Road Trip Up A Mountain For Stunning Views Of This Southwest National Park

Road trips are the quintessential American adventure, and there's no better way to experience the heartland than by driving through Great Basin National Park. Located in east-central Nevada, this national park offers breathtaking views of the rugged South Snake mountain range. Taking a drive on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is one of the best ways to explore it. The altitude change on the drive is no joke, so be sure to prepare for this high-altitude drive with hydration during your trip, especially if you plan to stop and hike!

This 12-mile paved road takes you on a winding journey up to Wheeler Peak, reaching elevations of up to 10,000 feet. The elevation gain of 4,000 feet is intense, but the views are worth it. The drive begins at an elevation of approximately 7,000 feet above sea level and ascends at an impressive rate, culminating at the face of Wheeler Peak.

The upper 9 miles of the scenic drive are accessible as long as the weather permits but typically open between June and October. Check the official Great Basin National Park website or the visitor center for up-to-date information on road conditions and accessibility. Just through the entrance of the park, you can continue straight to the Lehman Caves visitor center or turn right onto the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. The two are only a few minutes apart, so stopping at the visitor center first is a great way to learn more about the park and its history.

Surrounding views from the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive

Once you turn onto Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, an 8% grade will take you through the park's diverse ecological zones. Because of the drive's grade and altitude change, you will notice flora and fauna shifts as you ascend. Keep an eye out for some unique plant life as you pass through the various zones of lowland sagebrush, aspen groves, and pine stands.

Near the beginning of the drive, the thriving lowland sagebrush provides a flat landscape with sprawling views of the Snake Range and neighboring basins. Look for wildlife like mule deer and the occasional coyote that thrive in the area. As the drive continues up to 8,500 and 9,000 feet, you'll pass through a more wooded scene filled with Curleaf Mountain Mahogany, conifers, Douglas fir, and other high-elevation plant life.

As you reach higher elevations, you'll see Wheeler Peak, Nevada's second-highest peak (just 84 feet short of being the tallest), and Doso Doyabi (formerly Jeff Davis Peak), the state's third-highest peak. Both mountains stand proudly in the Great Basin National Park skyline, offering hikers and climbers stunning views and challenging terrain to conquer. At this elevation, keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, one of the many unique animals that call Great Basin National Park home.

Adventure along the scenic drive

The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive isn't just the best way to see all that Great Basin National Park offers. There's also plenty of adventure along the drive, with multiple pullouts and overlooks for endless photo opportunities. One iconic viewpoint is Mather Overlook, which offers views of Wheeler Peak and the surrounding mountain range at a 9,000-foot elevation.

Driving along the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive doesn't have to be just a leisurely activity, either. The drive offers countless opportunities to get out and explore hiking trails, campgrounds, and overlooks along the way. The Upper Lehman Creek Campground and Wheeler Peak Campground are conveniently located at mile three and the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, making it easy to set up a base camp to explore the area.

Embark on a short hike along the Mountain View Nature Trail, just off the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive near the visitor center. It is an easy 0.3-mile loop trail, ideal for families hiking with kids, providing a closer look at the juniper and pinyon trees in this section of the drive. For the more adventurous traveler, the Bristlecone Grove Trail is a moderately difficult hike covering approximately 2.8 miles round trip, with a 500-foot elevation change. For expert hikers, the Wheeler Peak Trail is near the drive's end. The 8.6-mile trail, with over 3,100-foot elevation change, might be just the challenge you need to cap off this scenic drive.