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This article was shared by Kristen Czudak from Yonderlust Ramblings. Adventure is Never Far Away. If you’re looking for more active travel inspiration, hop on over to her site for some amazing photos great travel guides!
In the far western reaches of Texas lies one of its least known natural secrets, Guadalupe Mountains National Park! This National Park is brimming with rugged adventures to satisfy any outdoorsy weekender, including some stellar hikes, stunning scenery, historical roots, and secluded camping! This itinerary guide will show you how to experience all the best of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in just a weekend!
Location of Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in the very western portion of Texas, about two hours east of El Paso, and an hour southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Ironically, the same mountain chain that houses Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the Guadalupe Mountains, also spawned the famed underground caves of neighboring Carlsbad Caverns National Park!
Insider Tip: due to its close proximity, why not check out Carlsbad either before or after your visit to Guadalupe? This charming southwestern town is more than just its caves. In fact, there are 8 awesome adventures to be had in Carlsbad, in addition to Carlsbad Caverns!
Due to its remote nature, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is not the easiest to get to. El Paso is the nearest international airport, so even flying will require an additional mode of transportation for the remaining two hours drive to Guadalupe.
The upside to Guadalupe’s remoteness, however, is the benefit you can reap from all that seclusion. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is among one of the best contenders in the U.S., if you are looking for an uncrowded National Park in which to truly enjoy a weekend getting back in touch with nature, miles away from civilization’s touch.
As you explore among Guadalupe’s peaks, plains, forests, and canyons, you will not hear the sound of passing traffic, or the overhead humming of planes. All that exists in this National Park are the sounds of its multiple ecosystems harmonizing together in unison.
Best Time to Visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park has something to offer its visitors during any season.
Winter in Guadalupe is truly empty, for those looking to really get away from it all. And the moderate climate of the west Texas desert still supports manageable winter temperatures for outdoor activities.
Spring brings life, water, and wildflowers to Guadalupe. It is a great time to witness the emergence of both new wildlife and plant life. Specific parts of the park, like McKittrick Canyon, are particularly lush.
Summer is the season in Guadalupe Mountains National Park that comes with the strongest advisory. The Texas temperatures can become brutal in the full swing of summer, so when planning a weekend visit during these months, come prepared.
Bring sunscreen, a hat with good sun protection, suitable clothing that is moisture wicking and breathable, good hiking shoes, and most importantly, plenty of water. A summer hike in Guadalupe Mountains National Park should not be attempted with less than 3 liters of water per person. Our favorite insulated bottle is perfect for hiking in Guadalupe, or you may want to consider bringing a hydration pack (they are especially great for getting kids to drink a lot of water).
Finally, fall in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a real show stopper. Certain vegetated regions of the park, like McKittrick Canyon, are full of vibrant autumn trees draped in reds, golds, and oranges that easily rival the Northeast!
What to Know Before You Go to Guadalupe Mountains
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is remote, so be sure to fill up on necessities, such as water, gas, and groceries, before reaching the immediate area of Guadalupe. If you are coming from the north, Carlsbad is a good last stop. If you are arriving from the west, plan to stop in El Paso.
Despite the misconception that Texas is all flat, there is mountainous elevation here! Hiking in Guadalupe is best done with a good pair of hiking boots, to best traverse the changes in elevation here on many of its hiking trails.
Camping in Guadalupe Mountains
There are two campgrounds in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the Dog Canyon Campground at the north end of the park, and the Pine Springs Campground, at the southeastern edge. Both are first come first serve, there is no reservation system. You should plan to arrive early to secure your spot, or have a backup lodging plan available.
Pets are allowed in the campgrounds at Guadalupe, and at the short Pinery Nature Trail at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Pets are not allowed on other trails or in other areas of the park.
Wood and charcoal ground fires are prohibited, due to the consistently dry conditions and frequent desert wind gusts.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Entrance Fees
The entrance fee is $10 per person, and is valid for 7 days. Entrance fees may be paid in person with cash or credit card at the Pine Springs Visitor Center, or through self pay stations found at all trailheads. Self pay stations include green envelopes in which to deposit payment.
Whether you pay in person at the Visitor Center or use the self pay envelopes, be sure to display the detachable entry stub in your vehicle for the duration of your visit.
If you’re planning on visiting more than one National Park, Recreation Area, or Monument this year, you can save money by getting an annual pass. Save time and buy your pass online.
