Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The ULTIMATE Guide (2022)
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a hikers paradise in remote Western Texas. For most, it is simply a scenic byway for visitors driving between El Paso and Carlsbad. Those who visit with intention, however, will discover some of the finest desert hiking in the south.
Be warned that this is not a park you explore by vehicle! While you will see the majestic Guadalupe Mountains from the highway, the National Park is essentially a variety of hiking trails that meander throughout the range.
I would guess that this “hiking required” ethos, coupled with the remote location, is the reason that Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the 6th-least visited in the lower 48 states… And you’ve probably never even heard of the other 5!
Prior to my visit, I was unable to find any comprehensive guides to the park to help plan my trip. So, as always, I decided to write it! If you are new to this page, you should know that I always travel with photography in mind. Therefore, you can expect a lot of recommendations to be focused on how photogenic I feel a place is. Beyond that, I’ll do my best to include any information that could prove useful to planning your trip. If you have a specific question, use the Table of Contents below to navigate.
Where to Next? Queue up these travel guides to other nearby destinations:
- Big Bend National Park Comprehensive Guide: Everything you need to know for exploring Big Bend NP.
- Big Bend Photography Guide: Where, when, and how to photograph Big Bend NP.
- Carlsbad Caverns Ultimate Guide: The ultimate guide to exploring this incredible cave system in New Mexico.
- White Sands Photography Guide: How to capture incredible photos in White Sands NP.
- Ultimate White Sands National Park Guide: Everything you need to know!
Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links
Quick Facts About Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Location: Texas, USA
- Established: September 30, 1972
- Size: 86,367 acres (134.9 sq mi; 349.5 km 2 )
- Annual Visitors: 151,256 (2020)
- Visitor Centers: Pine Springs (year-round), Dog Canyon Ranger Station (open intermittently depending on staff availability), McKittrick Canyon (restrooms open daily; visitor center staffed on weekends and during peak seasons in the spring and fall) and Dell City Contact Station (the facility is generally unstaffed, but brochures and information are available out of hours)
- Entrance Fee: $10 per person aged 16 and older; National Park Annual Passaccepted and allows free admission for passholder and three guests.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Overview
Blue Hour photography in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
If you know nothing about the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, this is the place to start.
First, I find it easiest to think about the park in three sections:
- Guadalupe Salt Basin Dunes
- Dogwood Canyon
- Highway 62
The Salt Basin Dunes requires about 11 miles of dirt-road driving to access. 4WD is recommended, but only the final 2-3 miles are very rugged. I was able to get there in a standard minivan with no issues. Be warned that it is only open from sunrise to sunset!
Dogwood Canyon is actually only about 15 miles from the visitor center as the crow flies. However, you need to drive 2-3 hours out and around to get to this section of the park as it is located on the opposite side of the mountain range. Accordingly, only the truly dedicated will see this part of the park.
The major section that we will focus on is all located off of Hwy 62. As discussed, the entire park is essentially a series of hiking trails. These all begin at either the Pine Springs campground, Frijole Ranch, or McKittrick Canyon. If you are only planning on spending 1-2 days in the park, as most visitors will, this is where your time will be spent.
Map of Guadalupe Mountains National Park
You will find useful maps for your visit to Guadalupe Mountains NP below.
Official Guadalupe Mountains National Park Map
Below is the official park map. You can find a downloadable version of this map and others for Guadalupe Mountains on the NPS website.
Click here for other Guadalupe Mountains NPS maps.
Interactive Google Map of Guadalupe Mountains
We’ve also put together an interactive Google Map of Guadalupe Mountains. It features all of the sights and places we mention within this blog post. Click here or on the image below to open the map in a new tab.
Map of Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Top Sights in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Watching sunset from one of the top sights in Guadalupe Mountains National Park; the Salt Basin Dunes.
Below is a collection of the must-see destinations in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. If you are short on time, plan wisely and focus on these top sights.
Standing tall at 8,751 feet (2,667m), Guadalupe Peak is the highest peak in Texas and offers breathtaking views over the Guadalupe Mountains. Reaching the top of Guadalupe Peak is one of the best things to do here and is particularly popular with those “highpointing”. For outdoor enthusiasts, highpointing in the US involves reaching the tallest points in each state… and to achieve this goal, ascending Guadalupe Peak is a must!
