Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the least visited parks in the United States. Actually, most people have never heard of it. While it may not be my favorite park in the world, it has quite a bit to offer folks who want to come and explore this Texas mountain region. It also has the highest peak in Texas as well. But there’s so much to do in the Park, so Follow along for the Best Things to Do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
For sure my favorite hike of the entire Guadalupe Mountain NP. The hike starts pretty normal, walking through the desert landscape. However, as you get closer to the mountain and to the end of the hike, the landscape starts to change. You’ll head through an old wash (seasonal riverbed) and then start scrambling. Then you’ll come to the pay off. You’ll have to scale or otherwise walk along a think wall into the slot canyon area. Which is the “hall”. This is by the far the most beautiful and interesting part of the hike. And worth the trip out here.
Be sure to go early, the hike is popular and better before it gets too hot. It was also great we had it all to ourselves.
McKittrick Canyon to Pratt Ranch
The pay-off at the end of the hike is not the greatest of the hikes (that distinction goes to Devil’s Hall), but the overall hike is really beautiful. You’ll wind your way through the McKittrick Canyon area and cross over a wash several times during your hike.
For us the hike only had one crossing that had actual water in it. It was a pretty easy crossing. But you’ll have to check with the weather and conditions to see if the water is higher during your visit.
The Ranch at the end was a nice place to relax. If you head to the back area of the ranch building, you’ll see several seats and rocking chairs that you can relax, enjoy a snack, and chat before your return trip. There were lots of folks just hanging out and really interested in swapping stories and hike recommendations.
Guadalupe Mountain Peak
Guadalupe Mountain is the highest peak in the park and in Texas. It is a strenuous at times 9 mile hike starting from near the pine springs campground and up into the mountains. You’ll hike up through desert trees, and along some steep paths as well.
It’s definitely one for those who love to hike and check off the highest peaks in area or get those miles in. Just be sure to check the weather. We got warned about the winds at the top were approaching 80+ miles per hour. Also, the weather can shockingly change in the park. We got some rain on a few of the days and the forecast changed at times during our stay.
A Super Easy walk to visit the Frijoles Ranch is worth the quick trip to explore this old ranch area as well as the history of Guadalupe Canyon. The area has seen human settlement for centuries, even before the ranch was here.
It was the only major settlement in the area for decades. Actually, in some ways I feel like that’s still true (there’s not a lot around the National Park). It was a center for social gatherings, dances, as well as the regional post office.
The ranch has seen quite a bit of history and getting to explore the buildings and the legacy of the brothers that lived here is worth a quick excursion.
Permian Reef Trail
I don’t know if the entire hike is one of my favorites in the world, but definitely one of my favorites in the park. You get some great views over the valley and over McKittrick Canyon from the overlooks on the Permian Reef Trail. It is known as a “geology” trail where you get up close and personal with some of the rocks and formations of the area.
Overall, that’s pretty cool, but even more so is the view of the area. Those are what make this trail stunning.
Smith Spring Trail
This was one of the loveliest hikes in the Guadalupe Mountains and the best hike near the Frijoles Ranch. Actually, this is a great loop to do along with visiting the ranch. You can do the Smith Springs Trail up to the springs up the mountain as well as the Manzanita Springs area.
It’s actually a fun hike through some hills and some shaded areas as well as some views of the mountains and some of the desert landscape. Worth the quick 2 mile hike indeed.
Stargazing in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Given the remoteness of the national park it is a great place to view stars. The closest service to the park is over 30 minutes away in nearby White City, and city is a stretch as it’s just a small settlement outside of Carlsbad. It’s at least an hour or more before you hit anything that’s a real town/city.
The park is a dark sky area and it shows. You’ll be able to see stars you won’t in many other areas of the country or world. I wish I had a camera with me that could have taken those photos, however. But regardless what a show.
Experiencing the Fall Colors
Coming here in the Fall is probably the best time to Explore Guadalupe Mountains. Actually, much of the summer is really hot, so it’s also can be dangerous to visit with some of the extreme heat and exposed desert hikes. Seeing the trees and colors in what you’d imagine is desert without such things is really something beautiful to see.
Devil’s Hall and McKittrick Canyon tend to be some of the best areas to view Fall Colors.
El Capitan Overlook
While you can do the hike up to El Capitan, the view of this beautiful peak is worth seeing even without the climb. You can get some great views of the peak from the road alongside the park. If you are heading towards El Paso, you’ll see the pull off a few miles south of the peak.
Regardless, it’s hard to find a bad view of the peak. One of my best views is about 3.5 miles south of Pine Springs on a little side road that you can pull off on. It’s also one of the best areas to enter to explore the Salt Flats Overlook hike. It’s about 1 mile west of the El Capitan viewpoint pull-off.