Bristlecone – Glacier Hike

Baker, NV

For our second day in Great Basin NP we decided to hike the Bristlecone and Glacier Trail.  The Bristlecone Trail led us to a loop where interpretive signs in a bristlecone pine grove explain the lives and significance of these ancient trees.   The Glacier Trail is the continuation of the Bristlecone Trail.  It continues beyond the bristlecone pine grove to the only glacier in Nevada, nestled beneath Wheeler Peak.

As we drove into the park we were again impressed by all the color around us.  We drove up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Road for about twelve miles to a viewing area to get a photo of some of that color.   But when the photographer in the group took the first picture, she discovered that the SD card was missing from the camera.  It was apparent that someone (we’ll refrain from using his name) had left it in the computer.   Sooooo, back down the mountain we went to retrieve the missing card.

Once we had returned to the park we hiked up the trail for about a mile and half where the trees began to become very interesting.

Bristlecone pines are the the longest-living tree on earth, surviving for thousands of year. Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below the treeline.  Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds.  Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years don’t even add a ring of growth.  This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion.

Many of the bristlecones along the trail have interpretive signs at their base.  The pine pictured above has the sign pictured below at its base.

The sign below refers to the picture above.

As we walked through these amazing trees we wondered how scientists determined the age of the trees.  A sign along the path answered that for us.

Can’t read that small print?  Don’t reach for those little magnifying glasses you bought for a dollar.  It’s enlarged below.

A bristlecone pine is differentiated from other pines by its long needles that are about one inch long, and grow in packets of five. The needles completely surround the branches and look like bottle cleaner brushes.

After going through the bristlecones, we continued up the trail heading for the glacier, located a little over a mile up the trail.

Most of the trail was over that pesky loose rock called scree.  But the trail was shorter and the elevation change much less than the difficult hike we did yesterday up the Wheeler Peak Summit trail.

The trail ends at the Wheeler  Rock Glacier, the only glacier in Nevada.  The Wheeler Peak Glacier sits at the base of Wheeler Peak, in a protected cirque ( a half-open steep-sided hollow at the head of a valley or on a mountainside, formed by glacial erosion.) around 11,500 feet in elevation. The glacier measures 300 feet long and 400 feet wide.  Its exact depth is unknown.  As glaciers go, this one was not very impressive to us.  That’s probably due to our recent visit to the Icefields Parkway near Banff, where large glaciers are numerous.  But hey, a glacier in Nevada!  Who knew ?

The rock walls behind the glacier contained a number of frozen water falls.  We wondered when the ice ever thawed enough for water to flow.  Maybe in July?

The view looking back down the valley on our return was pretty impressive.

As we hiked back through the bristlecones, we were again intrigued by many of these beautiful trees.

At least two of our readers expressed an interest in visiting Great Basin NP and asked about camping facilities.  So we drove through one of the four campgrounds in the park, Wheeler Campground, and took the photo below of a typical site.  There are no hook-ups in any of the four campgrounds but the roads and sites are paved and each campground has water and pit toilets.

We have one more day visiting the park.  The nimble hiker has been doing some intense research on our next hiking adventure so stop back to see what she has planned.

PS.  A couple of readers have commented on the great color in many of our photos and asked about our camera.  We’ve used a number of small point and shoot cameras and are currently using a Sony DSC-WX350.  It has a 20x zoom, many different settings, and is light and easy to carry.  We really like this little camera and highly recommend it.

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39 Responses to Bristlecone – Glacier Hike

  1. Suzanne says:

    Oh, how I love the reverence for those trees! That looked like a very nice hike, indeed! Same for the campground. Poor glacier, but hey, like you say, it’s Nevada!

    I have pulled that memory card stunt more times than I would like to admit, the worst of which was after having paid for the “photographers tour” in Upper Antelope Canyon! The up side is, I begged a spare card off a fellow tour mate, and we became lasting friends…

    • placestheygo says:

      Suzanne, the campground was gorgeous. The sites were level and every site had a concrete area connected for the picnic table. The sites were all nicely spaced and private. Several hikes level from that campground we showed in the blog.

      Antelope Canyon is definitely not a place to forget the memory card! Good there was some along that a spare.

  2. paul weaver says:

    Love the photo of the sexy tree spirit!!!

  3. Deb says:

    The trees look so surreal.

    • placestheygo says:

      Deb, they really were. It was so hard to stand there and look at them realizing all they had been through and witnessed over thousands of years. Since the bristlecone pines continue to send out new branches when one dies, the trees are in the strangest tangled shapes.

  4. pmbweaver says:

    Ditto Paul’s comment about the tree spirit….hehehe

    How interesting about the Bristlecone pines. I have never heard of them. What beautiful formations they make.

    The frozen waterfalls are gorgeous. What a treat to see that.

    • placestheygo says:

      If you ever get to an area with bristlecone pines, make sure you stop. They are truly an amazing sight.

      The frozen waterfall was a surprise, especially at this time of year. The ice was really thick.

  5. Erin says:

    Wonderful ancient trees … they seem to have such character … or maybe that should be they harbor a character ;-)) I had no idea there was a glacier in NV. Dirty glaciers often get overlooked. The first one we saw was next to Margerie Glacier in Alaska and we never even noticed it … we were so dazzled by the pristine terminus of Margerie, that we took the dirt covering the other one to be just a pile of debris. But these dirty glaciers often have an interesting story to tell. Still, once you’ve seen some sizable glaciers, it’s so easy to become blase about the smaller ones.

