Hike the Bristlecone and Glacier Trail At Great Basin National Park

by Adam on July 30, 2010

A Look Up At the Glacier At Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

A Look Up At the Glacier At Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

At Great Basin National Park you will find the only glacier in Nevada.  You can hike to it and enjoy the sights of a Bristlecone Pine Grove along the way all in one hike!  There aren’t to many Bristlecone Pine groves around because the Bristlecone generally seems to reside in harsh mountain conditions around 10,000 feet often at or above the tree line.  Another one you can visit is in Big Pine California called the Schulman Grove.

Trees Along the Trail To The Glacier in Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

Trees Along the Trail To The Glacier in Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

The trail at Great Basin National Park that goes up through the Bristlecone Pine Grove and on up to Rock Glacier is a moderately challenging hike.  It covers 4.6 mile and an 1,100 foot elevation gain.  It’s not that long or steep of a hike but considering it starts at 9,800 feet and goes up 1,100 feet the air is thin and you need to be in reasonably good shape to cover it.

A Nice Evening View Along Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive - July 30, 2010

A Nice Evening View Along Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive - July 30, 2010

To get to the trail head you must drive up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive which is itself a treat and can offer many stunning views along the way if you keep your eyes open.  There are a few places to pull of the road and take in the sights.  The best and most scenic one is the Mather Overlook.  During Monsoon season and possibly after any rainstorm stunning rainbows are often seen in the sky along this scenic drive up to the trail head.

Another Scenic View Along the Wheeler Scenic Drive Road - July 30, 2010

Another Scenic View Along the Wheeler Scenic Drive Road - July 30, 2010

Once you get to the trail head by the Wheeler Peak Campground there is a rest room as well as a place to fill up your water bottles for the hike p to Rock Glacier.  You may or may not need to carry much water depending on the weather but it is always a good idea to carry some since there are not other water facilities along the way up to the Wheeler Bristlecone Pine Grove and the Rock Glacier point.

The Bridge At the Beginning of the Bristlecone and Glacier Trail At Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

The Bridge At the Beginning of the Bristlecone and Glacier Trail At Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

The trail starts out scenic with a little wooden bridge that crosses a small stream running down the mountain.  After you enter the trail, it starts out as a mix of dirt, rocks and stone steps often found along National Park hiking trails and remains relatively smooth and easy hiking up to the Wheeler Bristlecone Pine Grove about half way to Rock Glacier Point.

A Twisted Mass of Bristelcone Pine Wood Along In the Wheeler Grove - July 30, 2010

A Twisted Mass of Bristelcone Pine Wood Along In the Wheeler Grove - July 30, 2010

Once you get to the Bristlecone Pine Grove there is a self guided tour along a loop around the trail to provide information about the trees, the area and how they survive in such a harsh climate.  It is a short trail that reconnects with the trail up to Rock Glacier Point and is definitely worth taking while you are en route to Rock Glacier.

A Rocky Trail With Snow In Spots Up To the Glacier - July 30, 2010

A Rocky Trail With Snow In Spots Up To the Glacier - July 30, 2010

Once you get past the Wheeler Bristlecone Pine Grove the trail is mostly rock.  The National Park service does a tremendous job of maintaining the trails so they are easy to see and follow during the day (and not to bad to hike during the evening if you have a flash light).  To minimize the strain and make for a safe trail there are lots of switchbacks that extend the length of the trail.

A View of the Mountains Along the Trail to the Great Basin Glacier - July 30, 2010

A View of the Mountains Along the Trail to the Great Basin Glacier - July 30, 2010

For most of the second part of the trail you are walking just on rocks that have been fitted together but still tend to be a little loose so sturdy shoes or hiking boots are definitely a good choice for this hike!  Once you get past the Bristelcone area you start to be able to see the tops of the mountains unobstructed by trees and other plant life (because you are above the tree line) so be sure to have your camera ready especially if you are hiking near sunset when the sun lights up the peaks.

Adam Jewell At Rock Glacier In Great Basin National Park In Baker, Nevada - July 30, 2010

Adam Jewell At Rock Glacier In Great Basin National Park In Baker, Nevada - July 30, 2010

After the trail winds around through what seem to be endless switchbacks you’ll finally come to a sign that says you have arrived at Rock Glacier.  At this point in the journey you can start to breath a little easier (well maybe a few minutes after you stop hiking anyway), pat yourself on the back and take some great pictures!  The views up and down the mountain are all stunning!

A Look Back Down the Valley From Rock Glacier At Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

A Look Back Down the Valley From Rock Glacier At Great Basin National Park - July 30, 2010

When you actually get to the glacier it doesn’t really look that impressive.  It’s just a snow patch on the mountain that you would see at just about any ski resort that just closed for the spring or summer.  There is a bigger patch of snow on the Climax Bowl at Mammoth this time of year than this glacier took up!  In any case you can now say you’ve hiked to the only glacier in Nevada.  Go you!

Darkness Sets In Quickly Walking Back Past the Bristelcones - July 30, 2010

Darkness Sets In Quickly Walking Back Past the Bristelcones - July 30, 2010

The hike back down feels good after all that high altitude rocky hiking to get to the Rock Glacier sign to see the glacier.  You can safely jog some of it to get back down faster if you are short on daylight or take a nice leisurely stroll if you’ve got plenty of time.  If it is near sunset and you are not familiar with the area or Great Basin National Park in general, jog or walk quickly to try to cover as much of the trail as possible because it gets dark fast and unless you have a very powerful flashlight it may be hard to find your way back down to the campground where you started.

Carry A Flashlight!  Great Basin National Park Gets REALLY Dark At Night - July 30, 2010

Carry A Flashlight! Great Basin National Park Gets REALLY Dark At Night - July 30, 2010

One thing to note is that the trail that goes to the top of Mt. Wheeler does not go along this route so if you want to hike to the top of Mt. Wheeler you’ll need to set aside 2 days of hiking or one really long one to see the Wheeler Bristlecone Pine Grove, Rock Glacier Point and make it to the top of Mt. Wheeler!

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