Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Guadalupe Mountains National Park could easily be described as one of America's best-kept secrets. As if “hidden in plain view”, travelers often overlook the park as they drive by. To many, the massive rock face of El Capitan isn’t impressive, but forbidding, as it stands steadfast in a sea of harsh, barren desert. What else could possibly be here? Or live here?

It is easy to mistake the desert’s magic for emptiness, and towering rocks and jagged peaks as treacherous, not worthy of further exploration. But beyond one's first glimpse is an important geological story captured in the rocks and fossils. Guadalupe Mountains National Park preserves one of the finest examples of an ancient, marine fossil reef on earth. During the Permian Age, about 250 million years ago, a vast tropical ocean covered much of the region. Within this sea, calcareous sponges, algae, and other lime-secreting marine organisms, along with lime precipitated from the seawater, build up and formed the reef that paralleled the shoreline for 400 miles. After the ocean evaporated, the reef was buried in thick blankets of sediments and mineral salts, and was entombed for millions of years until uplift exposed massive portions of it. Today, geologists and scientists come from around the world to study this phenomenal natural resource.

Millions of years of geological transformation has formed the skeleton of the Guadalupes, while timeless persistence of powerful winds and the equally powerful forces of water has carved its intricate character. This is a rugged mountain range, with deep, sheer-sided canyons, steep slopes, high ridges, and limited but dependable seeps and springs. The complexity of the geography allows unique life zones to shelter a staggering number of plants and animals. One needs only to walk a short distance into the park to recognize that the diversity is outstanding. Thousands of species, well equipped to tolerate the extremes of climate and topography, not only survive, but thrive in near perfect harmonious balance.

The park's mild desert climate is suitable for a wide variety of outdoor activities throughout most of the year. Come and enjoy day hiking or walking, camping, backpacking, wildlife viewing, photography, and horseback riding (bring your own stock).

Some activities such as backpacking and horseback riding require a free permit that can be obtained at the Headquarters Visitor Center or at the Dog Canyon Ranger Station.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park Camping

Guadalupe Mountains Camping
Guadalupe Mountains CampingBackcountry Campgrounds

For those who wish to enjoy an arduous backpacking experience there are 10 primitive backcountry campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis. A free permit is required, and must be obtained in person at the Headquarters Visitor Center or the Dog Canyon Ranger Station. Permit may only be obtained the day of, or the day before the planned itinerary. Use containerized fuel for cooking; fires (including charcoal) are prohibited in the park. One gallon of water per person, per day is recommended; water is available at the trailheads. There are no available water sources in park's backcountry.

Dog Canyon Campground

Dog Canyon lies in a secluded, forested canyon on the north side of the park. Due to the higher elevation it remains cooler than Pine Springs campground in the summer. There are 9 tent sites and 4 RV sites (no hookups, no dump station). The cost is $8.00 per night, per site, $4.00 for Golen Age and Golden Access Passport holders. Restrooms have sinks and flush toilets, but no showers. Charcoal and wood fires prohibited. 1 group site is available by reservation. Minimum group size 10, maximum 20. Cost for the group site is $3.00 per person, minimum of $30.00 per night.

Pine Springs Campground

Located 1/3 mile from the Headquarters Visitor Center, this high desert campground is ideally situated at the park's main trailhead where visitors enjoy hiking to Guadalupe Peak or The Bowl. 20 tent sites and 19 RV sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $8.00 per night, per site, $4.00 for Golden Age and Golden Access Passport holders. Water, restrooms, service sink, and pay telephone are available. No dump station or hook-ups for recreational vehicles. Tent sites frequently fill early in the day during peak visitation times such as summer weekends, holidays, and fall color weekends in late October. Two group sites are also available by reservations up to 60 days in advance - minimum of 10, maximum of 20 persons. The cost for a group site is $3.00 per person, minimum of $30.00.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park Hiking

Guadalupe Mountains Trails
Guadalupe Mountains TrailsWith over 80 miles of hiking trails and 10 backcountry campgrounds, Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers outstanding backpacking opportunities. All backpackers must obtain a Free Backcountry Use Permit, and must pay an entrance fee prior to entering the backcountry. All trips require preparation. Improper equipment, poor conditioning and disregard for unpredictable weather changes can result in an unpleasant or dangerous outing. Respect for the land you hike through will protect the park for you and future visitors.

Pine Springs Trailhead

Guadalupe Peak Trail
On a clear day, the view from the "Top of Texas" (8,749 feet, 2,667 meters) is outstanding. The trail is very steep, but is well established. Some areas are exposed to cliff edges. Rated strenuous; 3000 feet of elevation gain. Round trip is 8.4 miles, and takes 6-8 hours. Avoid the Peak during high winds and thunderstorms.

Devil's Hall Trail
Hike the streambed of Pine Springs canyon, then climb the natural rock of the Hiker's Staircase, to the finale - the Devil's Hall. This rocky trail has very little elevation gain, and leads you through maples, ponderosa pine and many plant varieties of the Chihuahuan desert. The trail is rated moderate; though it is only 4.2 miles round trip, allow 3-5 hours to enjoy this hike.

The Bowl
A beautiful coniferous forest of pine and Douglas fir covers the high ridges and canyons, and awaits those who are willing to hike up 2500 feet from the Chihuahuan desert below. The remnants of wildland fire are still evident along sections of the trails. From Pine Springs campground, follow the Frijole Trail, and Bear Canyon Trail to the top, then left on the Bowl Trail. Take a side trip to Hunter Peak, then descend via Tejas Trail. This hike is rated strenuous. Allow 8-10 hours; round trip is 9.1 miles.

