Dreaming of Travel: Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas is somewhat in the shadows of its more famous neighbor Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But if you are in the area, it’s worth stopping in to experience this dry and rugged landscape for yourself.
If you’re looking for solitude, this is the place to come. Far from any major cities (El Paso, TX is two hours away), you will have many of the trails to yourself. Because of the remoteness, we recommend spending a night out here - either camping in the park or in nearby Carlsbad to get the most out of the trip. Besides catching a desert sunrise, the other benefit of camping is enjoying a truly dark night sky; you will be very far from any light pollution.
Combine this trip with a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is just half an hour up the road.
Things to know:
- The park is located about 2 hours from El Paso, and only about ~30-45 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns.
- Unlike many national parks, there are no “grand roads” on which you can drive to experience the park.
- Most visitors come for hiking, backpacking, camping, climbing (for experienced climbers), horseback riding, and stargazing.
- The park has the beloved “Junior Ranger” program for kids, so make sure to stop by the visitor center and get your booklets to earn your badge.
When to visit:
- The Park is known for being especially beautiful in autumn with gorgeous foliage in October and November.
- But March can be a great time too if you can avoid the school breaks of Texas schools. We did this and it was quite windy but sunny and we were glad we had layers and wide-brimmed hats.
- If you visit from June through August, be prepared with lots of water, lots of sunscreen, and hats. The heat can be intense!
What to do:
Choose your adventure - sand dunes, canyons, and the highest point in Texas - you’ve got options in this park. El Capitan, a limestone ridge that is part of a 250 million-year-old reef complex, is the most striking feature as you approach the park. It is framed by the Guadalupe Mountains, sand dunes to the west, and McKittrick Canyon to the north.
Packing this all into a day is doable, but would involve a lot of driving and not enough experiencing. For those with just a day to explore, the highlights are Devil’s Hall and the trails around the Pine Springs Visitor Center, Guadalupe Peak, and the sand dunes. The sand dunes are about an hour’s drive from the Pine Springs Visitor Center-- I would visit these on your way in or out of the park, depending on which direction you are traveling.
Hikes to consider:
There are over 80 miles of trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and four main trails: the Devil’s Hall Trail (3.8 miles), Smith Spring Loop (2.3 miles), McKittrick Canyon Trail, and Guadalupe Peak Trail.
McKittrick Canyon and Guadalupe Peak are around 8 miles long and lead to areas where you can begin your ascent to the mountain’s peaks. If you’re planning on hiking these trails, make preparations to be on the trail all day. Guadalupe Peak, at 8,751 ft elevation and the highest point in Texas, is a challenging but rewarding hike. We highly recommend camping at the Pine Springs Campground and getting a pre-dawn start to catch the sunrise at the top. This is an 8.5-mile round-trip hike with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain, so it won’t be for everybody.
Smith Spring Loop is best for families with young children. Devil’s Hall is OK for older or more experienced kiddos. We actually did Devil’s Hall as a family and it took us much longer than we expected due to the number of large boulders we had to climb over. The hike to Devil's Hall is now rated as strenuous due to the boulders in the wash requiring scrambling. We were rewarded with a rare ‘slot canyon-like formation at the end of the hike but it required some tricky ascents over boulders in the washed-out area for about a mile. Then we climbed a stair-like structure that required hand-holding of children. We loved it but it was not for all families.
Note: Visitors are free to camp in any of the designated individual or group campsites throughout the park. Group campsites must be reserved 60 days in advance due to the high volume of reservations the National Parks Service receives for this location. Guadalupe also has two campgrounds for RVs and campers.
Have you been to Guadalupe National Park? We are obsessed with the beauty here and would love to see more photos! Tag us on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!
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