I’ve found this park to be a perfect detour along my Nevada crossings. Although I’ve visited several times there are still many trails I haven’t hiked. This was my first visit to this south entrance.
Snake Creek Canyon
Johnson Lake, Dead Lake and Overlook Trails
Look at that signage and beautiful trail leading into aspen groves just a bit past peak color.
I love this time of year with chilly mornings leading to perfect hiking temperatures. My phone and inReach devices were confused about the time given I was near the Utah border and mountain time so it kept switching by an hour, thereby confusing me too. I wondered why it was getting light so late. But alas I live by nature’s light so by 8am I was on trail.
I was impressed with trail conditions and signage.
The reds were serviceberry, the yellows aspen. Although on the drive to the trailhead there were plenty of cottonwood trees also displaying their fall yellows.
I was shocked and delighted to find a few late blooming lupine.
I’ve learned you need to shoot into the sun to capture this brilliance.
My plan was to return on the Dead Lake Trail after an out-and-back detour to Johnson Lake. At this junction I’d hiked 2.7 miles with 1,500′ elevation gain.
This next section of trail includes a lot of history. “Carefully tucked into the scenic western slopes of east central Nevada’s Snake Range and almost 11,000 feet above sea level, Johnson Lake Mine today lies in ruins. The remains of a few log cabins, mining equipment, and artifacts (trash) from miners and their families are left to tell the story of this mining district. The mine probably played a role in the wartime efforts of the United States during the early 20th century. The deteriorating structures and the vestiges of an aerial tramway are part of what makes Johnson Lake Mine a valuable cultural resource. Today a historic landscape in Great Basin National Park, Johnson Lake Mine’s story actually begins in the early part of the 1900s, when the mineral tungsten was first discovered in the southern Snake Range. At Johnson Lake Mine tungsten was extracted and milled onsite and then transported a great distance to be refined and then used to make alloy steel. Alloy steel was used to create things like weapons, tanks, and transmitter radios during World War I. Following the war, mining activity was sporadic until the 1930s when a snowslide rushed over the mine and halted production. After that, the mine was closed and abandoned. Now in disrepair, with much of the mining equipment salvaged for use at other mines or collected by mining buffs, the site still possesses archeological resources. Archeologists are following clues, dusting off the remains of the past, and discovering the day-to-day practices of the mine and the people who inhabited the region.” Source Link
I like it when interpretative signage is included. My head is always buzzing with questions and often these signs answer them.
Not a bad place to live, at least at this time of year. Winters are harsh.
This is the pass between Johnson and Baker Lakes. If you look closely mid photo you can see the trail. I was glad it wasn’t my destination as that section of trail appears to be quite rocky. Notice it’s called a “route” vs trail which means it could be Type II fun.
First view of Johnson Lake.
I hiked up above the lake a bit for better views and found remains of the aerial tram and miscellaneous mining relics.
Looking down at Johnson Lake and distant peaks. I met three NPS biologists who were collecting bugs, from the yellow raft, to determine if cutthroat trout could be reintroduced.
I took the Dead Lake Trail to complete the loop, and indeed it was dead, or at least empty. I was glad of my choice to take this trail at the end as it didn’t provide the WOW views of the Johnson Lake trail and it was more shaded which provided some respite from the warm sun, which would be intense on warmer days.
Near the trailhead is the junction to the short Snake Overlook Trail. I took this detour. By the way these walk-in campsites were only about 1/4-1/2 mile from the trailhead and can be secured on a first-come basis. They are impressive with picnic tables, campfires rings and a nearby creek.
Sadly the view is very limited as the trees are now quite tall. I accepted this color as a compromise. The surface of this trail lends itself to wheelchair access.
This was a 9.4 mile, 2,700′ elevation gain/loss lollipop loop hike.
I caught this soothing sunset from the trailhead.
Shoshone and Snake Divide Trails
The next morning I was off to find some Bristlecone Pines.
This trail begins from the Snake Creek Trailhead, same as the Johnson and Dead Lakes Trails.
