With a 4,000 foot elevation gain over just 12 miles, the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive at Great Basin National Park will have you wonder if you’ve been suddenly transported from Nevada to Colorado. The stark contrast between the desert at the beginning of the road and the sub-alpine forest at the end is simply amazing.
The road starts near the Lehman Caves Visitor Center at an elevation of about 7,000 feet in an area full of sagebrush. At 8,000 feet, you enter a pinyon-juniper forest. Douglas firs and pine trees start to appear at 9,000 feet. Finally, after 10,000 feet, aspen trees dominate the landscape.
There are a few places to stop along the route. The first one on the way up is the Osceola Ditch Trail at 8,400 feet. In 1889, miners dug an 18 mile ditch to provide water to a gold mine not too far away from what is now the park. Water rights were sold to the mine by Absalom Lehman, the man who discovered the Lehman Caves. A short 0.3 mile round trip trail takes you to the remnants of the Osceola Ditch. The trail extends 5.2 miles all the way down to Strawberry Creek Road.
At a hairpin turn a few minutes past the Osceola Ditch turnout, I stopped to take a picture of the desert, which seemed to extend endlessly into the horizon.
Next is the Mather Overlook, named for Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. From this spot at just over 9,000 feet, you’ll get breathtaking views of Wheeler Peak and the forest below it. Looking to the east gives you another view of the never-ending desert.
Wheeler Peak Overlook
The final stop at nearly 10,000 feet is the Wheeler Peak Overlook, which gives another perspective of the mountain. Wheeler Peak is the second tallest mountain in Nevada at 13,065 feet.
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which has an 8% average grade, is open from about May through November, depending on the weather. Vehicles or trailers longer than 24′ are prohibited from using the road.