Parks & Wilderness Areas
The Great Basin National Heritage Area has numerous parks and wilderness areas, headlined by the Great Basin National Park. Hike to see the ancient bristlecone pine trees. Explore Lehman Caves. Time your visit to catch the spring wildflowers and the fall colors. If you’re looking for an adventure off the beaten path, this is the place for you.
*This area is a very remote region with limited services and spotty cell service. Please be knowledgeable and prepared prior to embarking on your adventure.
Established in 1986, Great Basin National Park is a small representative piece of the much larger Great Basin. Here you will find ancient bristlecone pine forests, highly decorated limestone caves, alpine hiking trails, and some of the darkest night skies on Earth. The park is open year–round; however, accessibility is limited in the winter. Backpacking, primitive campsites and developed campgrounds are available and will satisfy all types of campers. Lehman Cave tours are available year–round, call ahead to check the schedule.
Far removed from the fast pace of everyday life, Blue Mass Scenic area is a great place to spend the afternoon or enjoy some primitive camping. Located in the Kern Mountain range, the valley is crisscrossed by streams, filled with lush vegetation and is home to several historic cabins. Wild horses frequent the area, and during the spring the flowers are a sight to see! No services and rough roads mean you must come prepared to this area.
Cave Lake State Park is a great place to spend some time outdoors all year long. The park is home to a 32-acre reservoir where you can swim, boat and fish. Camping and hiking trails are available year-round (weather dependent) and winter activities include ice fishing, cross country skiing and ice skating. Whether you are interested in an extended camping trip, or just a day picnic, Cave Lake State Park is a wonderful stop to add to your trip.
South of Delta, UT on Highway 257, you will find the Clear Lake Waterfowl Management Area. Also called the Clear Lake Bird Refuge, this collection of small lakes and ponds is heavily used by all kinds of migratory birds, including Canada geese and Harrier hawks. This wetland area is a vitally important stop for migrating birds, and it serves other major purposes, such as trapping sediments and pollutants and absorbing water to aid in flood and erosion control. The February gathering of snow geese here is a popular wildlife attraction.
Fishlake National Forest is named after Fish Lake, the largest mountain lake in the state of Utah. This beautiful lake offers trophy fishing opportunities, as well as small craft boating, swimming, and wildlife viewing. In addition to the lake, the forest is home to alpine forest, aspen stands and mountain meadows. Elk, moose, deer, mountain goats, black bear and mountain lions can all be found here. Recreation opportunities include camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain biking and ATV riding. Reservations are available at many of the campgrounds.
At 6.3 million acres, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is the largest national forest in the lower 48 states. The forest was named by explorer, John C. Fremont, after German naturalist Baron Alexander von Humboldt, and the ancient Shoshone word “Toiyabe,” which means “mountain.” Managed by 10 ranger districts, the forest covers most of Nevada and part of California. The Ely District Office controls the 1.1 million acres shared by White Pine, Lincoln, and Nye counties in Nevada. With recreational activities like camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and auto touring available all year, a stop at one of the many sites within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is a wonderful way to experience the Great Basin.
As you drive through Utah and Nevada, you may see beehive shaped structures dotting the landscape. These charcoal ovens were used during the early mining days to turn wood into charcoal that was then used to process ore. The ovens at Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park were only used to make charcoal for a short time in the late 1800s. Throughout the 1900s they were used as shelters and possibly as a hideout for bandits. Today these ovens are remarkably well preserved; they are safe enough to walk right inside! In addition to preserving this piece of regional history, the park offers many recreational opportunities. Summer activities include hiking, mountain biking and fishing, while in the winter, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are popular. The park has access to ATV trails and a campground that is open year–round.
Located within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the Mt. Moriah Wilderness is a special piece of federal land. Wilderness areas are designated by Congress and are defined as “…an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Wilderness areas have the highest–level conservation status, and special rules apply. For example, no motorized vehicles or engines of any kind are allowed within the Mt. Moriah Wilderness. The Mt. Moriah area is mountainous, and many shallow caves with evidence of prehistoric human habitation can be found here. The Table, a large plateau to the north and west of Mt. Moriah, is covered with ancient Bristlecone pines and is a nice place to camp. No services are available in this area; be prepared with food, water, and other supplies.
The Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is an important ecological area for birds and other wildlife. Called one of the 500 globally important bird areas by the American Bird Conservancy, the Ruby Lake NWR serves migrating birds from the west coast all the way in to central parts of the country. In addition to being an important migration stop, the refuge is home to many other types of native wildlife, like northern leopard frogs, the relict dace fish, pronghorn antelope and Rocky Mountain elk, among others. Visitors to the Ruby Lake NWR can enjoy hunting and fishing (within regulations), photography, wildlife viewing and even an auto tour, complete with interpretive and informational signs.
Sacramento Pass Recreation Area offers access to many of the outdoor opportunities the Bureau of Land Management provides. The camping area is just off Highway 50 about 30 miles west of Great Basin National Park. This free campground was recently remodeled, with new sites, picnic tables, vault toilets and a fishing deck over a pond. There are trails for hiking, bicycling, ATV use, and horseback riding. Beautiful vistas accompanied by great wildlife viewing are also available.
The Success Loop Scenic Drive is a 38–mile road that takes you past Cave Lake State Park, over Success Summit, and ends just north of McGill on Highway 93. The road is paved on both ends at the lower elevations, but as it starts to climb the mountain, it turns to gravel. Near the summit are fantastic views of the Steptoe Valley and the Schell Creek Range. The upper portion of the road is usually closed in the winter due to snow. The lower, paved portions of the road are open year–round.
39 miles east of Ely, NV, is a natural preserve called the Swamp Cedar Natural Area. Locally referred to as “Swamp Cedars,” these trees are possibly a variety of Rocky Mountain Juniper. Junipers are typically found in the mountains, but these Swamp Cedars are found on the valley floor. Due to their isolation from any other kind of juniper, these trees could become a new species. Found only in Spring Valley, these trees are currently protected, and tourism to this natural area is discouraged.
The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is one of the highlights of a trip to Great Basin National Park. 12 miles long, it hugs the side of Wheeler Peak as it ascends roughly 3,000 ft. As you go up the mountain, you will notice the pinyon-juniper forest give way to larger conifers and aspens. These different life zones are the reason that Great Basin National Park has such a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. Scenic views of both the mountain peaks above and the valley below are breathtaking. At the top you will find the Wheeler Peak campground and picnic area, as well as several trailheads. Spend a few hours or a few days. Vehicles must be 24ft. or shorter in length to make this drive, road is subject to closure due to snow.