A 2 Day Weekend Itinerary for Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The best way to experience Guadalupe Mountains National Park is through its hiking. A weekend spent here should incorporate hiking experiences in each of Guadalupe’s unique ecosystems and environments. After all, you can find mountain, desert, forest, and canyon environments in Guadalupe!
Before starting any explorations of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, if you are camping, decide on which campground to choose. Both campgrounds are first come first serve, so I recommend a very early start on your first morning to secure your spot.
The Pine Springs Campground is located right by the Pine Springs Visitor Center and park entrance. It is a primarily high desert setting, located at the base of one of the mountains. Shade is limited here, and the campsites are more exposed, meaning it may become hotter during the summer.
Dog Canyon is located on the northern side of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It is higher elevation and more forested, so the temperatures will likely be cooler here than at the Pine Springs Campground. The campground is also bordered by steep cliff walls, helping to provide some protection from strong wind gusts.
Once your campsite is secured, it is time to begin exploring Guadalupe Mountains National Park by foot!
Day 1 in Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Guadalupe Peak and Devil’s Hall
Why not start your Guadalupe weekend itinerary off by hiking one of its standouts? If you didn’t already know, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the highest point in Texas! By hiking to the top of 8,750 foot tall Guadalupe Peak, you can literally be the tallest person in Texas, and take in the best of the state from its most unique and rewarding viewpoint!
Whereas some state high point hikes can take several days to conquer, hiking Guadalupe Peak can be done easily in a day. A state high point hike that can provide a challenging high altitude climb, with stunning summit views, all in under a day, is a rare find!
Quick Facts on the Guadalupe Peak Hike
- Length: 8.5 miles out and back
- Rating: Hard
- Elevation Gain: 2,952 feet
- Elevation: 8,750 feet
Hiking Guadalupe Peak does require a moderate amount of hiking experience and relative fitness. It is not the best recommendation for very young children, or those that might struggle with moderately sustained uphill climbs.
Arguably the most challenging part of this whole hike is the first mile ascent from the floor of the Chihuahuan desert, to rounding the face of the mountain after the first mile. If you are successful in hiking the first mile, that should serve as a barometer for the rest of the hike.
The trailhead for the Guadalupe Peak hike can be found right off the parking area immediately northwest of the Pine Springs Campground. This trailhead is also shared by other neighboring hikes, including El Capitan Trail, another prominent peak in the park, and the Devil’s Hall Trail, another recommended highlight hike of Guadalupe.
Almost immediately after proceeding down the trailhead, you will see the trail split between these three paths. The Guadalupe Peak Trail is clearly marked, and proceed from here.
The first mile of this trail is a perfect example of how hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park exposes its visitors to an ever morphing and blended environment. The Guadalupe Peak Trail emerges from the flat expansiveness of the surrounding Chihuahuan desert, and then after a mile of incline, rounds the face of the mountain into a blanket of ponderosa forest tunnels.
As the climb continues these forests start to gradually thin, until, just short of the summit, hikers will begin to encounter the stark rocky slabs and cliffs that make up the summit of the highest point in Texas!
Insider Tip: don’t miss the chance to look out over the top of the El Capitan summit, which you can view resting just below reaching the summit of Guadalupe Peak.
While you definitely have to work for the views from atop Guadalupe Peak, the payoff is worth it! There is no feeling quite like standing at the highest point in all of Texas! Expect this hike to take around 6 to 7 hours.
After finishing the Guadalupe Peak hike, in the waning afternoon hours of your first day, plan to hike the Devil’s Hall Trail. It can be found off of the same trailhead that is shared with Guadalupe Peak, making it a convenient add on. This hike is much shorter than Guadalupe Peak, with much less elevation gain, and should only take around 2 hours to complete.
Hiking Devil’s Hall is definitely a worthwhile venture, as visitors can now experience one of Guadalupe’s other stunning environments, canyon life! While hiking the Devil’s Hall Trail, expect to navigate washes, rocky boulder sections, and of course, its namesake narrow “hallway” slot canyon.
Quick Facts on the Devil’s Hall Trail
- Length: 3.7 miles out and back
- Elevation Gain: 577 feet
- Rating: Moderate
This trail starts out easy on packed dirt, and then progresses to some rocky sections that require a bit of boulder navigating in the wash. This trail is recommended for those who are steady on their feet, and don’t mind a bit of intentional footwork.
After entering the wash, the trail continues parallel to the creek bed, and proceeds around some rocky sections and boulders.
After the wash section, enters the “hall”. Though some of the stairs in this “hallway” are narrow, it is doable for all ages, as long as they are exercising care.
