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 in western Texas combines otherworldly mountain wilderness with rugged desert terrain, making for a truly breathtaking Southwest getaway. It isn't easy to get to the park, but the reward for making the journey includes spacious hiking trails, panoramic views, and a night sky lit up by twinkling stars.

Things to Do

Because of the park's remoteness, Guadalupe Mountains is a place to disconnect and enjoy the outdoors. There are no roads that pass through the park, so plan to hike. You'll need to get off the pavement and onto the trails to fully experience the breadth of Guadalupe's natural beauty. Spending the night in one of the park's campsites gives visitors the best chance at spotting wildlife—since most of the animals are nocturnal—and also the opportunity to stargaze. With no cities nearby or major light pollution, you'll be able to make out thousands of stars and easily spot the Milky Way.

Mammals like mountain lions, wild boars, and elk are elusive during the day, but birdwatchers can spot over 300 different types of local avian species. Birds are found in the park throughout the entire year, but the types of birds you'll see vary from season to season.

The Texas desert isn't typically associated with fall foliage, but Guadalupe Mountains National Park puts on a spectacular display of fiery reds, oranges, and yellows throughout the season. The peak foliage typically takes place from mid-October to mid-November, but you can follow the annual report to find out exactly when and where to visit. Weekends throughout the fall typically fill up to capacity, so try to visit on a weekday if possible.

Best Hikes & Trails

There are more than 80 miles of trails in Guadalupe Mountains, 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.

  • Smith Spring Loop: Watch the landscape change from arid desert to riparian vegetation on this 2.3-mile loop hike, which ends at the lush Manzanita Spring. The difficulty level is considered moderate and the trail takes about one to two hours to complete.   
  • 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 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. You'll need to have an itinerary already prepared—including which wilderness camps you plan to sleep at—in order to obtain a Wilderness Use Permit. To reach any of the wilderness camps requires a lot of elevation gain (at least 2,000 feet), so make sure you're fully prepared for the journey before departing.

One itinerary option that's especially popular with novice backpackers is the Bush Mountain/Blue Ridge Loop. Hikers depart on the Tejas Trail from the Pine Springs Visitor Center and then continue along the Bush Mountain and Blue Ridge trails. The entire trip is just under 17 miles and can be completed in two days or three days depending on your pace.

Where to Camp

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. Do note that fires are strictly prohibited at both campgrounds (along with everywhere else in the park) due to generally dry weather conditions and occasional high winds.     

  • Pine Springs Campground: This 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 Campground: 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.

Where to Stay Nearby

Other than camping, there are no lodging options in the park. The closest towns are either Dell City, Texas, or Whites City, New Mexico. For more options, you'll have to find lodging in Carlsbad, New Mexico, about 50 minutes away from the park, or El Paso, Texas, about an hour and 45 minutes away.

  • Adobe Mission Home: The closest option to the park is an Airbnb in Dell City, which is inside what was once a Mexican Baptist Church. With just a couple hundred residents, Dell City has a ghost town feel to it and will appeal to any traveler looking to get off the radar and enjoy the Old Frontier.
  • White's City Cavern Inn: A smalltown motel that evokes a road trip along Route 66, this smalltown lodging is less than 30 minutes away from Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Plus, it's the gateway to Carlsbad Canyons National Park, so you can get two parks in one.
  • Fiddler's Inn: The quintessential bed and breakfast, Fiddler's Inn is one of the top-rated accommodations in southern New Mexico. Located in the city of Carlsbad, each room is uniquely decorated and breakfast is included at the adjacent bakery and cafe (on Sundays, breakfast is even delivered to enjoy in bed).

How to Get There

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in Far West Texas on U.S. Highway 62/180. The nearest major city with an international airport is El Paso, Texas, which is less than two hours away. Just across the border with New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Because of the two parks' proximity to each other and remoteness from everywhere else, most travelers choose to visit them both while already in the area.

Accessibility

Since there are no paved roads within the park, visitors with mobility challenges are limited to what they can see. The visitor centers at Pine Springs, Dog Canyon, and McKittrick Canyon are all accessible, including designated parking spaces, restrooms, and drinking fountains. Additionally, there are two short trails—about a half-mile each—that are paved and accessible to visitors with wheelchairs or strollers. The first is the Pinery Trail, which leaves from the Pine Spring area, and the second is the trek to Manzanita Spring, which departs from Frijole Ranch.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The park is open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, although the visitor centers may be closed when you visit. Spring or fall are the best time to visit for comfortable weather, but weekends can get busy (especially in the fall).
  • There is a $10 per person fee to enter the park. If you don't pass a visitor center to pay, there are envelopes at all of the trailheads to leave your payment.
  • 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, New Mexico, is 35 miles east; both towns have gas stations and convenience stores). Water is available at trailheads and visitor centers, but you should bring your own as well.  
  • 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. 
  • If you're hiking or backpacking, the National Park Service recommends packing four quarts of water per person per day.
  • Most of Texas is in the Central Time Zone, but Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in Mountain Time Zone. You should manually set your phone to Mountain Time while you're there since Texas cell towers may automatically change your phone to Central Time, which can be very disorienting.
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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Complete Guide