I found more colorful aspen as I began the climb up the Shoshone Trail.
I reached the junction after 1.5 miles and nearly 700′ of elevation gain. The Shoshone drops down at this point. No thanks!
The Snake Divide Trail needs some serious maintenance. The long traverse section is slip sliding off the traverse with several steep transitions; those with exposure anxiety wouldn’t like it. The final section through a rocky area on the opposite side of the divide had some navigational challenges with little evidence of a trail; occasional cairns and colorful flagging helped. Eventually I found views!
There were many distant peaks inviting exploration. The colors reminded me of my backyard including the Trinity Alps and Klamath mountains.
I continued onward through the bristlecone forest which I learned later contains both Limber and Bristlecone Pines, which are similar yet different. “Bristlecone pines and limber pines are often confused with one another. They grow side by side, along the same elevation, often sharing the same groves. The best way to distinguish the Great Basin Bristlecone pine from the Limber pine is to look at the needles, which on the bristlecones are about one-inch-long and grow in packets of five. The Limber pine trees, on the other hand, have needles in packets of five that are 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, which only grow toward the ends of branches.” Source Link
These trees are such survivors. Crazy amazing!
Nope not dead. Look at all that new growth on the left side of the trunk.
How old is old? Some are said to be 7,000 years old. “Great Basin Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are remarkable for being the oldest non-clonal species on the planet. This strange tree, shaped by the wind, snow, and rain has survived over thousands of years, overseeing the rise and fall of great empires, growing through ice-ages and catastrophic volcanic eruptions. But their ability to survive these harsh environments and adverse growing conditions is exactly their secret to great longevity.” Source Link
I asked a ranger about this tag and he said it was from an old research study and didn’t have access to details.
I needed to hike to at least to the top of that hill in order to see Mount Washington but I just couldn’t find the energy, so I turned around at the base.
So close to the junction . . . but 5 miles seemed a good place to turn around.
I found a few high alpine blooms surviving.
On the way down I had time to enjoy this view.
This autumnal carpet is a reminder that this season will soon come to a close.
This distant view of Wheeler Peak kept me hopeful that I’d have the opportunity to hike it during this trip.
This was a 10-mile 2,600′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike.
Wheeler Peak (13,063′)
My timing has never been right for hiking this high altitude exposed trail. Last time it was too windy so I hiked the Lakes and Rock Glacier Trails (blog link). The mountain was covered in snow on my first visit when I snowshoed from Upper Lehman to Wheeler Campground (blog link). Initially I thought this was going to be another strikeout when I found a sign at the visitor’s center implying the entire area was closed for the next three days. Luckily I stopped at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center and the trails were open.
This is a good visual showing the way to the peak. The trail works it’s way up to the sand-looking ridge, along the ridge and up to the flat-looking peak.
The rockiness of the trail increases with elevation gain.
I was prepared to turnaround if the trail degraded to bouldering or hiking through scree fields.
The trail remained easy to follow and in good condition with stable rocks. You gain about 1,000′ in the last mile.
I’m always happy to find the Benchmark Survey markers.
Success! Hey I’m a peak bagger, at least on this date.
Looking down at the false summits and Mount Moriah (12,072) in the distance.
A good perspective of the ridges used to access the peak.
One of the reasons I wanted to hike this trail was to look down at the rock glacier where I hiked on a previous trip. You can also see several high alpine lakes from this vantage point. The air quality in the valley was subpar which seems to be from dust, and sadly has become normal.
At the summit the views weren’t as WOW as some places as I’ve been, but I enjoyed looking around and was super happy for the light breeze instead of the normal gusty winds.
Look at that forest hidden in this valley.
So many bands and colors. This is what I could see when I hiked into the rock glacier and looked up at Wheeler Peak.
I found some more high alpine beauties.
And a tiny patch of snow.
I was thrilled to mark this summit as a success!
This was an 8.7 mile 2,800′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike.
Dog and hunter-free trails is a luxury I enjoy, especially after both being bitten and shot. Thank you NPS!