Weekend Adventure: Great Basin National Park

During our summer travels, we’ve spent a lot of time driving south on I-15. At some point, we noticed several signs for Great Basin National Park and we were like, “Where is that? Is there another national park in Utah that we missed?!”

Turns out it’s in Nevada, but it’s right on the Utah/Nevada border so it was still only a 3 hour drive for us. We decided to do some research and see what there was to do there in early August, and ended up booking a cave tour for the Lehman Caves for Saturday, August 17th. Kevin had been wanting to go to the Timp Caves all summer and we hadn’t been able to get reservations, so this seemed like a fun thing to do instead. Plus, another national park to check off our list!

We got to drive a different way, which was the highlight of my trip although it was an incredibly boring drive. There was a really cool lake bed that we passed on the way that I’d love to go back to. We weren’t entirely sure how you got out to the lake bed, but we could see tire tracks. I always tell Kevin to take detours like this but he’s usually focused on getting to our destination and tells me we’ll go on the way back (and then on the way back I just want to get home so we don’t stop).

At some point during the drive, a large bug (or possibly a bird, or a rock — we don’t really know) hit the sensor on the front of our truck that is apparently used for just about everything. All of a sudden, all these warnings were popping up that said things like “Cruise Control Malfunction” and “Sensor Malfunction”. One of the unfortunate things about having the fancy new technology is that these alerts wouldn’t just go away and we couldn’t use our cruise control because the sensor is used for the fancy “distance pacing”.

So we had to pull over and we cleaned off the sensor in the front and that fixed the issue, but for a minute Kevin was freaking out thinking the whole truck was going to blow up or eject us out of our seats or something. That was the excitement of the drive. On a scale of 1 to Kevin’s contact falling out of his eye for no reason, it was a 6.

By a stroke of luck, the park is actually located in the pacific time zone so we got to arrive an hour earlier than expected. We had plenty of time to drive into the park and set up our tent at one of the campgrounds, and then wander back into town to decide what to eat for dinner. There is literally the park, and the tiny town outside of it — nothing else.

And — as an added bonus — every gas station is also a mini-casino. We don’t have gambling in Utah and we always forget how weird that is.

There were no fast food options in the tiny town of Baker, Nevada so we decided to look on Google Maps to see which restaurants had high reviews. We decided on Kerouac’s — not yet knowing that we’d spend 3 days eating at this same restaurant.

It’s one of those restaurants that gets creative with their menu and you end up ordering something that you’d never normally order. It was a small restaurant and we sat in close quarters with other guests, which Kevin found to be strange and I’m very used to from working in the restaurant industry. The couple sitting next to us told us the fries were really good so we started off with an order of fries as an appetizer and then ordered some really strange pizza special that Kevin really didn’t want to order (because it had no meat on it) but I insisted and it was the best pizza I’ve ever had.

They also had some fun cocktails and a lot of great beer (we ate here 3 times — we got to try several food & drink options). If you happen to find yourself in the tiny town of Baker, Nevada, I highly recommend trying this restaurant. I think it’s open seasonally but I’m not positive. We ended up eating dinner here on Friday and Saturday, and returned for brunch on Sunday before heading home. It was way more than we normally spend on food for a weekend but so, so worth it.

We slept so great the first night here because the temperatures cooled down to a reasonable level. The hot weather has been our biggest struggle with camping in the summer. Our small tent holds a lot of heat and we’ve discovered that sleeping in it without the rain fly on is the way to go. Plus, you can see the stars that way.

Our cave tour was at 9am on Saturday, so we had a quick breakfast and drove straight there. Our guide told us before the tour started that Great Basin is one of the least visited national parks in the U.S. Ironically, there was a guy in our tour group who works at Zion and said he likes to come to these less crowded parks on his time off. It was such a stark difference from the more popular parks.

The cave was amazing. We did the grand tour that allows you to go in most of the caves — if not all of them — and Kevin loved every second of it, although we found out he had the crazy eyes in both of the photos we took. We took a lot more photos in the cave but many of them are blurry and the ones that aren’t just don’t do it justice.

It was a 90 minute tour so it took up most of our morning. After the cave tour, we decided to drive around the park’s scenic drive and see if there were any hikes we wanted to do. Oh, and of course we had to watch the park video at the visitor’s center (a must for Kevin). We decided to hike up to the Bristlecone Pines (aka gazillion year old trees). It wasn’t too long of a hike and we were able to make it a loop and see a couple of really beautiful lakes on the way back down. It was a bit rough hiking at 10,000 feet in elevation (particularly when one of us — me — may have been slightly hungover) but it was absolutely gorgeous and the weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold.

We ended up having some time to kill before our favorite restaurant opened for dinner so we drove down a dirt road that was on the park map and ended up seeing a whole herd of elk, which made the whole trip worth it for Kevin. There were a bunch of other hikes in the park that we’d love to do when we return, but a lot of them are long and more suited to backpacking — so that’s on the list for next year!

We returned Sunday morning to our favorite restaurant for a farewell brunch and then headed home — forgetting that we wanted to stop at the lake bed, of course.

I am really surprised that this is one of the least visited national parks. It’s absolutely beautiful and there’s so much to do. There are several short hikes, a beautiful scenic drive through the park, tons of long hikes that would be great for a full-day hike or a backpacking trip, and the weather is great even in the middle of August! I would highly recommend checking out this park. It doesn’t have the flashiness of the other parks and there’s not a town filled with huge hotels right outside of it, but that was part of the appeal for us. We’re excited to return — hopefully next year — for a weekend backpacking trip!

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

2 thoughts on “Weekend Adventure: Great Basin National Park

  1. I agree with you, we went to Multnomah Falls in Oregon on our 3 week road trip and was sad to see so many people there. It was really pretty but with all the tourists we couldn’t really enjoy to even take a picture… I know everyone wants to see it but don’t remember it being that busy when we lived in Washington and went with our kids…. Times change.
    Thank you for your blog on your trip, always enjoyable.

    Like

  2. This looks like a beautiful park to visit. I just love reading about your trips and had no idea we have so many parks to visit. you make it all look so fun. I love and miss you both

    Like

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