Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Complete Guide

El Capitan Of Guadalupe Mountains National Park
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Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Address
Salt Flat, TX 79847, USA
Phone +1 915-828-3251

One of the country’s least-visited national parks, the highly remote Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GUMO) combines otherworldly mountain wilderness with rugged desert terrain and the world’s biggest Permian fossil reef.

From May through October, temperatures typically range from 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and from 40 to 60 degrees at night. November through April, the park sees daytime temperatures in the 50- to 70-degree range, with nighttime temps dipping into the 30s. The park is known for having high winds year-round—it’s not uncommon for gusts to reach 60 mph or higher (if you’re camping, be sure to stake your tent down).

That said, the best time to visit GUMO is fall. From mid-October through November, the bigtooth maple trees in McKittrick Canyon are ablaze with color, and temperatures are crisp and cool.

Fall does see a fair amount of visitors for this reason, so if you’re looking to have a more isolated experience, early springtime would be your best bet. Spring break and busy holiday weekends aren’t ideal times for visiting the park as campgrounds tend to fill very quickly. (If campgrounds are full, check the Visitor Center for alternative camping suggestions.) 

Continue reading to find info on the best day hikes, where to stay, how to get there, and more before you go.

Best Day Hikes

There are more than 80 miles of trails in GUMO, ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. With divergent ecosystems—scrubby, cactus-covered flatlands, lush backcountry meadows, and thick coniferous forests—and an abundance of wildlife and birds, this is a hiker’s paradise. These are the best-of-the-best day hikes, but for a full list of all the day hikes in the park, check out the Trail Descriptions section of the NPS site. 

  • Smith Spring Loop: Watch the landscape change from desert to riparian vegetation on this 2.3-mile loop hike.   
  • Devil’s Hall: This gorgeous, rocky trail has very little elevation gain and is 4.2 miles round trip, making it one of the most popular day hikes in the park. Some scrambling over big boulders is required.
  • McKittrick Canyon: If you only have one or two days to spend in Guadalupe, plan to explore as much of McKittrick Canyon as possible. This 2,000-foot-deep limestone chasm is sustained by a year-round, spring-fed stream—it’s the best place in the park to do some wildlife-watching. The 4.8-mile round-trip hike to Pratt Lodge takes roughly two hours; allow three to five hours if you plan on tackling the Grotto and Hunter Cabin.    
  • Guadalupe Peak: At 8,749 feet, the highest point in Texas gets a lot of the attention. As you might expect, the trail is steep and very strenuous—it’s 8.5 miles round trip, with a 3,000-foot elevation gain. Plan to spend the better part of a day doing this hike (at least eight hours or more). The panoramic views are worth your tired lungs and aching limbs.
  • The Bowl: Explore a peaceful forest of pine and Douglas fir atop high ridges and canyons on this strenuous 9.1-mile hike (allow eight to 10 hours). 

Backpacking

Backpacking in the Guadalupe Mountains requires some planning beforehand. Aside from mapping out your itinerary, you’ll need to obtain a Wilderness Use Permit up to 24 hours in advance of the trip. For itinerary suggestions, maps, a link to Wilderness Use Permit information, and other helpful tips and info regarding backpacking in Guadalupe, visit the NPS site.  

Where to Stay

Camping in the park is on a first-come, first-serve basis; reservations are only taken in advance for group campgrounds. There are two devoted campgrounds here: Pine Springs and Dog Canyon. In addition, there are 10 backcountry campgrounds spread throughout the park. 

Pine Springs Campground has 20 tent sites with leveled tent pads and picnic tables, along with 19 RV sites. There are no showers, but campgrounds do have water, flush-toilet restrooms, and utility sinks. 

Dog Canyon is in a secluded canyon on the north side of the park. There are nine tent sites and four RV sites. Restrooms have sinks and flush toilets, but no showers. Do note that fires are strictly prohibited at both campgrounds (and everywhere in the park) due to generally dry weather conditions and occasional high winds.     

There is no lodging in the park. The closest options are in either Dell City, TX or Whites City, NM. There’s also a full-service campground (with showers) in Whites City, which is about 35 miles east of the park.    

How to Get There

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in Far West Texas, on U.S. Highway 62/180. If you’re traveling from Van Horn, TX, head north on US 54 and make a left-hand turn at the junction of US Hwy 62/180 to arrive at the park. If you’re coming east from El Paso, the park is 110 miles east of the city, along US 62/180 North. The closest commercial airline service is in El Paso.

There are no paved driving tours in the park, and there is no public transportation or shuttle service available.

Admission and Fees

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is generally open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Pine Springs Visitor Center, the park’s main visitor center and headquarters, is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days per week (it’s still a good idea to check the center's hours before you go). This is where you can pay your entrance and camping fees, procure a map, talk to a ranger, tour the museum, and obtain any permits you need. 

The Dog Canyon Ranger Station is open intermittently throughout the year, depending on staff availability, and the McKittrick Canyon Visitor Center is staffed during peak seasons in the spring and fall.  

To get into the park, there is a $10 per person entrance fee for visitors 16 years and older. This fee is good for seven days, and you can self-pay at any park trailhead. Alternately, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park Annual Pass costs $35 and is valid for entrance into the park for one year. The pass admits up to four adults in a private vehicle and is non-transferable. 

Tips for Your Visit

  • Come prepared: There are no service stations, convenience stores, or restaurants in the park, so be sure to gas up your vehicle beforehand and bring everything you need. (Dell City is 45 miles west of the park and Whites City, NM is 35 miles east; both towns have gas/diesel stations and convenience stores.) Water is available at trailheads and visitor centers, but you should bring your own as well.  
  • Plan to hike: This isn’t a park for driving; there are no roads through Guadalupe. To fully experience the breadth of the natural beauty here, plan to get off the pavement and onto a trail. 
  • Prepare for the heat: Guadalupe is a desert. Hikers must be extra-mindful of the sun here; the heat can get intense, particularly if there’s no shade on the trail. Bring a sun hat and strong sunblock, wear breathable fabric, and drink plenty of water to stave off heat exhaustion and sunburn. 
  • Tack on Carlsbad Caverns: If you’re on a road trip or have an extra day or two to spare, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is just outside the park boundaries, in New Mexico. (The caverns are part of the same ancient reef that the Guadalupe Mountains are made of.)
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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Complete Guide