The “hallway” itself is enclosed in cliffs that are over 100 feet high. The Devil’s Hall here marks the end of the trail, and hikers can now reverse back to the parking lot. Exercise precaution going downhill over the rocky sections in the wash.
Day 2 in Guadalupe Mountains National Park: McKittrick Canyon
On the second half of your weekend visit in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, take on a trail that sums up the best features of this park. On the McKittrick Canyon Trail, expect to see desert, canyon, mountain, and grotto life, with some intriguing historical touches thrown in!
Hike McKittrick Canyon Trail
Quick Facts on the McKittrick Canyon Trail
- Length: 20.2 miles point to point (14.8 miles from trailhead to McKittrick Ridge Campground – recommended course)
- Elevation Gain: 4,366 feet
- Rating: Difficult
This is a long day hike, totaling at least 14.8 miles roundtrip. Plan to start early, and plan to spend all day on this hike.
The entire McKittrick Canyon Trail is over 20 miles long roundtrip, and it is not recommended that you hike it all in one day. Though it is possible, a day hike of the full trail is only recommended for very experienced hikers. If you are really set on hiking the whole trail through to completion, plan to make it a multi-day backpacking hike, and obtain a backcountry permit from the Pine Springs Visitor Center. There are designated backcountry primitive sites along this trail, which will be described further.
For the purposes of this itinerary, the recommended route will begin at the McKittrick Canyon trailhead, and stop at the McKittrick Ridge Backcountry Campground, totaling 14.8 miles roundtrip, and encompassing a portion of the trail that contains high desert, creek beds, grottos, switchbacks, forests, and challenging uphill ascent. Also, as you will see, there is a significant amount of elevation gain on this hike, but keep in mind that it is spread out over the course of 20 plus miles.
The trailhead for the McKittrick Canyon Trail is located in the northeastern portion of the park, close to the Dog Canyon Campground. There is a parking lot and small Visitor Center also located at the trailhead.
The McKittrick Canyon trailhead is also shared with the McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail and the Permian Reef Trail. At the split, proceed straight down the path in the middle to follow the McKittrick Canyon Trail.
This trail starts out pretty flat, on a well maintained path. The trail winds along McKittrick Canyon and McKittrick Creek, with some small stream crossings. Also keep an eye out for the Pratt Cabin, a historic stone cabin built in the 1930’s, huddled amongst the surrounding vegetation.
The trail then proceeds through a section of piney forest, before arriving at the mystical Grotto formation! This limestone cave is filled with fascinating stalagmites and stalactites!
Just past the Grotto is a short spur trail to the Hunter Line cabin, another old historic stone cabin.
For those looking for a less strenuous, or shorter day hike, the Grotto and Hunter Line Cabin is a suitable place to turn around and proceed back. You will log about 7 miles roundtrip by turning around here. After the Grotto, the trail picks up in intensity, switchbacks, and more challenging terrain.
After the Grotto and the Hunter Line Cabin, the trail begins to ascend up the face of McKittrick Ridge, showing off the panoramic brilliance of McKittrick Canyon, as well as a series of switchbacks. In the midst of this ascent, hikers will pass “The Notch”, a stunning viewpoint located on a mountainous saddle, overlooking the surrounding topography of Guadalupe.
This portion of the hike is where some of the best views in the whole park reside. It is also where most of the elevation gain occurs, logging about 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles.
After reaching the top of McKittrick Canyon, about 7.5 miles in, hikers will reach the McKittrick Ridge Backcountry Campground, perfect for those who are interested in making this hike a 2 day long trek. Note that permits must be obtained from the Pine Springs Visitor Center for backcountry camping. There are several primitive campsites located here.
If not planning an overnight camp at McKittrick Ridge Campground, it is recommended that this be a suitable turning back spot. While it is possible to do this hike in one day, that is only recommended for experienced hikers and those who are making suitable time at this point. The best options are to camp and extend the hike to 2 days, or turn back to the trailhead.
So, this is my suggested itinerary for how to see the best highlights of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in a weekend! There is obviously much more you can do and see in this National Park, but after spending time here myself, these are what I consider to be not only the highlights of Guadalupe, but the best ways to get a well-rounded picture of the unique-ness of this region. If you can stay longer, absolutely do so! There are plenty more amazing hikes, backcountry camping, and explorations to be had in Guadalupe Mountains National Park!
You can follow more of Kristen’s active travels on her Youngerlust Ramblings Facebook Page.