While in Southeastern New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we also visited nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This is one of two national parks in Texas and is a fairly unique mountainous, desert park. (See our post on Carlsbad Caverns for more details about where we stayed and such).
These two national parks are only about thirty minutes from each other, so it would be a shame to not see both if you are in the area. We enjoyed our visit to Guadalupe Mountains and are glad we made the time to see this park. If you intend to visit the area, follow our guide of recommended activities for the best national park experience.
As with all national parks, the visitor’s center is your guide to learning the park’s history, geography, botany, fauna, and more. At this national park, we read all about the desert plant species of this geographic area, as well as the creatures that thrive here. You can also watch the park film for even more details about the area.
Hike Devil’s Hall Trail (3.8 miles total)
This was a neat trail that we hiked in the early morning to avoid the heat. It begins at a low elevation and moderately climbs to a rocky wash area. Along the first part of the trail, hikers are treated to surrounding views of the high-riparian peaks of the Guadalupe Range.
Then, you can follow the wash until you reach a natural rock staircase, which leads to Devil’s Hall. Here, a “hallway” of sorts is formed by narrowing steep canyon walls, which closely resembles a slot canyon. If you only have a half day or so in the park, this is the hike I would recommend.
Hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak
Brendan hiked this trail on a sunny, warm afternoon. On that day, I was not feeling the heat, so I stayed behind with the pets. He said that the hike was challenging, yet rewarding.
The trail is 8.5 miles in length, and climbs 3,000 feet to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Along the hike, the vegetation changes from desert plants to a high conifer forest. From the peak, you can see a considerable portion of Western Texas and Northern New Mexico. If you decide to hike this trail, be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection. The NPS website suggests leaving six to eight hours time for the hike, but Bren completed it in about four hours.
Hike Smith Spring Trail
Another enjoyable trail within this park is Smith Spring Trail. Smith Spring is a 2.3-mile round trip hike that showcases the park’s natural vegetation, as it changes from desert scrub to riparian plants. Riparian refers to vegetation found along riverbanks or in wetlands.
Hike McKittrick Canyon Trail
McKittrick Canyon Trail is a rather long hike, totaling 20 miles if you hike the entire out-and-back trail. This route follows along the bottom of McKittrick Canyon for three miles, before it crosses a stream, passes the historic Pratt Cabin, and enters the scenic Grotto. The Grotto is an interesting formation of sandstone rock structures in a half-pipe type cave (see photo below). The trail eventually ends on the McKittrick Mountain Ridge, where you must then turn around and double back to the trailhead.
Tips and Tricks
- Visit during the cooler months. When we visited in mid-spring, it was already over 100 degrees on the daily. We would have hiked more trails if we had visited in the winter, early spring, or late fall, when the weather is much more mild.
- Bring sunscreen! Even during the winter months, the sun here is very strong, and it is best to be protected from burns, especially at midday.
- Bring lots of water. This is a desert park, and the only refill station is at the visitor’s center. It is best to be prepared with plenty of hydration.
Guadalupe Mountains is a park that is often overlooked, as it lives in the shadow of the more-famous Texas park, Big Bend. However, we enjoyed our visit here and feel that the park is fairly underrated. Definitely plan at least a day here to learn about and experience the mountainous desert environment of Northwestern Texas and the Guadalupe Range.
Have you visited Guadalupe Mountains National Park? Did you enjoy it? Feel free to share below!