This National Park sits within the Chihuahuan Desert of Western Texas and is well-noted for its brilliantly white Salt Basin Dunes, fossilized reef mountains, outstanding views, and multiple ecosystems that host an array of diverse wildlife. You’ll find four of Texas’ highest peaks here, as well. The mountains, canyons, dunes, and vast desert all hold their own unique treasures. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a perfect setting for a whole list of recreational opportunities, but it takes some of the most daring to get to the best vistas.
It’s a hiker’s paradise, a unique setting for backcountry camping, a haven for some of the best birdwatching, and you’ll never be without a photographic opportunity. An RV base camp provides the perfect place to start your adventures and try it all. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is open all year-round, and this arid environment can be enjoyed during any season. Certain seasons may be drastically windier than others, so it is best to note when weather conditions may go awry.
You’ll want to plan ahead to ensure your trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a pleasant one. Campgrounds out here are primitive and cell phone coverage can be rather unreliable. While creature comforts can ride along with you in your rig, there is no doubt about it - this place is backcountry camping at its best.
Park Alerts (3)
[Information] Restrictions on pet(s) trail access - park policy for safety, resource protection and preservation [+ Info]
Pets are not permitted on most trails or in the backcountry in Guadalupe Mountains National park. They are only allowed in areas accessed by vehicles, including roadsides, parking areas, picnic areas and campgrounds.
[Information] McKittrick Canyon gate access hours - Sunday, March 10, 2019 through Sunday, November 3, 2019
McKittrick Canyon access will change on Sunday, March 10, 2019 with the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. Beginning 3/10/19, McKittrick Canyon will be accessible to vehicles from 8:00 a.m. MST to 6:00 p.m. MST - gate will be locked at 6:00 p.m. MST
[Information] Entrance and camping fees increase effective Friday, March 1 [+ Info]
Entrance fees will be raised from $5 per person to $7 per person and include access to the park's facilities & trail system for seven days.
Camping (Tent or RV) per night fees increase from $8 per site, per night to $ 15 per site, per night.
Transportation in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
There are three main entrances to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The main Ranger Station is found at the entrance at Pine Springs, off of US-62/180. Here, you will also find the Pine Springs Visitor Center, main camping grounds, and where most of the visitor activities are located. McKittrick Canyon and its entrance are about seven miles northeast of the main Visitor Center, also off of US-62/180. After the first seven miles, continue another four to get to the parking lot. Driving to Dog Canyon’s entrance requires a drive north on US-62/180; then west on City Road 408; then south on NM-137. It is about 105 miles from a start at Pine Springs.
Parking is somewhat limited in comparison to the overall expanse of the park, as most of what this piece of Texas has to offer will be explored on two legs or two wheels instead of four. The multi-use trails here are what will really show off this backcountry wonder. However, before the adventures can begin, most will have to tackle the first hurdles provided by Guadalupe Mountains National Park - finding parking. RV and trailer guests will find several pull-through options within the park's Mazama Campground parking lot and can choose from both pull-through and back-in spaces at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. All parking is first-come, first-served; including in the campground.
You won’t find too much modern transportation out here. To get a more intimate view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s superb sightseeing, your travels will likely have to continue either on foot or on horseback. The few roadways that penetrate the park remain unpaved and unmaintained. However, most of these sites are at least easily accessible off the of the main road, US-62/180. If you’re venturing out with four-wheel drive, feel free to take on any of the desert paths.
Campgrounds and parking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Campsites in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park does not offer any campgrounds with a reservation system. All sites are first-come, first-served. Group campsites are an exception and can be reserved for groups of 10-20 people. There are two group sites available for reservation in Pine Springs Campground and one group site at Dog Canyon. Reservations can be made by calling the Pine Springs Visitor Center.
Pine Springs Campground
This is the main campground, located just off of US-62/180, near the Pine Springs Visitor Center. It is a rather simple, primitive campground with sites that are situated at the base of the mountain. Campers will find 20 sites available for tent camping and another 19 RV sites in a paved parking lot. Sites for RVs are clearly marked with painted lines and numbers, and will accommodate campers and trailers up to 50 feet in length. It’s best to come prepared, as the campground does not offer hookups, there is no dump station, and you won’t find showers. Pine Springs’ primitive setting does, however, provide potable water and fully accessible flush toilets. Payment for campground stay can be done at the self-registration board near the restrooms. Wood and charcoal fires are strictly prohibited and quiet hours for RV generators are from 8PM until 8AM.
Dog Canyon Campground
Campers that venture out to Dog Canyon will find a campground with nine sites available for tent camping and four reserved for RVs and trailers up to 23 feet. It is a much more secluded and “off-the-beaten-path” campground compared to Pine Springs - and that is saying quite a bit, as Pine Springs is already rather primitive. Dog Canyon is a beautiful forested canyon on the northern side of the park. It tends to remain much cooler than Pine Springs, so it is a welcome reprieve during Summer months. The campgrounds offer no hookups or dump station, though restrooms have sinks and flush toilets. Dog Canyon is also fully accessible. The same rules apply for fires, where wood and charcoal are strictly prohibited from use. Dry conditions and high winds are lethal components for any open flame. Contained propane grills and stoves are permitted.
