the park.
Though permits are currently not required for backcountry camping, we encourage you to come to the visitor center before departing to fill out a voluntary backcountry registration form and to obtain the latest information on backcountry conditions.
Elevations in the park range from 6,200 to 13,063 feet. Due to the extreme elevation range, backpackers should be prepared for highly variable weather conditions. At the elevation of the visitor center (6,825 feet), the weather can be quite warm and pleasant by April. The higher elevation areas, by contrast, are usually snow-bound until late June, including some of the most scenic and inspiring areas for backpacking. At elevations of 10,000 feet and above snow and/or electrical storms can be life-threatening, and can occur any month of the year. Be prepared for possible extreme conditions. When hiking at the highest elevations in the park carry clothing and gear for a wide range of temperatures and conditions.
Much of the park's scenic backcountry is at elevations of 9,000 feet and above. As a result the hiking season here is typically limited to the months of June through September. Deep snow closes the roads and limits access to those equipped with skis or snowshoes for the remainder of the year. The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, one of the roads that provides access to the high country, is often not completely open until mid-June, though it may be open by Memorial Day Weekend. The upper elevation sections of the several dirt roads that lead into the remote southern section of the park are impassable until late spring. Four-wheel drive is required on some of these roads, especially when wet. Inquire at the visitor center for more information on the dirt roads that provide access to the backcountry.
Water supplies in the backcountry are highly variable from year to year and season to season. No water source in the backcountry should be used without boiling or filtering. Ask at the visitor center about water sources and availability when you arrive. Generally, late spring is the time of most abundant water. By late summer, streams and springs can be dry, or nearly so. It is advisable to carry ample water on any backcountry trip.
Great Basin National Park is covered by six topographic sheets in the United States Geologic Survey 7 1/2 minute series. Maps are sold at the visitor center information desk or they can be ordered by mail from the Great Basin Natural History Association, Baker, NV 89311. Write the Association for a price list and order form.
Alm sheets cover much of the high-elevation, scenic backcountry. The Windy Peak sheet covers a number of the most popular trails, however, these trails are also the most heavily used by day hikers. The Lehman Caves sheet covers mostly low-elevation areas outside the park. The most remote, least-used backcountry areas are covered by the Minerva Canyon and Arch Canyon sheets.
A Hiking Map and Guide, based on the USGS topographic maps, is also available. This single sheet map covers all six topographic maps at a scale of 1:48,000. Published by Earthwalk Press, this map is available in both plain or waterproof paper editions.
Guidelines for Backcountry Use
- Trails - If trails are provided, stay on them. Taking shortcuts creates a complex web of trails and causes erosion. When hiking in trailless areas try to disperse use by not following other's footsteps.
- Fires - Fires should not be built in the high country above 10,000 feet elevation. At lower elevations collect only dead wood already on the ground. Do not collect bristlecone pine wood, even when dead or down. The wood records in its growth rings a history of climatic change valuable to scientists. It is illegal to leave any fire untended. The park strongly recommends using stoves for cooking in the backcountry.
- Camping - Select your campsite with care; leave as little trace behind as possible. Avoid camping in the treeless alpine zone. Plant cover in this zone is sparse and easily damaged. Do not camp in bristlecone pine groves. Ditching or leveling of the ground is not allowed. Do not camp within 100 feet of a stream, lake, or spring. Pack out all trash and bury human waste well away from any water source.
- Firearms - Firearms are not allowed in the backcountry, or elsewhere in the park.
- Fishing - Fishing is allowed with a Nevada state fishing license. Use of live bait is prohibited. Fish entrails should be buried.
- Horses - Llamas, horses, and mules are allowed in the backcountry as pack animals. Scatter manure piles at trailheads and at backcountry campsites. Do not tie animals to vegetation. Use a picket or nightline.
- Pets - Pets are not allowed in the backcountry.
- Bicycles - Bicycles are prohibited on trails and in the backcountry. Bicycles are restricted to park roads and parking areas.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication