The Franklin Mountains, with their red-tinted rocks and cactus-covered slopes, form the western backdrop of El Paso, Texas. Though just minutes from the city, Franklin Mountain State Park offers spectacular, undistributed vistas and plenty of opportunities for solitude and exploration along its many miles of trails.
The mountains have a long and rich history. Native Americans made this area their home for over 12,000 years, and the rocks and cliffs here are filled with depictions of their history and way of life. Spanish explorers first came in contact with the vast mountain area in the 1580s, with a goal to conquer the surrounding area and colonize the Puebloan Villages in present-day New Mexico. In the years following their conquest, the population of the area grew steadily and now is home to one of the biggest cities in Texas. The rich history of the Franklin Mountains did not go unnoticed by the citizens of El Paso. In the 1970s when roads came to cut through the mountains they loved, a coalition was formed to protect the area from development. In 1981, the state acquired the park and by 1987 the park opened its doors for the first time to visitors.
Franklin Mountain State Park has a primitive campground with five RV sites that you can reserve, too. At the start of each spring, visitors from all over the world come to hike the trails and try out their skills at rock climbing. The park offers a yearly pass, like all Texas State parks, and is ranked as one of the best places to go birding in the entire state. In the fall and winter months, you can enjoy the cool desert breeze and go on a geocaching adventure with the whole family. The park is a beautiful place to bring your RV and relax away from city life. It also makes a great stopover for those traveling across western Texas or southern New Mexico. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is just an hour and a half to the east, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park is just one hour further.
Franklin Mountain State Park is located outside of El Paso (technically, it's within El Paso's city limits - but it's well outside the city proper). The park has four main vehicle entrances, being accessible from the south, east, and west. Regardless of which entrance you choose to use, you'll want to decrease your speed due to the incline of the roads. Very large rigs may have a harder time trying to navigate through the park. Though the park's roads are steep, they are well maintained. The vast majority of the park, though, is best explored on foot or by bike.
The few RV camping spots are on the small size. Most can accommodate rigs up to 35 feet, while one can take slightly larger rigs (up to 43 feet). Sites are not leveled, so you may need blocks to level your trailer, and you may even need to have one half of the trailer off the ground.
Before you enter the park, be sure to stock up on groceries and supplies in town. El Paso is relatively close and offers great places for dining out and shopping. There is no water in the park, so you will need to fill your tanks before you enter. If you are arriving later than you expect, to be sure to call ahead to let the rangers know to look out for your arrival.
Maneuvering your rig into an RV space can be a bit tricky at Franklin Mountain's small campground. All spots are back-in, and sites are not leveled. However, you can expect little congestion here (there are only five RV spots in total), so you'll have plenty of time. With patience, parking shouldn't be a problem.
Additional parking is available at several locations around the park, though trailers and RVs cannot always be accommodated. If you're heading out to a smaller trailhead, you probably just want to take your car or truck.
If you are staying at the campground, however, you'll find many trails, as well as the Sneed's Cory climbing area, to be within easy walking distance.
Franklin Mountains State Park is quite popular, drawing lots of visitors from all over the country and plenty right from nearby El Paso. It's not unusual for the park's campground to fill up. Fortunately, the El Paso West/Anthony KOA, located just off of I-10, offers plenty of RV suitable spots and is just a ten-minute drive from the park.
The El Paso West/Anthony KOA is designed with big-rigs in mind. There are numerous pull-through sites, which can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 80 feet in length. Most campsites here have full-hookups, which include 50-amp electric plus water and sewage. Amenities include modern restrooms with showers, complimentary wi-fi, a dog park, a horseshoe pit, and sack toss boards.
In addition to being just ten minutes from the Franklin Mountains, this KOA sits just twenty minutes north of the heart of El Paso. While your camper will be out of the hustle and bustle of the city, you'll be just a short drive from all the great historical sites, museums, restaurants and more that El Paso has to offer.
Sweeping views of mountain and desert await you at the Tom May Campground. This small, primitive campground puts you right in the heart of the park. Take in a dazzling desert sunset or sunrise, when oranges and purples make their way across both sky and rock. You'll be shocked that such an undisturbed vista can be found just a few miles outside of bustling El Paso.
The Tom May campground supports primitive camping and does not offer any hookups. You will need to fill up on gas, water, and anything else that you think you will need before you arrive. There are no dump stations either (though plenty are available in and around El Paso). You need not be totally without electricity, though, since generator use is allowed. There are only five RV spaces available, and the sites are not leveled, so you may need blocks to level your rig. There are restrooms and a fire ring within walking distance of the RV area, but other than that there are no other amenities.