There are ten primitive backcountry campsites, each of which contain anywhere from four to eight hardened tent pads. There is no off-trail camping allowed and all overnight backpackers must register to stay in any of the ten primitive camps. Campsites tend to be quite tricky to snag during the last week in October. This is when the maple leaves shift their colors from vibrant greens to deep reds; transforming McKittrick Canyon, as well as other parts of the park, into picture perfect autumn settings.
Even in these backcountry settings, it may be hard to secure a spot on a beautiful day -- especially throughout the peak seasons. Other guests may find that the campground settings are a bit too primitive for an extended stay. No matter the reason, visitors of Guadalupe National Park can rest assured, knowing that there are plenty of options to stop outside of the park while still getting to experience all of its wonder. As a fairly backcountry setting, most other areas to rest your rig are going to lie within an hour's drive. The closest city is White City (about a 30-minute drive), where Carlsbad Caverns National Park resides. This is another well-visited, and closely situated, park - so much so, that many of this National Park's visitors overflow into parking back at Guadalupe National Park.
Seasonal activities in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s diverse array of ecosystems allows for many different species of birds to thrive here. There are over 300 avian species that either nest here in the park or who pass through it during seasonal migrations. Some popular locations for the best birdwatching experiences include Smith Springs, “The Bowl”, McKittrick Canyon, Dog Canyon, Pine Springs, and Guadalupe Canyon. Spot anything from roadrunners and cactus wrens to mountain chickadees and broad-tailed hummingbirds.
The park offers many diverse riding opportunities, with over half of the trails open to equestrian and stock use. There are no horses or other pack animals for hire in or near the park though, so, if you want to enjoy a leisurely ride, you must bring your own stock. When you’re preparing to ride, be sure you have completed a thorough checklist of supplies, including plenty of water. Always take in consideration how weather conditions are supposed to play out for the day. Spring days aren’t as hot as those in the summer, yet, winds sometimes make conditions a little more hazardous.
Spring is the perfect time to see the wildflowers bloom. The Chihuahuan Desert is very dry and receives little precipitation, so spring wildflowers tend to bloom a bit later here than those of the Mojave or Sonoran Deserts. Cacti open their blooms, as well as yuccas, agaves, and sotols. When visiting, you may also enjoy seeing some flowering trees, such as the Texas Madrone
Indian Meadow Nature Trail
This trail is one that you can take at a leisurely pace and is quite easy. It usually takes about half an hour to complete and remains fairly level after crossing an arroyo. Along the way, you can enjoy talks from a free trail guide. The guide offers plenty of information on both the natural and cultural history of both the meadow and the surrounding area.
Picnic Near Pratt Cabin
This is the perfect spring setting for a picnic. There are tables located both at and near Pratt Cabin. The cabin, itself, is a famed setting that Wallace Pratt constructed in the early 1930’s. The canyon owes its many visitations due to the generosity of Wallace Pratt and his family, who had donated the land to the National Park Service.
Smith Spring Loop
The loop may be entered at either end, but those who travel along it must sign in and pay an entrance fee at the trailhead before beginning. The trail offers a guide that will accompany you and help pick out special features of the hike, such as differing plants and wildlife. The trail is rather moderate and it takes roughly one to two hours to complete a distance of 2.3 miles.
Beyond Pratt Cabin is The Grotto, where the forest becomes much more dense. The trail runs along parallel to the stream, and Rainbow Trout glimmer in the sunlight. A fork in the road will meet you before reaching The Grotto. Go left and discover a place where dripping water meanders throughout the limestone, creating tiny cave-like surroundings with stalactites and stalagmites. Here, you will even find a tempting location for a picnic. There are rock benches and tables that sit in the cool shade, making it a perfect spot for a nice break from the summer heat.
Frijole Ranch History Museum
The old ranch headquarters now hold the Frijole Ranch History Museum, where the human side of the Guadalupe Mountains’ history is displayed. Here, you can learn all about the Native Americans that once called this land their home, the coming of early ranching communities, and the establishment of the area as a National Park. The courtyard hosts a few picnic tables that lie under the shady limbs of large trees. It is a perfect location to relax and take in the rest of the park’s features.
Devil’s Hall Trail
This is a rather easy hike to enjoy. It follows up Pine Spring Canyon to a narrow, scenic canyon. Summer heat can make this one a scorcher, so be prepared with plenty of water. Hike this trail to come across the marvel of the large rising cliffs that extend to Guadalupe Peak. This is an area known as the Devil’s Hall and the Hiker’s Staircase. In total, the hike lasts a little over four miles round-trip, and has very little elevation gain. It usually takes about two or three hours to complete a full trip, with the trailhead starting at the RV section of Pine Springs Campground.
Tejas Trail To Lost Peak
The Tejas Trail cuts through an open meadow to the canyon bottom. Both sides are lined with juniper, ponderosa pines, big-tooth maples, and chinkapin oaks. From here, you will begin a climb toward Lost Peak where you’ll gain over 1,500 feet in elevation. This trail is rated moderate to strenuous and usually takes around 6 hours to complete. The summit of the trail levels out and reaches a junction with the McKittrick Ridge Trail. From here, you can continue on for an even more challenging hike.
As the leaves transform from shades of green to golds and reds, the landscape in parts of Guadalupe Mountains National Park drastically changes. It is a popular time of year for visitors to come and enjoy this feature of the park’s flora. The canyon foliage creates spectacles that rival even that of New England, where radical changes such as this seem less out of place.
McKittrick Canyon Trail
The McKittrick Canyon Trail is rather short in distance, yet holds great value in its fascinating exhibits. In such short time, you will clearly notice distinct changes in landscape and vegetation. Start from an intermittent seep (typically hidden in junipers) to a southwestern slope along an arroyo. These are semi-arid desert conditions, and the plants and animals here will make that evident. Common plants are described along the trailside, and at the trail’s top, you can peer down into the mouth of the McKittrick Canyon. The trail continues down a northeasterly slope where the sun bathes the grounds, making it much more lush. The entire trail is almost a mile and usually takes less than an hour to complete.
Bush-Blue Ridge Loop
Fall is a perfect time to complete the Bush Mountain/Blue Ridge Loop. It’s best to come well prepared, as this trail tends to take hikers about two days to complete. Some like to stretch out their stay even longer with a two night excursion. The rough terrain and steep grades make this a challenging recreation and definitely one that is for the more daring.
Hike The Marcus Overlook
This moderate hiking trail is about 4.5 miles long and rather kid-friendly. Simply follow Bush Mountain Trail to Manzanita Ridge, and once on top, the trail will abruptly level off for a short distance. From here, you can enjoy the view down and across the western side of Dog Canyon. As always, be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and stay well-hydrated.
Permian Reef Trail
The Permian Reef Trail is one that is perfect for geology buffs and enthusiastic rockhounds. Along the way, the trail has a whole selection of numbered stops that correspond with a comprehensive geology guide. The guide is available at the Headquarters Visitor Center. The entire trail is almost 8.5 miles, round-trip, and is one that is much more strenuous. Come prepared, as this is a hike that gains about 2,000 feet of elevation. It’s worth it, though. The views down into the McKittrick Canyon are exquisite.
Guadalupe Peak Trail
This is an arduous hike, though very, very rewarding. The hike up to Guadalupe Peak is about an 8.5 mile (round-trip) hike with about 3,000 feet gained in elevation along the way. It usually takes hikers about 6 to 8 hours to complete a round-trip hike. It is certainly one of the most difficult in the park, but also provides picture perfect views from the highest point in the state of Texas. Here, you can also witness a whole other ecosystem, where high desert and high elevation forests dominate the landscape. The terrain is steep and rocky, and hikers are well advised to come prepared and ready for a challenge.
Camping out in the backcountry has so many rewards, one of which is a view of a pristine night sky, unobstructed from city lights. On a clear night at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, you can effortlessly take in the stars from one horizon to another. Thousands upon thousands of pinpoints of light as well as arms of the Milky Way are wonders that are sure to astound even the most seasoned of astronomers.
The diversity of ecosystems in the Guadalupe Mountains allow for such an incredible variety of wildlife. Many of the animals that live here are nocturnal, so as to beat the unrelenting heat during the day. However, many other species have found an oasis where water is prevalent, such as the Smith Springs, the Manzanita Spring, and within McKittrick Canyon. Look for tracks, nests, dens, disturbances, and scat. Some of these creatures are rather elusive. The Headquarters Visitor Center provides checklists for mammals, birds, and reptiles of the area. The Winter months provide an excellent time to see elk, as well as many other resident fauna.
The Salt Basin is a rarely-visited portion of the park. This desert area, west of the mountains, is a great arc of salt flats, sandy mounds, and dry lakes. White gypsum dunes make for some of the most spectacular features of this part of the park. The dunes can reach up to 60 feet in height, and are only getting taller. The Salt Basin is only open for day use. High winds can make it inhospitable, however, the warm winter days are still much safer than visiting during summer months.
When you have the time, when you have the strength, and when you’re prepared for a more arduous hike, go right at the fork at The Grotto’s trail junction. This will take you toward McKittrick Ridge and up one of the steepest trails in the park. About a mile into the hike, the trail passes through an area known as “The Notch”. Here, you can take in a phenomenal view of the canyon from both directions. From here, continue on and don’t be fooled by false summits - be sure you’ve reached the top. This hike is almost 15 miles total, from the contact station, to the ridge, and back.
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