Many people may not even realize that there is an entire National Park hiding in the far reaches of West Texas! One that is brimming with outdoor opportunities! While you may not think of West Texas as a prime destination for recreation, Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s trails, camping, wildlife, and history will quickly change your mind!
The diversity of Guadalupe Mountains National Park has a way of imprinting and cementing itself as a much cherished and sought-after destination. Just ask local Texans! In this park, you can find immense desert expanses, mesmerizing slot canyons, towering Ponderosa pine forests, high-elevation mountain peaks, and many intriguing natural formations like mountain ridge notches, grottos, and natural rock stairways.
There is also early Texas frontier history on display here, unique local wildlife, and one of the most immense and unfiltered night skies that blanket this corner of Texas!
To fully experience what makes this National Park so unique, you must explore all that it has to offer, from its hiking trails to its early historical roots, to the unique ecosystems and wildlife, to its peaceful camping opportunities!
Top Trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Hiking is a highlight of any visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Many people believe that Texas is flat and, therefore, boring when it comes to hiking opportunities, but the mountains here in this National Park will quickly prove that hypothesis to be wrong!
There are true high-elevation mountains here in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the four highest in Texas, including the official highest one in the entire state, Guadalupe Peak, which resides at a lofty 8,751 feet high!
Guadalupe Peak Hike
While the Guadalupe Peak hike is not an easy trail to undertake, it is a top trail in the park and one that offers a huge payoff for those who come prepared to hike it safely! For those that plan to take on the hike, anticipate a full day of challenging elevation gain of almost 3,000 uphill feet, and come prepared with plenty of water, snacks, and all necessary day hiking gear!
The Guadalupe Peak hike, and the rest of the heart of this National Park, is grounded in remote, untouched wilderness, so it is critical that you have all your necessary hiking gear before heading out on the trail!
Besides its obvious claim to fame as the state high point of Texas, Guadalupe Peak also offers a surprising amount of diversity on its trail. The trailhead starts off in the typical scrubby brush of the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert environment but quickly morphs into a forest of Ponderosa pines once you round the face of the mountain!
At the summit, you will be treated to minor ledge scrambles and rock faces and a panorama that stretches over the other nearby peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains, such as neighboring El Capitan, as well as the glistening salt flats towards El Paso.
If you want to take your hiking experience up a notch, you can also backcountry camp just below the summit of Guadalupe Peak in one of the backcountry wilderness camp spots. You will be in a prime location to not only make the most of visiting this mountain top, but you can also catch an amazing sunset and sunrise!
Many other top trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park are guaranteed not to disappoint and share the same surprising trend as Guadalupe Peak in their diversity.
Devil’s Hall Trail
The Devil’s Hall Trail is a short canyon hike through and up a natural rock “staircase” or “hallway”. It is an engaging hike, one that requires your body to fire on all systems as you navigate and scramble!
McKittrick Canyon Trail
The McKittrick Canyon Trail can either be a lengthy day hike or an overnight backpacking hike that contains the mystical “Grotto” formation, panoramic views at “the Notch”, as well as two remaining early frontier cabins, the Hunter Line Cabin and the Pratt Cabin. While you cannot venture inside either of these historic cabins, they are something to behold even from the outside and momentarily transport you back in time, with a chance to witness this region through the eyes of its early settlers. Not only that, but this trail tops the list of fall must hikes in Texas, when the flora and fauna of the canyon are on full display in brilliant reds, golds, and oranges!
The Tejas Trail
The Tejas Trail traverses “the Bowl,” a unique depression in the Guadalupe Mountains, and the challenging Hunters Peak, another stunning mountain top in the park, and a great wilderness backcountry camping spot as well!
Pinery Nature Trail
For a more leisurely nature walk, you can check out the Pinery Nature Trail, which passes by the remnants of the Pinery Station, the old stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route! The history of this mail route is just another fascinating example of the early history of the region blended seamlessly with the park’s hiking trails.
Smith Springs Trail
If you appreciate water features on your hikes, this desert oasis trail is a winner! The Smith Springs Trail contains not one but two, desert springs, Smith Springs and Manzanita Springs. It is a refreshing spot in the park, especially if you want to cool down during the warmer months. These desert oasis springs support the abundant vegetation that grows nearby, as well as local wildlife. The surrounding mountain views only add to the ambiance of this trail!
Camping in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
There are two designated campgrounds in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the Pine Springs Campground and the Dog Canyon Campground, and they each have something different to offer guests. The Pine Springs Campground is set in a largely desert environment at the base of Guadalupe Peak, which equates to less shade and more wind.
The Dog Canyon Campground, on the other hand, resides in the northern part of the park and sits at a higher elevation in the shadow of neighboring cliffs. This equals a shadier and cooler location, with some additional protection from the strong west Texas winds.
Aside from these differences, the two campgrounds share one thing in common – a chance to sleep under one of the biggest and most impressive canopies of night sky in the entire Southwest!
