Alpine Lakes Loop Trail is one of the best all-around hikes in Great Basin National Park, especially if you’re hiking with people of varying ages and abilities. The loop trail features fantastic views of Wheeler Peak, 13,063 feet in elevation and the second-highest in Nevada. The hike also passes two pretty mountain lakes.
Though it’s in a remote part of Nevada, Great Basin offers wonderful summer weather and enough attractions to extend the visit another few days if you have time. If you go soon, you can enjoy some wildflowers and see a variety of butterflies; there is always a good chance of seeing other wildlife as well.
From the Bristlecone Parking Area just before the Wheeler Peak Campground and at an elevation of 9,988 feet, you will find the trailhead. Follow the obvious trail for about 0.2 mile and go right onto the signed Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. Here you walk through a forest of Englemann spruce, aspen and limber pine, flanked by open meadows. Keep an eye out for marmots, mule deer and beaver, and in early August on this trail you might also be treated to an abundance of those butterflies.
The 2.7-mile loop has an elevation gain of only 600 feet, so it won’t be very strenuous in distance and elevation. Yet because of the high altitude, you might find it more tiring than equivalent trails at lower elevations. Altitude sickness is always a concern in the higher reaches of the park, so be on the alert.
You will travel by two sub-alpine lakes, Stella and Teresa. Both are primarily filled with snowmelt, so by September they can be low, depending on summer rainfall and other weather. Each lake occupies a glacial cirque — a type of basin named for its shape —with steep banks.
A big bonus in any trip to Great Basin National Park is the opportunity to visit Lehman Caves, which, despite the name, is actually one large cavern with impressive stalactites and other underground wonders. The ranger-led tours fill up fast, so be sure to make reservations before leaving home. The park also offers astronomy programs through Labor Day on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights. In September and October, the schedule shifts to Saturday nights only. For more information on these programs and camping in the park, contact the park at 775-234-7331 or www.nps.gov/grba.
Deborah Wall’s book “Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 hikes in the Southwest” ($24.95, Imbrifex) is available for preorder on Amazon and will be released Aug. 8. She can be reached at email@example.com.
From Las Vegas take Interstate 15 north for about 21 miles, exiting to U.S. 93 north, the Great Basin Highway. Follow for about 234 miles and turn right onto U.S. 50. Drive about 30 miles and go right onto Nevada Highway 487. Go about 5 miles into Baker and take a right onto State Route 488, the 5-mile access road into Great Basin National Park. Go right onto the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive; at the end of this road are Wheeler Peak Campground and trailhead.
If you are free Wednesday, Aug. 9, please stop by the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, for the launch of my new book, “Base Camp Las Vegas, 101 hikes in the Southwest.” This casual occasion starts at 5 p.m., but come when you can. I love to talk personally with fellow outdoor people and hear your stories. I will have the new book on hand for purchase, and if you want, I will sign one for you. If possible shoot me an email that you will be coming so we are sure we have enough food for everyone, and so I can make it a point to meet you personally: Deborabus@aol.com.