Great Basin National Park allows you to explore many different life zones because its range in elevation is so great. Hiking the Pole Canyon Loop is a great way to explore the mid-range life zone at Great Basin.
This 6.5-mile loop takes hikers through meadows and aspen and pine forests. This is the Piñon-Juniper Life Zone, which typically thrives at 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation. Here there is enough water to support trees, however in places they may be sparse and stunted. The Pole Canyon Loop showcases a part of the Great Basin where you will see piñon pines and Utah junipers sprinkled throughout a sagebrush understory. In the areas closer to springs and creeks, you will find aspens and other larger trees.
The Pole Canyon Trail is an out-and-back hike but can be made into a loop by connecting to the Timber Creek Trail and the trail connecting the Baker Creek and Grey Cliffs Campgrounds. Although hiking this loop does require a little bit of road walking at the end, it’s a great way to see and experience the area.
The Pole Canyon Trail begins just under 7,000 feet above sea level and climbs 1,600 feet, showcasing part of what makes Great Basin so beautiful. You not only get to experience the Piñon-Juniper Life Zone, but you also get glimpses of Wheeler Peak and the valley floor below.
Finding the trailhead
You can find the trailhead for Pole Canyon below the Grey Cliff Campground, which is 1.5 miles down Baker Creek Road. Once you turn off Baker Creek Road, continue on Pole Canyon Access/Horse Pasture road for about 0.5 miles. The trailhead is to the right.
Great Basin National Park placed an informational sign at the trailhead of Pole Canyon. While I was there sign was a bit confusing. First, it’s not very clear what is considered the end of the Pole Canyon Trail. I wasn’t sure if the Pole Canyon Trail only followed the bottom of the canyon, or if it included the climb up and over the saddle to the Timber Creek Trail.
Pole Canyon Trailhead to base of the saddle
The Pole Canyon Trail begins behind the sign and crosses over a creek. It quickly intersects with an old roadbed. Here, you want to go right and follow along the cliffs above. The trail follows Pole Creek and shows off the beautiful forest of piñon pines and aspens.
Around mile 1.4, the forest opens to more meadows and you can see the surrounding ridges towering above. As you hike through the sagebrush understory, you can in the sights of the piñon and juniper trees with a thicker greener forest above. This shows you how the life zones change the higher up the mountain you go.
The trail provides beautiful views of the meadows. However, in a few places, the trail was a little hard to follow through the meadow.
Base of saddle to Timber Creek Trail
Around mile 2.6 the trail makes a sharp right and begins to climb the mountain to your left. This is where the sign at the trailhead confused me. Also, my GPS was off by about a mile. I did not realize the Pole Canyon Trail goes up and over the saddle and ends at the Timber Creek Trail.
The sign at the trailhead told me the Pole Canyon Trail ends at Upper Pole Canyon Spring. However, I could not find a spur going further into the canyon. So I chose to go to the right and climb the hill.
In the short climb to the saddle, you gain half of the elevation of the hike. So it’s steep, but not long. However, once you get a little bit of elevation gain, you get amazing views of the canyon below. With sweeping views of Pole Canyon, you can see why Great Basin National Park is so special.
And then as you crest the saddle and Wheeler Peak comes into view, the scenery makes you want to twirl around and have a “Sound of Music” moment. This is a great place to take a break. And the best part is that it is all downhill from there.
Timber Creek Trail to Baker Creek Trailhead
Around mile 3.45, you come to the intersection with the Timber Creek Trail. Here you want to go right toward the Baker Creek Trailhead. This is where the Pole Canyon Trail ends. As you follow the Timber Creek Trail down the Baker Creek Valley, you hike through aspens and thick forests again.
After half a mile, the trail meets up with the South Fork Baker Creek Trail. Here you are on the South Fork Baker Creek Trail and the Timber Creek Trail for about 0.1 miles before coming to the Baker Creek Trailhead.
Baker Creek Trailhead to Grey Cliffs Campground
The National Park Service’s app did not have the trail connecting Baker Creek Trailhead to Baker Creek Campground, but my National Geographic map does. However, you can also walk the road. The half of mile trail follows the road connecting the two.
Once you get to Baker Creek Campground, you follow the campground road around the campsites. The trail continues past the walk-in sites.
From there another trail connects Baker Creek Campground to Grey Cliffs Campground. This section is 0.6 miles.
Grey Cliffs Campground to Pole Canyon Trailhead
Once you get to Grey Cliffs Campground, you follow the road through the campsite. After about half a mile you come to the road you drove down to get to the trailhead.
As you walk the road keep an eye peeled on your left for pictographs in the caves. While I was hiking. I almost missed them, but a sign telling people not to enter the caves altered me to where they are. They are visible from outside the caves.
Pole Canyon Great Basin National Park
The views you see while hiking Pole Canyon were some of my favorites in Great Basin National Park. I really enjoyed hiking through the meadows in the canyon, the aspen forest, seeing the mountains all around me, and the valley below. There is so much beautiful scenery on this hike.
- 6.5 mile loop
- Elevation gain and loss 1600 feet
- Dogs not allowed
- Backcountry camping allowed