Baker, Nevada is a funky little town on the Nevada-Utah border, making it the last (or first) stop on a Loneliest Road in America (US-50) or Great Basin Highway (US-93) road trip. However, its claim to fame is being the gateway to spectacular Great Basin National Park. Basecamp at the aptly named Stargazer Inn, enjoy some killer local grub, and explore one of the least trafficked—and, therefore, least crowded—national parks in the country.
Small Town Charm and Wilderness Wonders
Baker, Nevada — Population: ~36. The community may be small, but its backyard is as big as it gets: Great Basin National Park. And there’s no better place to basecamp when exploring it all. By day tour Lehman Caves, walk among the world’s oldest trees, hike to 360° views atop towering peaks, fish pristine backcountry lakes, and more. Then retire back to Baker to enjoy belly-filling meals, comfortable accommodations, and some of the best stargazing in the entire country. No matter what you choose, Baker is sure to be one of the biggest highlights of a road trip on either the Loneliest Road in America (between there and Carson City) or the Great Basin Highway (between there and Las Vegas).
History of Baker, Nevada
This region is rife with cultural history. Multiple sites throughout the area have been identified as camps of Paleo-Indians who hunted mammoth, camel, bison, and more as long as 14,000 years ago. Over the millennia, many other Indigenous peoples would leave behind calling cards, like milling stones and signs of agricultural activity. Eventually, the region became the seasonal turf of Numic-speaking peoples—ancestors of the Paiute and Western Shoshone American Indian peoples, who continue to call it home. Today, visitors can get a glimpse of the Baker Village that was occupied by the Fremont Culture back in 1220-1295 A.D. by visiting the Baker Archaeological Site.
It was the Lehman family who is believed to have been the first folks to explore what are now the Lehman Caves system—and which was designated in 1922 as the first of Nevada’s national monuments. Fast-forward to 1986 and we get Great Basin National Park. Although this abridged history hardly does this fascinating region a shred of justice, our partners at the Great Basin National Heritage Area—one of only 55 in the nation—offer a map and self-guided tour to help you dive far deeper into all the tales this incredible slice of Nevada (and western Utah) has to tell.
Notable Euro-American visits to the area began with Spanish explorers in 1776, followed by Jedediah Smith in the 1820s, John C. Fremont in the 1840s (who journaled that this vast region was “truly a great basin”), Mormon explorers and settlers, and even John Muir, who climbed Mt. Wheeler in 1878. The settlement of Baker, Nevada was founded in 1875 when the Lehman family picked this location to start a ranch. By the 1890s other ranchers set up shop, along with a handful of miners, and a community was born, ultimately taking its name from prominent settler George W. Baker.
Things to Do in Baker, NV
Quite simply, this edge of the state is one of our absolute favorites, and one that promises unparalleled memories for visitors of every adventure level, from minivans full of kiddos to hardcore backcountry explorers—and Baker, Nevada is the epicenter of it all. But let’s start with Great Basin National Park, which offers a collection of experiences found nowhere else in the country.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Just a few minutes from Baker’s main drag you’ll find a robust National Park Service visitor center and Lehman Caves—home to 300+ rare and unique shield formations, as well as creatures found nowhere else on earth, that you can learn about on a lantern-lit, ranger-guided tour. (Reservations strongly recommended.)
Twelve-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive whisks you 4,000 feet up form horizon-chasing, wide-open sagebrush steppe lands to a 10,000-foot alpine paradise, replete with breathtaking vista points; short, easy trails to 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine groves (the world’s oldest trees), quiet alpine lakes, and views of both Nevada’s last active glacier and 13,065’ Wheeler Peak (Nevada’s second-tallest)—as well as a challenging trail to the tippy-top of it, which rewards intrepid hikers with hundreds of miles of vistas in every direction.
Stargazers the world over flock to this world-renowned destination for astronomers, astro-photographers, and amateur oglers of the heavens. Designated an International Dark Sky Park by DarkSky in 2016, the park now offers an Astronomy Amphitheater where visitors can listen to a park ranger (AKA “dark ranger”) talk while gazing at constellations, planets, and other heavenly bodies through high-powered scopes—all for free.
And then there’s funky little Baker itself, which you can meander around to take in the artsy community’s vibe. Folk art pops up all over the place, thanks to seeds planted by the delightfully eccentric “Doc” Sherman in 1997, who put up fencepost sculptures and whimsical installations—dubbing the area the “Permanent Wave”—and which have been carried on by locals and visitors ever since.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Baker, Nevada Hotels & Camping
If you’re looking to bed down indoors, Baker’s got you covered. The Stargazer Inn lives up to its name with cute sitting areas outside of retro-chic rooms in the heart of town, on the same property as the Bristlecone General Store. Hidden Canyon Retreat offers a get-away-from-it-all vibe on a 375-acre ranch with stunning views—including from the pool and hot tub. The End of the Trail…er Bunkhouse is perfect for families and groups, with two bungalows boasting terraces and kitchenettes. For campers, RV-ers, or those who want to get out of their temporary rigs, Whispering Elms Motel & RV Park does the trick.
If you’d rather sleep with a ceiling of stars over your head, camping in Great Basin National Park is pretty hard to beat. Wheeler Peak Campground, at the top of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, puts you just below 10,000 feet and right at the trailheads to some of the park’s most famous attractions. Upper Lehman Creek and Lower Lehman Creek Campgrounds put your RV or tent within earshot of babbling streams and wind rustling through aspen and white fir trees. Meanwhile, more rustic tent spaces (and fewer campmates) can be found at Baker Creek Campground—or in the backcountry.
Baker, Nevada Restaurants
Like everything else around here, Baker, Nevada restaurants follow the seasons, so always check the hours before you show up hungry. That said, all four options (not bad for a 36-person town) are great. Slide into Sugar, Salt & Malt for everything from breakfast to pasta, sushi, and homemade ice cream cookie sandwiches. 487 Grill lines your belly with juicy burgers, hot sandwiches, wraps, and dogs. Sandra’s Mexican Food delivers hefty portions of exactly what it sounds like. Inside the park, Great Basin Café offers breakfast burritos to-go (clutch for pre-park planning), an inventive menu, and delicious sweet treats into the late afternoon. To stock up on snacks and sundry items for camping and other outdoor pursuits, hit up the Bristlecone General Store for all the things.
Great Basin Astronomy Festival
Each September, Baker lights up for one of the most (literally) stellar events in the Silver State. Thanks to the darkest skies in the Lower 48, Great Basin National Park hosts the annual, free-to-everyone Great Basin Astronomy Festival (AKA Astro-Fest), which features talks by astro-experts, celestial photography workshops, and unbeatable stargazing—including through dozens of fancy, high-end telescopes (sometimes up to 20 feet tall!) with the power to literally change how you see our universe. Around here, we like to say: “Half the park is after dark.” That’s never not true. But this event is a way to understand that in, shall we say, astronomical proportions.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip