Some states have all the luck – they have several national parks and pristine night skies above. A few that come to mind are Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. But don’t overlook Nevada, the neighbor to the west! Nevada is home to just one national park, Great Basin, and it too is an epic stargazing location.
I had the chance to visit Great Basin National Park on a cross-country road trip earlier this year and made sure to get out and enjoy the night sky above the park. Though the weather wasn’t fully cooperative, I did see the stars and inky blackness of a place with limited development and light pollution; Great Basin is a great stargazing destination!
If you want to plan a Great Basin National Park stargazing trip, you’ve come to the right place. In this post you’ll learn where to go stargazing in Great Basin, where to rest after an epic night under the stars, and what to do during the days between stargazing sessions.
How to Get to Great Basin National Park
Learning how to get to Great Basin National Park is the first step when planning your Great Basin stargazing trip. First of all, you should know there’s no public transportation available to, or in, Great Basin National Park. So, you’ll have to drive there.
You can access the park from three different areas:
From the east or west: Take U.S. Highway 6 and 50, turn south on Nevada State Highway 487, and travel five miles to Baker, NV. In Baker, turn west on Highway 488 and travel five miles to reach the park.
From the south (Utah): Travel north on Utah State Highway 21 through Milford, UT, and Garrison, UT, which will become Nevada State Highway 487 as you cross the border. Turn west on Highway 488 in Baker and travel five miles to reach the park. Keep in mind; you will be crossing into the Pacific Time zone when you cross the Nevada border.
From the south (Nevada): Travel north on U.S. Highway 93 (Great Basin Highway). At the junction of U.S. Highway 6 & 50, drive east to Nevada State Highway 487 and turn south. Travel five miles to Baker, NV. In Baker, turn west on Highway 488 and travel five miles to reach the park.
Where to Go Stargazing in Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park boasts some of the best dark skies in the Lower 48. So dark are the skies that the International Dark-Sky Association designated the park as an International Dark Sky Place. You’ll find gorgeous stargazing spots pretty much everywhere, but these three are the best you can visit on your Great Basin National Park stargazing trip.
Mather Overlook on Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
Most parks have Mather Overlook in honor of Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. Located on Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Mather Overlook will provide you with beautiful views of the night sky. Besides gorgeous night views, reaching Mather Overlook is a great way to take in the park’s landscape. The views along the drive are spectacular, with distant images of Wheeler Peak, Snake Range, and the small Wheeler Peak Glacier. Once you reach Mather Overlook, you’ll have plenty of room to park and set your telescope to begin that fantastic stargazing session.
Baker Archaeological Site
The Baker Archaeological Site, near the town of Baker, is another good option to go stargazing in Great Basin. This archaeological site contains the remains of a Fremont Indian village, a pre-Columbian archaeological culture that lived here from approximately 1220 to 1295 CE. During the night, Baker Archaeological Site is a very remote, silent spot with an open horizon. Some people argue it’s a little scary at night, but if you enjoy complete solitude while stargazing, then go and set up your telescope at Baker Archaeological Site.
Ranch Interpretive Site
Ranch Interpretive Site is another good place to go stargazing in Great Basin. Most people recommend stargazing at the Ranch Interpretive Site if you want to surf the Great Basin skies during the winter.
The Ranch Interpretive Site is located outside the park, about halfway between the town of Baker and the Lehman Caves visitor center on Highway 48. On the south side of the road, you will see a Pavilion with interpretive signs. It offers an epic view as it is out in the valley, and there are no mountains to the west, which gives you a wide-open view of the skies.
Where to Stay Near Great Basin National Park
There are plenty of accommodation options, especially for campers, in or near Great Basin National Park. Below, you’ll find all the information about the hotels you can find near this national park as well as the different campsites.
Hotels near Great Basin
You won’t find lodging facilities in the park. However, there are plenty of options in or near the town of Baker. Hidden Canyon Retreat is one of the best hotels to book a room. Located twenty minutes outside of Baker, Hidden Canyon Retreat is only a 5 min drive away from Great Basin National Park. This retreat is a good option if you’re traveling with kids as it has a big courtyard and plenty of games your kids can enjoy.
The Stargazer Inn is another good lodging option. While the rooms are tiny, the hotel offers all the amenities you need to make the most of your stargazing trip. This nice boutique hotel is also 5 miles from the entrance to Great Basin National Park.
Campgrounds in Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park has five campgrounds available for visitors (some close seasonally due to weather.) All campgrounds feature vault toilets, picnic tables, tent pads, and campfire grills and cost $20 per night.