    • placestheygo says:

      Erin, I like the idea of the trees harboring a character:) They are an amazing sight and to see so many in one area was a real treat.

      We, too, were surprised to see the glacier. It stretched quite a way up the mountain.

  6. heyduke50 says:

    so where you two heading next?

  7. That looks like a wonderful hike! It is amazing that there is even a glacier existing in NV! Though I can understand why you would be underwhelmed after your escapades this summer!

    Love the shot of Pam in the tree!

  8. Ingrid says:

    Love the signage in regards to the bristlecone. What a lovely NP. We left Lake Mead yesterday after 4 days of 100 degree heat. Hope it cools off a tad for your arrival 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      That is my concern, Ingrid, with going to this area now. We don’t have any reservations in Lake Mead yet. We may have to change directions if it stays so hot:) Love the house on wheels!

  9. Linda Wolfe says:


  10. Sherry says:

    This looks like a great hike. Love the bristlecones. They are just amazing. They are one of the big reasons I want to come to Great Basin and to the forest in Bishop, CA. Love the information signs. Thanks for including them. Your pictures are wonderful. And thanks so much for the info on the campground. Looks like we and Winnona could make it there. I just hate the newer cameras that have no internal memory. Whew on the loaner in Antelope, another place we MUST go.

    • placestheygo says:

      Sherry, you would fit in the lower three campgrounds. But the campground photo from this post is the 10,000 ft campground. No units over 24 ft are permitted. The road is steep and has tight turns. The sites also say that, they are very short. Hopefully, we will have a photo from the lower campgrounds today.

  11. Laurel says:

    We loved the Bristlecone hike (your photos are wonderful!) but weren’t able to go all the way to the glacier in June because the trail turned to deep snow. Hope you were able to do the Alpine Lakes loop as well (I’m betting you did). We’ve twice stayed in the Upper Lehman campground, which is beautiful, but very difficult to get level, and the sites are small, probably maximum 24′ (our trailer is 21′). The Lower Lehman campground has some pull-throughs that will accommodate bigger rigs, but we couldn’t get level in a site there. (We have a couple of photos of our trailer in our site if that helps.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Laurel! Sherry and Suzanne were wondering about the campgrounds. We drove both Lehman Campgrounds. Boy, they really aren’t meant for big units. But it looks like a nice place for smaller units. Wheeler Campground looks brand new. That place is beautiful! But it was probably snowed in when you were there:)

      We didn’t do the Alpine Lake Loop. We saw Agnes Lake from our Wheeler Peak summit hike. After the Bristlecone/Glacier hike we did run up to see Mary Lake.

  12. We just love the quality of your pics. Very nice. BTW, we just added your blog to our VERY prestigious Blogroll of “Blogs We Follow”. 🙂

  13. Pam says:

    I always have a backup sd card in my pack but u just reminded me and I think I loaned it to my mom so I better replace it!

  14. Laurel says:

    p.s. I also meant to say that I love the photo of you in the bristlecone pine, Pam. 🙂

  15. Pam: Maybe I’m misreading the rig sizes allowed in the Wheeler Peak Campground. I thought it read anything longer than 24 feet not allowed. Do you know if that is true? And if a bigger motorhome WOULD be allowed, could it even make the steep climb? Or is the “lower” campground the only option for a 32 ft. motorhome?

    • Duh! Called the park. It IS 24 ft. max length trailer with tow vehicle or 24 ft. max if motorhome. Darn. Nevertheless, Upper and Lower Lehman campgrounds have no such limit, as long as they are open.

      • placestheygo says:

        You wouldn’t want to try to get up to the Wheeler Campground anyway even if you were allowed! There is an 8% grade and many turns. Also, the spots are very short in that campground. As a matter of fact, the two Lehman Campgrounds also have very short spots. We rode rode through both today. The sites are very unlevel and small. However, we did a nice 40 ft MH in one the other day so there must be a very few spots for big rigs.

  16. LuAnn says:

    We hiked a trail in an Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the Sierras a couple of years ago with Nina and Paul. It was fascinating. I had no idea these trees could be found in NV also. This hike, although through scree, doesn’t sound near as bad as the last one you two did. That is one lovely creature cocooned in that pine tree. 🙂

  17. Jodee Gravel says:

    Not sure how I almost missed this post. And I would have been so disappointed as Bristlecone Pines are my favorites (don’t tell the redwoods). The signage is fantastic – thank you so much for including them 🙂 Sometimes I think we don’t give Nevada enough credit – it must take a lot of work to have a glacier in that part of the country – of course I had no idea it was there!

  18. gayle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. Because of you I am seeing places I have not had the chance to see. The beauty and majesty of what you have seen and have captured in your photos is incredible. From a strictly selfish perspective, I hope you will be able and willing to continue to travel for many years and share what you see. I am an armchair traveler and thanks to you I am enjoying every moment of it!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Gayle:) We are glad to have you join us as we travel around the country. We don’t plan to stop any time soon:) We still have lots to see.

  19. When I saw the title I thought you were already in CA. After reading, I realized this NP was on the eastern side of the Sierras where the Ancient Bristlecones are thriving also. They are fascinating and would even urge you to visit White Mountain in CA off of Highway 395 when you get into the area. The hike of course is easier than the ones you are doing but the scenery is better because it is on the CA side 🙂
    I did not know there is a glacier in Nevada of all places! How cool.
    And yes, this will be on our list!

  20. Debra says:

    Loved the trees and scenery. Thank you, as always, for sharing. Another location for my ‘to visit’ list.

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