Witness Early Frontier History
This immense expanse of land was important to early Texas frontier life, as evidenced by the remaining historical structures and landmarks that dot the landscape of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. You can see the remnants of the Butterfield Overland Mail route and its stagecoach stop on the Pinery Nature Trail.
You can witness early frontier cabins along some of the other trails, such as the Hunter Line Cabin and the Pratt Cabin, both located on the McKittrick Canyon Trail. Glimpses like these provide a deeper appreciation for what life was like here in earlier times.
Spot Local Wildlife
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to a surprisingly diverse amount of native wildlife. While much of the wildlife that inhabits the desert environments of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is understandably nocturnal and therefore rarer to spot, including kit foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, badgers, and bats, there are plenty of other local critters to keep an inquisitive eye out for!
Mule deer, javelinas, and jackrabbits often appear in the early mornings and evenings. Elk, black bear, porcupines, and gray foxes inhabit some of the higher altitudes. Reptiles and insects abound in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Many should be appreciated at a distance if spotted, including tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, collared and spiny lizards, and a handful of snakes, including diamondback rattlesnakes, bullsnakes, and coachwhip snakes!
Catch Amazing Sunsets and Sunrises
Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s harmonious blend of mountains and desert expanses lend to a perfect setup for stellar sunsets and sunrises! One of the best spots has to be on the summit of Guadalupe Peak for those adventurous enough to spend the night just below the summit in the backcountry camping spot.
The perfect stage for catching a double sunset and sunrise! There are many great spots to watch a sunrise or sunset in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, thanks to the higher elevation looking out over an unfiltered desert expanse!
Things to Know Before You Go
If you are ready to explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park now, here are a few helpful things to know before you go!
Location: Far West Texas. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is so far west it is almost in New Mexico. This remote location means it is harder to get to, but the payoff is fewer crowds! In fact, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the U.S. every year, which means you have a great chance to have more of it to yourself!
The closest towns are Dell City, Texas to the west, and Carlsbad, New Mexico, to the northeast. These two towns will have more amenities like restaurants, hotels, vacation rentals, gas stations, grocery stores, etc.
You can also check out the small outpost of Whites City, New Mexico. This small hotel/rv park is located right at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and only about a 30-minute drive from the Pine Springs entrance of Guadalupe Mountains National Park (perfect for those that want to do a double National Parks road trip)! In fact, Carlsbad Caverns is part of the same mountain chain as the Guadalupe Mountains!
Entrance Fees: $10 per person, payable through cash or credit at the visitor’s centers or at self-pay machines located at trailheads.
Camping: Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s two designated campgrounds, the Pine Springs Campground and the Dog Canyon Campground, are reservable online. Backcountry camping requires a wilderness permit, for those considering an overnight stay on top of Guadalupe Peak or elsewhere in the backcountry of the park.
Best Time to Visit: Summers can be brutal in west Texas, so if you do plan a summer visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, plan on early morning starts, afternoon breaks, and lots and lots of water! That being said, the ideal times of year to visit are fall and spring! Winter can be a good option as well, just keep an eye out for passing ice storms and snowfall that can affect this particular region more due to its higher elevation.
Additional Info on Visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Leashed pets are permitted only in areas of the park that are accessible by vehicle (parking areas, campgrounds, picnic areas, etc.). Leashed pets are not allowed on any of the park trails, with the exception of the Pinery Nature Trail.
Be sure to fill up with gas, food, and other supplies before arriving at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There are no other major facilities near the park. The closest facilities with gas and food are in Carlsbad, New Mexico, or Dell City, Texas.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a true vast wilderness. You may be one of only a few hikers on many of its trails. It is not the kind of place you want to find yourself lacking the necessary hiking gear you need, so make sure to arrive with all the hiking gear or backpacking gear you need for a safe and responsible trip! This includes a backpack, hiking shoes, breathable fabrics, a water transportation system and plenty of water, food and snacks, sun protection, a first aid kit, shelter, and other emergency and personal supplies.
Always, always, always bring plenty of water. These mountains have minimal water sources, and the sun can be brutally strong, even in the non-summer months.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park sits right on the timezone change, so be aware of how this might affect your travel plans coming and going.
Always check the National Park Alerts page before visiting the park. There may be helpful information about trail or road closures or weather-related incidents that can impact your visit. Also, upon arriving, visit the rangers at the visitors’ centers to inquire about conditions, especially if backcountry camping overnight or attempting to backcountry camp on Guadalupe Peak.
Because of its high altitude nature, the rangers can give you recommendations based on whether or not wind conditions, etc., are too dangerous to attempt an overnight camp and even provide alternative locations in the park.
I'm Kristen, the author and active traveler behind Yonderlust Ramblings! I am a full-time teacher, wife, cheese-aholic, grammar nerd, and active traveler! I teach others how to develop a mindset for active travel! From training resources to select active travel destinations, I can teach you how to have a different kind of vacation, an active travel vacation!