Home » National Parks » Guadalupe Mountain National Park » Spending a Day in Remarkable Guadalupe Mountains National Park

On our Texas/New Mexico road trip, we had no idea what to expect when we arrived to spend a day at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. As we drove into the park, the rugged peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains rose up in front of us, and we couldn’t wait to explore. I had heard this extraordinary park is a favored destination for hiking enthusiasts. It has over 80-miles of varied trails, so we took advantage of less traveled trails that led us to some incredible encounters. Many combine this park with Carlsbad Caverns National Park as there are in proximity. Carlsbad is a mere 45-miles from Guadalupe Mountians.

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Guadalupe Mountains Views
Guadalupe Mountains Views

How do We Get to Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

By Car: If you are driving from El Paso, the nearest major city, you can take US-62/US-180 east for approximately 110 miles until you reach the park entrance. If you are driving from the east, you can take I-10 west to Exit 140 and follow signs to the park entrance. We drove from Big Bend National Park with a detour to see Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Two people standing beside the Guadalupe Mountain National Park Sign

Not a lot of gas stations along the way, so we stopped for gas whenever we reached town. There is no gasoline available in the park. Ensure your vehicle has sufficient fuel before heading out. The nearest gas station from the park headquarters is 35 miles away in either direction. Your final gas options will be Dell City or Van Horn in Texas or White’s City in New Mexico.

In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful.” Alice Walker

By Plane: The nearest major airport to Guadalupe Mountains National Park is El Paso International Airport (ELP), which is approximately 110 miles away. From the airport, you can rent a car or take a shuttle service to the park.

Front view of the Pine Springs Visitor Center
Front view of the Pine Springs Visitor Center

Orientation: Stop at one of the Visitor’s Centers First

Once you arrive at the park, there are several options for spending your day. You can either hit the hiking trails, drive the scenic roadways, or attend a ranger-led program.

Hunter Peak in the background- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Hunter Peak in the background- Guadalupe Mountains National Park

But first things first. Our initial stop is always the visitor center. Making a quick stop at the visitor center in any national park helps with getting orientated. I always grab a map and speak with a ranger/docent to get some insider tips and trail updates. Rangers are consistently super helpful, giving us the lowdown on the best trails and sights to see. Guadalupe Mountain has two visitor’s centers. McKittrick Canyon and Pine Springs Visitor Center are both on the east side of the park. Dog Canyon Ranger Station is on the western side of the park. Pine Springs is where we started our day, doing an early morning hike before the visitor center opened. Patrick Alexander.

Guadalupe Mountains Entrance Sign Pine Springs Visitor Center

The interactive displays explain the geological history of the park. Here we discovered that what are now the highest peaks in Texas were once the seabed of an ancient Permian Sea raised up by tectonic activity in the Cenozoic Era. Over 250 million years later, the massive fossilized reef system formed the Guadalupe Mountain range. The Karst limestone terrain is rich in marine fossils.

Old Butterfield Stagecoach Route Pinery Station built in 1858.
Old Butterfield Stagecoach Route Pinery Station built in 1858

What Unique Things Can We do in Guadalupe Mountains?

In one day, it is impossible to do all the park’s trails. These are just a few of the trails we could do on our stay in the park. Remember, this park has over 80 miles of hiking trails. In comparison to other National Parks we have visited, we can definitely say that this one is geared towards hikers.

Covered Portico on the Pinery Nature Trail Guadalupe Mountains NP

Which Hiking Trails are Best in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

This park has a wide range of trails for all skill levels. Whether you just want to walk a short distance or are looking for seclusion in an isolated area of the park, you can find it here.

Walk The Pinery Nature Trail

Located directly outside the visitor center, this 1.0-mile out-and-back nature trail is an easy introduction to the park (30-minutes). This is the only dog-friendly trail in the park. Our dog, Sage, loved the opportunity to stretch his legs. The trail leads to the Pinery Butterfield Stage Station remains one station along the Butterfield Overland Mail route. It was a stagecoach and mail delivery service that operated in the mid-19th century, from 1857 to 1861. Informational signs detail the effects of the 1993 Guadalupe fire on this area.

Attempt the Guadalupe Peak Trail

Diehard hikers flock to this park to tackle the Guadalupe Peak Trail. At 8,751 feet elevation, it is the highest point in Texas. Because the Pine Springs Visitor Center does not open until 8 AM, we decided to confront the peak early morning, to avoid the mid-day crowds (6-7 hours). The 8.1-mile out-and-back hike is regarded as challenging, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and trekking poles. It’s totally worth it for the incredible views at the top. I felt like my legs were going to give out as the first 2-miles are very steep indeed. The deteriorating weather with super windy conditions forcing us to turn around. Honestly, getting my rear end handed to me by the mountain was a humbling experience. The only good outcome of not completing the trial today was having more time to spend doing other trials since we only have one day here.

Guadalupe Peak Trail Panoramic Views
Guadalupe Peak Trail Views Credit: FreeGoodImages


Our next stop was Frijole Ranch.Frijole Ranch is located along Hwy 62/180, 1.4 miles (2.3k) north of the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Here we visited the well-preserved homestead that is now a museum. The museum tells the story of the human history of the Guadalupe Mountains. Inside, the exhibits begin with the Native Americans, moving on to ranchers, and eventually to the establishment of the National Park. On November 21, 1978, the National Register of Historic Places included this historic structure on its list.

The original homestead was first settled by the Radar Brothers around 1876. They ran a small cattle operation and built the original ranch house using locally sourced rock.

In 1906, the Smith family acquired the home renaming it Spring Hill Ranch. They added additional rooms during the 34 years they inhabited the house to make it a cozy ranch house. They also built the spring house, bathhouse, guest house and nearby storage buildings. The two springs in the ranch were the lifeblood of the ranch. They allowed the brothers to farm and maintain a small orchard. In 1925, the family constructed the small red schoolhouse to educate 8 local children. Being a retired teacher, I am always interested in schoolhouses. Later, Judge J.C. Hunter purchased the ranch as part of an accumulation of ranch properties in the area. In 1966, the entrepreneur sold the property to the National Park Service, which later incorporated it into Guadalupe Mountains National Park, officially established in 1972.

Today, the historic schoolhouse and the spring house are both still standing. The spring house was used to store/cool dairy products, fruits and vegetables.

Desert Oasis trees of Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Desert Oasis trees of Guadalupe Mountains National Park


The informational brochure on the ranch’s history made the structures and grounds interesting. We spent a bit of time walking the grounds before taking a moment to eat our lunch. A small, shaded picnic area provides a perfect little haven to relax, enjoying the scenery. After lunch we walked the short 0.6-mile Manzanita spring trail. leads to a small pond created by the spring. This natural water source provided sustenance for wildlife in the desert landscape. We started the pathway in a counterclockwise direction to include the Smith Spring Trail.

Smith Spring Trail-FRIJOLE RANCH
Smith Spring Trail

Smith Spring Trail

Frijole Ranch is the starting point for several picturesque trails, including the Smith Spring Trail. This is a short loop of 2.5-miles taking about 1-2 hours to complete. The trail is mostly level, traversing a small meadow before ascending a rocky canyon wash. Most of the trail is exposed to the sun. This hidden treasure ends at a lush oasis of oaks and maple trees was a pleasant surprise in contrast to the parks’ mostly desert environment.

Dry creek Bed Wash-Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Dry creek Bed Wash-Guadalupe Mountains National Park

McKittrick Nature Trail

We are excited to do the next trail as we’ve heard good things about the McKittrick Canyon trail. The trail is a 7-mile round-trip loop that winds through McKittrick Canyon to The Grotto (4-5 hours). If you only want a short hike, it is a 4.8-miles round-trip to the historic Pratt Cabin. The trail is relatively flat and easy, making it accessible for hikers of all ages and skill levels. When we reach the junction of the North & South McKittrick Creek, we crossed over the dry creek-bed, taking a brief rest at the cabin. The old stone cabin settled by oil geologist Wallace Pratt dates back to the early 1930s. This old limestone cabin and its outbuildings have an interesting history. A docent volunteer gave us the low-down on Wallace Pratt’s family and the construction of the buildings.

 McKittrick Canyon Trail-the Grotto
McKittrick Canyon Trail-the Grotto

No matter which trail you choose, be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen, and wear sturdy shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather, as the park’s elevation can result in rapidly changing conditions.

The Grotto

After a break, we continued down the trail to reach the Grotto. The canyon gets narrower as we make our way. There are more trees and shade. The trail is a little rockier here but is still an easy walk. We reach a fork that says to take the left turn trail to reach the grotto-it is marked with a sign.

Narrow Leafed Yucca Guadalupe Mountains NP
Narrow Leafed Yucca Guadalupe Mountains NP

The grotto itself is a beautiful area with picnic tables and lush vegetation, even in winter. The grotto itself is a limestone alcove with stalagmite and stalactite formations. It would have been nice to reach the hunter’s cabin off a short spur trail, but time was not on our side. The gate to the McKittrick road closes promptly at 6 PM MST-remember the park is in two time zones. With Sage in the camper (we have a Waggle to monitor temperature in our camper), we err on the side of caution and head back to the trailhead.

Mesquite Tree Skeleton Guadalupe Mountains
Mesquite Tree Skeleton Guadalupe Mountains

Which other hiking trails do people favor in the Guadalupe Mountains?

I wish we had more time in our schedule to have done a few more trails in other areas of the park. It does give us a reason to return to the Guadalupe Mountains. Many people underestimate this park. I have seen some even suggest skipping it altogether. I think this park has incredible hiking.

The Staircase Devil's Hall
The Staircase Devil’s Hall FlickrPD-Patrick Alexander
  1. Devil’s Hall Trail:Immerse yourself in the beauty of Devil’s Hall Trail as you hike through a narrow slot canyon, surrounded by towering rock walls, on this 4.2-mile round-trip trail. Before the wash, the trail transitions from being well packed to becoming somewhat rocky. In the wash, you must scramble over some huge boulders. Right before Devil’s Hall, there is a steep stairway to climb, but they are manageable. It is recommended to wearing good tread shoes, since the boulders can be slick in several spots.
  2. The Bowl Trail: For those seeking a much more demanding adventure, this 11-mile trail presents a formidable hike that leads hikers to an isolated basin amidst towering mountains at a high altitude. It is advisable for only seasoned hikers to attempt this trail.
  3. Salt Basin Dunes Trail: Hikers who embark on this 2.3-mile round-trip trail will be treated to an otherworldly experience as they traverse through towering sand dunes, all while enjoying breathtaking panoramic views of the vast desert that surrounds them
  4. Tejas Trail: This 8.8-mile one-way trail is a challenging hike that traverses some of the park’s most rugged terrain, including steep switchbacks and rocky ridges.
Hunter Peak as seen from the Pinery Trail
Hunter Peak as seen from the Pinery Trail

Final Thoughts on our day in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

One of the major challenges we faced during our visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park – the mountainous terrain and steep hiking trails. The elevation gain on the many rocky paths made it physically demanding for us. Not reaching the summit of Guadalupe Peak left us disappointed. However, there was a sense of accomplishment completing the other trails, making it all worth it. I found it surprising that it is considered one of the “least visited” national parks. Overall, we found it is a great place to explore the natural beauty of the West Texas desert, especially if you like hiking to remarkable mountain vistas, or learning about this area’s history.

Have you had a chance to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park? What was your favorite hiking trail? Share your thoughts in the comments below.