If you plan on tent camping, there are also 14 primitive walk-up sites. These have tent pads in addition to fire rings and picnic tables. Additionally, there are two double-sized sites, and one triple-sized site, also walk-in, for group camping.
You are prohibited from bringing your own firewood, but rangers do have firewood available for purchase at the park's visitor center. The gates are closed at night, so if you need to leave before the gate opens, then you should talk to one of the staff the night before to see if they can accommodate your request. Guests can stay for up to two weeks at a time, and reservations are necessary for all sites. Reservations, however, have to be made in-person at the Visitor Center for RV sites. Walk-in site reservations can be made online up to 11 months in advance.
With its many miles of trails, and with it's close proximity to El Paso, Franklin Mountain State Park is a very popular geocaching spot. Geocaching is a great way to take in the beautiful landscapes the park has to offer - adventurers can trek across meadows, boulder fields, and valleys on their way to their buried treasure. Just be sure that you are following posted signs and not trampling over any protected habitat! Also, keep a look out for cacti and other spinney plants, which are ubiquitous throughout the park.
Not all of the park's trails are strenuous. There are some great nature walks the let you take in the park's diversity without breaking much of a sweat. The Cottonwood Loop is a fairly easygoing 1.5-mile trail that takes you past several springs and creeks, while the Chihuahuan Desert Loop is a .6-mile trek that takes walkers through a gorgeous high-desert meadow. If you come during spring or early summer, and if there's been enough rain, you may see some extensive wildflower blooms.
Franklin Mountain State Park sits in a unique location with a lot of avian diversity. RV visitors can see some of the 100 bird species, some seasonal visitors, some permanent residents, which call the park home. Take your binoculars out to the end of the Upper Sunset Trail, where you can spot the Black-chinned Hummingbirds in the summer and spring. Biking or hiking along some of the park's trails, you may see a greater roadrunner scrambling across your path. Cactus wren, western tanagers, scaled and Gambel's quails, plus a whole host of vireos, warblers, and sparrows can all be seen among the rocks and spinney plants here. Make sure you bring your binoculars along in your motorhome.
Franklin Mountain's scenic vistas and imposing cliffs draw climbers from around the country. There are two areas in the park that allow rock climbing: Sneed’s Cory and McKelligon Canyon.
McKellington canyon is located right near the park's amphitheater (and, climbers should note, the walls are closed when a show is on). The canyon features several sport lines and a few traditional lines. Sneed's Cory is a smaller, shorter cliff-line but it still offers over a dozen fun routes. Set in a beautiful spot not far from the campground, the cliffs are the more popular of the park's two climbing areas.
The park does not rent out any equipment or employ any climbing rangers, so visitors are responsible for bringing their own gear and staying safe.
Franklin Mountain State Park boasts an extensive trail network, with over 100 miles of trails weaving their way through valleys and across mountains.
One of the park's most popular treks is the El Paso Tin Mines Trail. This out-and-back, just over six miles, ambles across a rocky, scenic stretch of the desert before arriving at a (failed) tin mine from the 1910s. The hike's popularity is helped by the fact that its trailhead is on the eastern edge of the park, making it very easily accessible from El Paso proper. However, you can also reach the mines from separate trails that head out from trailheads closer to the campground, if you happen to be staying in the park.
If you're looking for something a bit shorter, give the Aztec Cave Trail a go. This out and back has a few steep slopes, but it's only about a mile long, and it leads to a large, dramatic cave carved into a massive cliff face.
For spectacular, panoramic views of the park and its surroundings, spirited adventurers may want to try the North Mount Franklin Trail. This 7-mile out and back includes over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but the sites from atop the mountain peak are well worth the effort.
There are plenty of other trails at Franklin Mountain. Whether you're here for a couple of hours or several days, you'll be able to find an adventure that suits you. Remember to pack plenty of water and some sunscreen!
Franklin Mountain State Park has a beautiful network of trails that can be used for both hiking and mountain biking. There are eight trails that are designated primarily for mountain biking. The Upper and Lower Sunset trails are one-mile and a five-miles, respectively, and each offers a great introduction to the park. Several other trails are much longer and are more geared towards intermediate or advance bikers.
Perhaps one of the most popular rides at the park is the Franklin Mountain Loop. This extremely challenging, 25-mile trek, made by stringing together several trails, offers an unparalleled tour of the park. The views are nothing short of phenomenal, and you'll no doubt feel they're well earned - the trail gains and loses over 3,000 feet of elevation in its entirety.
Remember to always wear your helmet, and bring plenty of water. Conditions at the park can be searingly hot during the summer, and there's little or no shade anywhere along the bike trails. Cacti and rattlesnakes are plentiful as well - look out for both when riding!