- Lower Lehman Creek Campground – this is the only developed campground open all year (elevation: 7,300 feet, 11 campsites)
- Upper Lehman Creek Campground – open mid-April through October (elevation: 7,752 feet, 22 campsites)
- Baker Creek Campground – open May to October (elevation: 7,530 feet, 38 campsites)
- Wheeler Peak Campground – open June to October (elevation: 9,886 feet, 37 campsites)
- Grey Cliffs Campground – open Memorial Day to Labor Day (elevation: 7,530 feet, 16 sites)
Great Basin also has four group campsites to welcome large groups. Most group campsites are at the Grey Cliffs Campground, on Baker Creek Road, at 7,115 feet. Each campsite offers privacy and ensures that groups do not disturb campers in the regular campgrounds.
More adventurous visitors can stay at Great Basin National Park’s primitive campsites. There is one free option offering picnic tables, fire rings, and generators., but it doesn’t have water. Snake Creek Campground is open year-round has 12 sites and is free, but may close due to snow in the weather months.
Backcountry Camping in/near Great Basin
Most of the backcountry/wilderness area of the park is open to backcountry camping. However, you can’t go backcountry camping within the Wheeler Peak or Lexington Arch day-use areas, in Bristlecone Pine groves, on the Osceola Ditch trail, or within a quarter-mile of any developed site. Please, make sure you check and comply with all backcountry regulations in Great Basin National Park.
What to See & Do During the Day at Great Basin
Besides stargazing, Great Basin National Park offers thousands of adventures for those who visit. If you’re planning to stay a day or two, check out all the activities you can include in your itinerary.
- Hiking: there are dozens of trails in the park that take you through gorgeous alpine lakes, bristlecone pines, and mountain peaks. Beware that since the park is beyond the 13k elevation mark, the hiking season within the park is only from June through September.
- Lehman Caves Tour: most people visit the park to explore the Lehman Caves. You can visit the caves year-round and take one of the Ranger-led tours.
- Scenic Drive: you can pair the Wheeler Peak Scenic drive with your Great Basin stargazing session on the same day. Close to the sunset, drive along the 12 miles and take in the gorgeous scenery as you go up the mountain. You’ll be at Mather overlook right before the night starts.
- Walk among Ancient Bristlecone Pines: Bristlecone pines are among the number one attractions in Great Basin National Park. With fascinating twisted features and dense wood, you’ll feel like you’re entering a different world.
- See Nevada’s Only Glacier: Yes, Nevada has one glacier – and it’s located in Great Basin National Park. You’ll need to drive to Wheeler Peak and hike a bit, but it’s a cool experience that you can’t have anywhere else in the state!
- Fishing: Great Basin National Park allows fishing as long as it doesn’t impact the park resources. Lehman Creek and Baker Creek are popular fishing destinations. Make sure you purchase a Nevada Fishing License before you go fishing.
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Great Basin National Park
Have other questions about stargazing in Great Basin? Check out this FAQ to find the answer.
When is the best time to go stargazing at Great Basin?
The best time to go stargazing in Great Basin is during moonless nights. When the Moon is at its brightest, its light washes out the light from most stars leaving only the brightest visible. Also, check the weather forecast to avoid going on stormy or cloudy nights.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing at Great Basin? When?
Yes, you can see the Milky Way in your Great Basin stargazing session! The best time to see The Milky Way is during the summer nights when it’s a bit denser and, therefore, easier to see.
Can you see the northern lights from Great Basin?
Unfortunately, no, you can’t see the Northern Lights from Great Basin. However, there are plenty of national parks in the northern part of the continental U.S where you can spot the Northern Lights.
Is Great Basin National Park open at night?
Yes, Great Basin National Park is open 24 hours a day for play! So, you arrive at any time without previous reservations. However, the Great Basin Visitor Center observes seasonal hours just like the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.
Are there guided night tours in Great Basin?
Yes! There are lots of guided night tours in Great Basin. The park rangers at Great Basin offer the Star Train and Astronomy programs for stargazers who want to explore the distant sky. The Great Basin Star Train is a lovely train journey with several stops along the Nevada Northern Railway. At each stop, park rangers set up high-powered telescopes for stargazers to see planets and deep space objects while sharing details about the cosmos.
Is there a dark sky festival in Great Basin?
Yes! Every September, Great Basin celebrates the Astronomy Festival, where Astro-experts give talks, astrophotography workshops, and of course, unbeatable stargazing sessions through dozens of real-deal telescopes. If you can’t make it to the festival, you can join one of Great Basin’s ranger-led stargazing programs throughout the year.
Have any questions about planning your own Great Basin stargazing trip? Let me know in the comments!