Note: Starting November 1 until winter ends, Baker Creek Road is closed just before Grey Cliffs Campground. From the closure, it is a 2-mile, 1,000 foot climb to Baker Creek TH, by road or trail.
Note: The trails are not heavily used during the road closure. We encountered ice and downed trees along the trail.
Just adjacent to Grey Cliffs Campground, you will find Upper Pictograph Cave. The cave was closed when we were there in order to protect a maternal bat colony. Always respect closures as they’re there to protect you and the natural enviornment.
The cave has also fallen victim to vandals in the recent past but the pictographs are believed to be products of the Fremont people. Artifacts, also believed to be left by the Fremont people, have been found in the cave. These artifacts and pictographs give us a glimpse into our past. Please do your part to help preserve them; don’t touch and absolutely do not remove. Photographs will provide you with a memento while keeping your house clutter free and preserving the archaeological integrity of a site. To learn more, visit the NPS information page.
After you check out the cave, head down the road to the Pole Canyon TH. A picnic area is situated by the parking area.
The trail immediately crosses a bridge and comes to a ‘T’. You need to decide if you want to go left or right. Turn left to follow an old road (long ago abandoned by cars). There is an old safe built into a cliff by the side of the trail. The road will quickly lead you to the park boundary but continues into the Kious Basin which is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. The views are nice and the trail is quiet. In theory, you could hike your way down to Baker but if Pole Canyon is your main interest, turn around and head back past the junction.
Pole Canyon closely follows Pole Creek. Getting limited sunlight, the canyon can be chilly so carry an extra jacket. The climb is gradual and leads to a small meadow, a perfect snack spot. You will get to view the meadow as you continue your hike up the ridge. All of the aspens will surely be spectacular in the fall.
For a shorter hike, turn right at the junction with Timber Creek Trail and you will come out at the Baker Creek TH. Walk down the road or trail back to Pole Canyon TH. This hike will be 6 miles and 1,610 feet of gain.
For a longer hike, turn left and climb up Timber Creek Trail to the junction with South Fork Baker Creek Trail. Take South Fork Baker Creek Trail to Baker Creek TH. Then walk down the road or hike the trail back to Pole Canyon TH. This longer hike (GPS track shown below) will be 13 miles and 3,100 feet of gain.
Johnson and Baker Lakes Loop
Hint: During the early winter, the creeks freeze along with any water on the trail. Be prepared for icy spots and consider bringing traction devices. Once snow cover is sufficient, this shaded section of trail will most likely be very icy.
This loop begins at the Baker Creek TH. We recommend that you hike to Johnson Lake first and then make your way to Baker Lake via the cross-country route. In our opinion, the descent from the saddle to Baker Lake is less steep, and requires less scrambling, than the descent into Johnson Lake. However, the reverse loop is also doable; we know because that is the direction we chose.
If hiking during the winter you’ll need to get to and from the Baker Creek Trailhead. You can walk down the well graded, fairly straight road down to the pullout near Grey Cliff Campground. Alternatively, you could walk through the Grey Cliffs and Baker Creek Campgrounds and follow the trail that connects them to the trailhead.
Opened in 1912 by Alfred Johnson, the Johnson Lake Mine was dug for tungsten. Tungsten was an important mineral at the time and was used in weapons and other wartime machinery. The mine was devastated by an avalanche in the 1930s and no one rebuilt. Today, archaeologists use the artifacts left behind to better understand the lives of the miners. For more information on the mine, check out the NPS Information Page.
South Fork Baker and Timber Creeks Loop
This loop also starts and ends at the Baker Creek TH. It is 5.1 miles with 1,800 feet of gain. Both trails are steep and relatively unused and unmaintained during the winter months.
The South Fork Baker Creek runs directly next to its namesake trail. In the early winter, before a lot of snow accumulates, this is important because the water on the trail freezes, creating slick ice. Consider carrying traction devices just in case you need them. Also, the breeze coming off the frozen creek is very chilly on this shaded trail. Be prepared to throw on extra layers as needed.
Most of this hike will be in tree cover. However, the top of Timber Creek trail presents a beautiful high alpine meadow with a few aspen groves.
For those of you wanting to spent a night in the backcountry, we recommend trying to make it to Johnson Lake as the lake will provide the best campsites. The hike from Pole Canyon TH to Johnson Lake is 11 miles and 5,900 feet of gain while the hike from Baker Creek Trailhead is 5.5 miles and 2,740 of elevation gain. You could then spent your second day completing the Johnson/Baker Lakes Loop.
In the summer, streams may be dry but in the winter they may be frozen. The lakes will provide a consistent source of water.
Johnson Lake has old structures that were left behind after a period of mining. Spend your evening exploring the old cabins or using the walls as a windbreak.
Hint: Backcountry permits are not required but are STRONGLY recommended. They can be obtained for free at the Visitor Centers.
Visit our National Park Service Guide for more adventures.
More Great Basin National Park: