Guadalupe Mountains National Park sits within the Chihuahuan Desert of West 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. Visitors can find four of Texas’ highest peaks here, and the mountains, canyons, dunes, and vast desert all hold their own unique treasures. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a perfect setting for a whole list of recreational opportunities, but it takes some of the most daring personalities to get to the best vistas. Guadalupe National Park is a hiker’s paradise; a unique setting for backcountry camping, a haven for some of the best birdwatching, and visitors will never be without a photographic opportunity. An RV base camp provides the perfect place to start your adventures and try everything the park has to offer. 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. Guadalupe Mountains National Park enjoys a rich history which spans over 10,000 years. The region was home to an intense and blood-filled rivalry between the Mescalero Apaches and the Buffalo Soldiers. It also provided the scenic backdrop for the Butterfield Overland Mail system and was a prominent travel route for ranchers and settlers throughout the years. The property bears evidence of its past incarnations at the Frijole and Williams Ranches as well as the remains of the Pinery Station. Many artifacts are still in place on the grounds, and visitors are asked to help preserve the park's history by leaving them undisturbed. 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 somewhat 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.
There are three main entrances to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The main Ranger Station is found at the entrance at Pine Springs, found off 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 primary Visitor Center, also off US-62/180. The northern entrance, Dog Canyon, is near the New Mexico and Texas borders. RVers will enter the park via NM-137.
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 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, even in the campground.
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 as there are no public transportation options within this park.
Find rest and relaxation in the Carlsbad KOA, a desert oasis campground. This modern, award-winning KOA is just the place to set up a base camp to tour surrounding attractions like Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the International UFO Museum in Roswell, and White Sands National Monument. After an action-packed day, enjoy some peace and quiet back at Carlsbad KOA. Lounge by the pool, grab a bite to eat from the snack bar or take the pup for a romp in the dog park. Pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 75 feet. On-site amenities include Wi-Fi, cable TV, and laundry and restroom facilities. Firewood and propane are also available on-site for purchase.
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.
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 the hot 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.
The Pine Springs Campground is Guadalupe Mountains National Park's main campground. It is 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. Payments for your stay should be made at the self-registration board near the restrooms. Wood and charcoal fires are strictly prohibited and quiet hours for RV generators are from 8 PM until 8 AM.
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 boondock locations are a bit too primitive for an extended stay. No matter the reason, visitors to Guadalupe Mountains National Park can, rest assured, know that there are plenty of options to stop outside of the park while still getting to experience all of its beauty. Since the Guadalupe Mountains are mainly a 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. Carlsbad Caverns is another National Park nearby. Carlsbad Caverns popularity often causes visitors to overflow into boondocking back at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, creating a two-in-one national park adventure.
There are ten primitive backcountry campsites, each of which contains 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 the time of year 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.
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 road will take you toward McKittrick Ridge and up to 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 the Notch, continue hiking and don’t be fooled by false summits—be sure to keep going until you’ve reached the top. This hike is almost 15 miles long.
Even in winter conditions when the weather can tend to be chilly towards the evening hours, you will want to be sure that you bring along plenty of drinking water and some snacks to keep your thirst at bay and your energy levels primed for performance as this is a very challenging hike. Dress in layers in case temperatures dip towards the cool at night, or you experience unseasonably warm spells.
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. Because this is a challenging hike, it's best to tackle this trail only if you are in peak physical condition.
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, 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 somewhat elusive. The Headquarters Visitor Center provides checklists for mammals, birds, and reptiles of the area. The Winter months offer an excellent time to see elk, as well as other resident fauna. It is always a great idea to approach a hike of this nature with a set of binoculars, your camera, and a naturalist's guide. Armed with these tools, you are well poised to spot, identify, and record your incredible findings on your journey in search of wildlife in the region.
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 the far-reaching arms of the Milky Way, are celestial wonders that are sure to astound even the most seasoned of astronomers. You don't have to go far to experience the dark skies. If you want to escape all light, stake out a comfy place in the brush. If you feel like stargazing the in the campground, grab your favorite chair, and set up outside of your rig. Don't forget to turn off all of your lights. The darkest conditions make the prettiest night skies.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail is an arduous hike, though very rewarding. The trek 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 undoubtedly one of the most challenging hikes 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.
The Marcus Overlook is a moderate-level hiking trail that is about 4.5 miles long and 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 sunscreen, and with all of the hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, bring plenty of water to stay well-hydrated.
Fall is a perfect time to complete the Bush Blue Ridge Loop trail because the temperatures are more agreeable for a long and challenging hike. 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 hike suitable for the more daring hikers who have considerable hiking experience. If you plan to backpack this trail, be sure to purchase the appropriate backpacking permit. Overnight treks require a well-planned itinerary and proper overnight equipment. Information to help you prepare and complete this hike is available at the park.
The McKittrick Canyon Trail is rather short in distance, yet holds great value in its fascinating exhibits. In such a short time, you will 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. Interpretive information details the plants 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 the landscape look lusher than it does in other areas of the park. The entire trail is almost a mile and usually takes less than an hour to complete. Though not lengthy, this trail is still best suited to hikers who regularly enjoy moderate-level hikes.
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. Because the fall foliage is considered nearly unmatched, during peak viewing times, parking lots and campgrounds fill up quickly, so plan your photography excursion during the week to avoid some of the crowds.
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 than some of the other trails in the park. 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.
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 for an even more challenging hike.
If you are looking for a more leisurely hike, consider taking the Devil's Hall Trail. The trail leads up Pine Spring Canyon to a narrow, scenic canyon. Summer heat can make this one a scorcher, so prepare yourself for warm temperatures by packing plenty of water. Hike this trail to come across the marvel of the large rising cliffs that extend to Guadalupe Peak. The rising cliffs are the 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 minimal 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.
The Frijole Ranch History Museum is the place to visit for families who want to learn about the park's history and the human side of the Guadalupe Mountains. Here, you can learn all about the Native Americans that once called this land their home, as well as the coming of early ranching communities, and the establishment of the area before it became 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.
Beyond Pratt Cabin is a popular place called the Grotto. It's called the Grotto because the location is where the forest becomes much denser than the majority of the vegetation throughout the park. The trail runs parallel to a stream, and if you look carefully, you might catch a rainbow trout's scales glimmer in the sunlight. To get to the Grotto, go left at the fork in the road just after Pratt Cabin. At the Grotto, you will discover a place where dripping water meanders throughout cracks in the limestone. The water seepage helps to create tiny cave-like caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Because the scenery is so etherial, you won't want to leave the Grotto too quickly. Plan to stay awhile, and pack a picnic lunch before heading to this lush location. 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.
Hikers may enter the Spring Trail Loop at either end of the trail. Anyone who takes this route must sign in and pay an entrance fee at the trailhead before beginning their hike. The trail offers a guide that will accompany you and help pick out special features of the hike, such as different plants and wildlife. The trail is a moderate level difficulty hike, and it takes roughly one to two hours to complete a distance of 2.3 miles.
Although Pratt Cabin is a popular destination during the fall when the leaves change, it is equally appealing during the spring when the trees bloom and come back to life. It's best to avoid the crowds by visiting this historic structure during the spring, and instead of scrambling to see the facility, you can take your time walking around the property, even allowing yourself time to sit and relax at the picnic tables. In the early 1930s, Wallace Pratt constructed this unique stone structure, and after its completion, he and his wife would bring the family to the cabin to enjoy the beauty of the Guadalupe Mountains. 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.
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 relatively level after crossing an arroyo. Along the way, you can enjoy talks from a free interpretive trail guide. The guide offers plenty of information on both the natural and cultural history of both the meadow and the surrounding area. This trail is one the whole family can enjoy, and you can even bring your leashed pup, so if you have kids, make sure to add the Indian Meadow Nature Trail to your itinerary.
Spring is the perfect time to see the wildflowers bloom at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 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 plants thrive in the spring, opening their blooms, as do the yuccas, agaves, and sotols. During wildflower season you may also enjoy seeing some flowering trees, such as the Texas Madrone. Whatever kind of flower or plant you are searching for, prepare to locate and identify each flora species. Bring along your wildflower checklist and your flower identification book.
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 playout for the day. Spring days aren’t as hot as those in the summer, yet, winds sometimes make conditions a little more hazardous.
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.