Great Basin National Park in itself is a less-visited park than many in the national park system. Add to this fact that most of the people who do visit go to see Lehman Caves, climb Mt. Wheeler, and/or see the bristlecone pine forest, and the rest of the park is nearly deserted. Lexington Arch, a magnificent six-story limestone arch located in the south of the park, is one of those deserted parts of the park. The trail register at the beginning of the trail had only three entries in it, all from two days before. We didn’t see a single other person, except for one motorcycle on the drive back out to the main road.
To get to the Lexington Arch Trailhead, drive about 2.5 miles south from the town of Garrison to a dirt road on the right marked with a sign that says “Lexington Arch” (Garrison is on Hwy 487 about 8 miles south of the town of Baker). From here it is about 15 miles to the parking area for the trailhead. The road starts out in quite good condition, and gradually gets rougher and narrower as you approach the parking area. High clearance is recommended, although at the time we went, I believe you could have done it in a low clearance vehicle if you took it slow. Check at the visitor center in Baker or Lehman Caves for current road conditions.
The trailhead is just a dirt loop around a stand of pine trees. At one end of the parking area is a signboard. You are actually in BLM/National Forest land here; you will enter the national park just before reaching the arch. A trail register and a signboard with a map are located a few feet up the trail (but are hidden from the parking lot by foliage).
The trail starts out climbing through a small pine forest. Soon, the trees thin out into low bushes and sagebrush with occasional pine trees. When we hiked the trail in mid-September, the low bushes were turning yellow, and other plants were turning red. So, we found ourselves walking in the middle of this yellow-mint-green-studded-with-dark-green pine ocean. It was amazingly beautiful, especially with the light brown/tan trail winding its way through the middle of it all. The trail itself is never really steep, but it never really lets up, either, so it gets you puffing and panting a bit. Remember, you are at 8,000 ft here, so the lack of oxygen probably also has something to do with it!
It’s about 1.7 miles up to the arch itself (3.4 round trip). A little over a mile up the trail is a viewpoint, where you get your first—and only—glimpse of the arch along the trail. Take your pictures here, as you won’t see the arch from this far away again along the trail. This picture area is better in the morning, as the sun will be behind the arch in the afternoon.
From here the hike is mostly through a pine forest. It continues to climb up the ravine, then suddenly turns across a bridge and begins a very steep climb up the back side of the arch. At the top we suddenly met huge gusts of wind. I don’t know if that’s normal, or if we just came at a time when it was very windy (a cold front was coming through), but the wind was so bad it nearly knocked us over. We went down on the front side of the arch, and found some rocks that were mostly out of the wind. From here, we could see up into almost-Colorado type scenery behind the arch and the plain stretching out in front of the arch. It really was quite nice, although the view onto the plain would be better in the afternoon.
Ok, now I’m going to tell you some things that you won’t read in most tourist manuals, and you may not want to do if you like staying on the trail. First, if you want a nice view of the back of the arch, you can climb up on the opposite hillside and get a nice view. I believe that this is where the national park people get their pictures of the arch (in the afternoon…this view would not be as good in the morning). Second, we did climb up on top of the arch, using either of the two sides that are to your left as you’re climbing up into the arch. In some places there is a little bit of a trial (on the front side of the arch), but it was hard to follow and not an easy climb. I don’t recommend this to anyone who is afraid of heights, doesn’t like rock scrambling, isn’t quick on their feet (some of the route is up loose scree), or who isn’t pretty adventurous. In fact, I don’t recommend you do it, but it is possible if you want to. However, you shouldn’t climb up it in as windy a gale as we did—the wind was really strong on top of the arch. The rock is also very rough, which makes for both good handholds and scratched hands from holding onto the handholds!
Return by the way you came. This is a nice little hike than can be done in less than half a day, unless you wan to spend a great deal of time at the arch. It is also a great place to go if you want peace and quiet, and to get away from the crowds at the more popular national parks.