Wheeler Peak Glacier is a small desert glacier that is sadly disappearing – so take the time to get out and see it before it’s too late.
Great Basin National Park is home to the only glacier in the desert state of Nevada (where glaciers are limited by low rainfall and often high temperatures). Wheeler Peak Glacier is a small desert glacier that is sadly disappearing – so take the time to get out and see it before it’s too late. It is one of the southernmost glaciers in the United States and is located at the base of Wheeler Park.
Great Basin National Park is Nevada’s only national park and one of the least visited in the country (mainly due to its isolation). It is a national park where one can enjoy the seclusion and tranquility of the best scenery in the United States, far from the crowds of Yosemite or the Great Smokey Mountains.
Wheeler Peak – One of the southernmost glaciers
Wheeler Peak Glacier sits above a grove of bristlecone pines in the high desert, atop a moraine of granite boulders in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park.
Las Vegas Sun
Wheeler Peak Glacier is often said to be the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere, but there are actually others further south (such as in the Himalayas). It’s not even the southernmost glacier in the United States, with California’s Palisade Glacier being further south. Palisade Glacier is located in the Palisades in the John Muir Wilderness in the central Sierra Nevada, California.
Wheeler Peak Glacier is a small (and shrinking) glacier about 2 acres in size. It sits on Wheeler Peak – Nevada’s second highest mountain that has been carved and shaped by glaciers over eons.
- Cut: 2 acres
- Elevation: 11,500 feet
- Location: Great Basin National Park, Nevada
- Peak Wheeler: 13,063 feet – Highest mountain in the Serpent Range (2nd highest in Nevada)
- Southernmost glacier in the United States: Palisade Glacier in California
The Wheeler Peak glacier is disappearing
Glaciers are large masses of ice that last from summer into the following year and sink under their own weight. They consist of crushed and recrystallized snowflakes.
The glacier is a relic of a bygone era. It is a remnant still clinging to the last glacial maximum when the climate was much cooler than today. But like many other glaciers around the world, Wheeler Peak Glacier is retreating. It is believed that it could disappear in as little as 20 years.
- Disappearance : Wheeler Peak Glacier Could Disappear in Decades
- Vestige: From the last glacial maximum
While the glacier still hangs in a time of global glacier retreat, it is still only a fraction of what it once was. The NPS has comparative images of the glacier between what it looked like in 1958 and what it retreated to in 2012.
See Wheeler Peak Glacier
The glacier is a shadow of what it once was and the effects of the glacier can be seen in the slopes, canyons and streams that surround it. If one climbs up to the glacier, one will only be able to see a small portion of the ice as most of the glacier is covered in debris.
There are a few places in the national park where you can see the glacier. The easiest is from the road – it can be seen from the Wheeler Peak Overlook on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
- Road lookout: Wheeler Peak Overlook on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
- When to visit: Late fall to see more ice
According to the National Park Service, the best time to visit the glacier is in late fall. This is when you will see more ice after the snowpack has melted.
Hike to Wheeler Peak Glacier
To climb to the glacier, one can take the Bristlecone/Glacier Trail and reach the foot of the glacier. This option is a 4.6 mile round trip. The trailhead is located at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. There is little overall elevation gain on this trail, with elevation dropping from about 9,800 feet to about 10,900 feet.
- Track: Bristlecone/Glacier Trail
- Starting point : At the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
- Distance: 4.6 miles or 7.4 kilometers round trip
Hikers should exercise caution when traversing the trail and watch out for loose rocks and landslides, especially around the toe of the glacier.