Great Basin National Park ranges in elevation from 6,825 ft. to 13,065 ft. above sea level between its highest and lowest trails. This 6,240 ft. difference leads to a wide variety of plant communities through a phenomenon called, “altitudinal zonation”. As you travel to higher elevations in Great Basin National Park, you might notice differences in the temperature, precipitation, oxygen levels, and other environmental factors. Different species of plants are better suited to different environmental factors, which is why you may also notice changes in the kinds of plants you see in different sections of the park, especially at different elevations.
Zones are usually determined by the primary species of trees or shrubs found in the area. Zones often occur in specific elevations, although you can often find more than one zone at the same elevation throughout the park. Great Basin National Park has seven major zones of habitats, depending on the elevation:
Intermountain Cold Desert Scrub (below 5,000 ft.)
Sagebrush and Grasslands (5,000-7,000 ft.)
Piñon-Juniper Woodlands (6,000-8,000 ft.)
Mixed Conifer Forest (7,000-10,000 ft.)
Subalpine (9,500-11,800 ft.)
Alpine (above 10,500 ft.)
Riparian (throughout the park)
As you make your way through the park—either on your hike, or on your way up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive—watch for the changes in plant life that defines the different zones.
You may also find that there are wildflowers that occur at different elevations in the park as well. Some of these flowers, especially those in the Alpine zone, are endemicto Great Basin National Park—meaning they are only found here in the Great Basin, and nowhere else on Earth! It is important to try to keep non-native and invasive species out of the park to keep the habitats here safe for our native and endemic species.