El Capitan/Salt Basin Overlook Trails
The trail leads through Chihuahuan desert to the base of El Capitan at the southern end of the Guadalupe mountian range. Follow the El Capitan Trail and the Salt Basin Overlook Trail. Return to Pine Springs campground via the El Capitan Trail. Beyond Salt Basin Overlook, the trail continues to Williams Ranch historic site, an additional 4.7 miles one-way. This hike is rated moderate; it is 11.3 miles round trip. Allow 6-8 hours.

Frijole/Foothills Trails
The Frijole and Foothills trails make a connecting loop between Pine Springs campground and Frijole Ranch. Start at either end. Observe Chihuahuan desert vegetation and nice distant vistas. Not frequently traveled, this trail offers an enjoyable walk of solitude.

McKittrick Canyon Trailhead

McKittrick Canyon Trail
Follow an intermittent stream through the desert, transition, and canyon woodlands to the historic Pratt Lodge, Grotto picnic area, and Hunter Cabin. A guide book is available at the McKittrick Canyon Contact Station or the Headquarters Visitor Center. Rated moderate; the 4.8 miles round-trip to Pratt Lodge takes 2 hours; allow 3-5 hours round-trip to hike to the Grotto and Hunter Cabin.

To protect this fragile environment you are required to stay on the trail, and please, stay out of the water. It is reserved for the wildlife.

McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail
An intermittent seep lies hidden within junipers, shrubs, and grasses that cling to this tiny ecosystem. Trailside exhibits describe common plants, reference wildland fire, and explain Permian Reef geology. The trail is .9 miles round trip, is rated moderate, but takes less than one hour to complete.

Permian Reef Trail
For serious geology buffs, this trail has stop markers that can be used with a comprehensive geology guide, available at the park's Headquarters Visitor Center. There are excellent views into McKittrick Canyon from the top of Wilderness Ridge. The trail is 8.4 miles round-trip, rated strenuous with 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

Headquarters Visitor Center Trailhead

The Pinery Trail
Travel the short .75 mile path to the ruins of the old Pinery Station, once a favored stop on the original 2,800 mile Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Trailside exhibits describe Chihuahuan desert vegetation. The trail is paved, rated easy, and wheelchair accessible. Pets are allowed on leash.

Frijole Ranch Trailhead

Smith Spring Trail
Look for birds, mule deer, and elk as you walk this loop trail to the shady oasis of Smith Spring. Take a break here and enjoy the gurgling sounds of the tiny waterfall before continuing around to sunny Manzanita Spring. Scars from wildland fires of 1990 and 1993 are evident along the trail. The trail is rated moderate, with a round-trip distance of 2.3 miles. Allow one to one and a half hours.

Please: Water is precious for park flora and wildlife species. Do not disturb the water in any way.

Frijole/Foothills Trails
The Frijole and Foothills trails make a connecting loop between Pine Springs campground and Frijole Ranch. Start at either end. Observe Chihuahuan desert vegetation and nice distant vistas. Not frequently traveled, this trail offers an enjoyable walk of solitude.

Dog Canyon Trailhead

Indian Meadow Nature Trail
A free trail guide offers information and insights on the natural history, and cultural history of the meadow and the surrounding area. The trail is .6 mile; at a leisure pace it takes 30-45 minutes. The trail is rated easy as it remains almost level after crossing an arroyo.

Marcus Overlook
Follow the Bush Mountain Trail to Manzanita Ridge. Once on top, the trail abruptly levels off for a short distance. Stop at the point where the trail drops steeply, and enjoy the view down West Dog Canyon. Turn back here and return to Dog Canyon along the same route. The trail is rated moderate and the distance is 4.5 miles.

Lost Peak
Follow the Tejas Trail through open meadow and into the canyon bottom, that is lined on either side by alligator juniper, ponderosa pine, chinkapin oak and big tooth maple. Shortly ahead you will begin climbing up toward Lost Peak, gaining 1540 feet in elevation. At the summit the trail levels out and soon reaches a junction with the McKittrick Ridge Trail. The distance to Lost Peak and return is 6.4 miles. It is rated moderate to strenuous, and takes 5-6 hours.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park Equestrian

Guadalupe Mountains Equine Trails
Guadalupe Mountains Equine TrailsThe park offers diverse riding opportunities. Sixty percent of the trails are open to stock use. Those closed to stock are difficult to maintain or pass through unique and fragile areas intolerant of such use. Stock manure droppings introduce exotic plants that displace native vegetation.

There are no horses or pack animals for hire in or near the park; you must bring your own stock. All rides require thorough preparation. Improper equipment, poor conditioning, and disregard for weather conditions can result in an unpleasant or dangerous ride. Respect for the environment you ride through will help further the mission of protecting park resources for you and for future generations.

Trails Open To Stock

Stock are permitted on the following trails only. No off-trail riding is allowed.

Easy Trails: Gentle grade, easy to follow.

-Foothills Trail
-Williams Ranch Road
-Frijole Trail

Moderate Trails: Steeper grades; rocky sections; generally easy to follow; may require dismounts; intermediate rider experience; stock conditioned to mountain trails.

-Bush Mountain Trail - Dog Canyon to Marcus Trail
-Marcus Trail
-Tejas Trail - Dog Canyon to Pine Top
-McKittrick Canyon Trail - Tejas Trail to McKittrick Ridge Campground
-El Capitan Trail - Pine Springs to Salt Basin Overlook
-Salt Basin Overlook Trail (lower loop)

Difficult Trails: Steep grades; narrow sections; rocky; trail may be difficult to follow; requires specific knowledge of trail or experience with similar trail conditions; for experienced riders and stock conditioned for difficult mountain terrain.

-Tejas Trail - Pine Springs to Pine Top
-Bush Mountain Trail - Pine Top to Bush Mountain Campground
-Guadalupe Peak Trail
-El Capitan Trail - Salt Basin Overlook to Williams

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