The hike is 8.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,930 feet. It is advised to allow 6-8 hours to complete this hike, depending on your level of fitness and how often you’ll be stopping for photos!
Devil’s Hall is a geological marvel hidden in the Guadalupe Mountains.
Anything with “devil” in the name will always be worth a visit! Devil’s Hall is a 4.2 mile roundtrip hike up a dry river wash that takes you to a geographic marvel of thin-layered strata.
While I did not find the landscape overly photogenic, it was quite interesting to see up close! However, I will say that the hike felt far longer than 4.2 miles.
The Smith Spring offers a desert oasis in the Guadalupe Mountains.
The Smith Spring trail is a 2.3 mile loop trail that delivers you to a small desert oasis hidden in the stark Guadalupe Mountains.
Not only is the Smith Spring trail the shortest hike in the park (excluding some basic nature trails), but it is my favorite as well. While the stream may be small by most standards, it is amazing to see it in this dry climate and to observe the impact it has on the surrounding environment.
Of course, I don’t love long-distance hiking which certainly factors into my top ranking for this trail.
Salt Basin Dunes
Golden hour lights the Guadalupe Mountains from the sand dunes of Salt Basin Dunes.
Getting to the Salt Basin Dunes can be a bit of a headache as they are located about an hour away from the Pine Springs area where the majority of visitors will be camping and spending their time. Beyond that, it requires up to 11-miles of dirt road driving and is only open during daylight hours with camping and overnight parking strictly prohibited.
Still, this probably was the area with the most potential for landscape photographers. The sand dunes provide a unique texture to serve as the foreground in your images unlike anything you’ll find in other parts of the park.
After driving to the trailhead, the hike to the dunes themselves will be another 3-4 mile roundtrip journey. If you are going to put forth the effort to visit, I recommend staying through sunset as the light on the sand and mountains is simply magical.
This curious formation, known as “The Grotto”, is located in the McKittrick Canyon and is a top sign in GMNP.
Located 3.4 miles from the McKittrick Canyon trailhead is a strange natural occurrence dubbed “The Grotto.” I don’t know how to explain it, so I’ll let the picture above say 1000 words.
While The Grotto itself is probably not worth the time and distance alone, the McKittrick Canyon itself is a lovely hike, particularly in autumn when the colors change.
Bonus: El Capitan Lookout
While technically outside the park, El Capitan Lookout is my favorite place to photograph sunrise and sunset near Guadalupe Mountains NP.
This is technically outside of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park boundaries which is why it is listed as a bonus, but it is my favorite place in the entire area to photograph sunrise and sunset. Once you get into the park, the sun will disappear behind the mountains long before sunrise and sunset, leaving you in a dark valley during the magic hours.
El Capitan Lookout provides a straight on view with amazing side-lighting. There are picnic areas on both sides of the highway to pull into, no hiking required, and plenty of cacti to pose as a subject for your foreground. All in all, this location outside the park was my favorite place to view the Guadalupe Mountains!
Best Things to Do in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Hiking is the main thing to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In fact, unless you have your own horse, it’s really the only thing to do! With over 80 miles of hiking trails and home to 7 of the 10 highest peaks in Texas, there’s something for everyone from gentle nature walks to more strenuous multi-day hikes.
Just a few of the most popular hikes include:
- Guadalupe Peak: 8.4 miles round trip (6-8 hours). Elevation gain 2,930 ft.
- Devils Hall: 4.2 miles round trip (3-5 hours). Elevation gain 400 ft. Undeveloped trail, very rocky.
- Smith Spring: 2.3 miles round trip (1-2 hours). Elevation gain 220 ft.
- McKittrick Canyon: 4.8 miles round trip to Pratt Cabin or 6.8 miles round trip to the Grotto (3-5 hours). Elevation gain 300 ft.
- Pine Top: 4 miles one way (2-4 hours). Elevation gain 1,980 ft.
- Dog Canyon: 11.9 miles one way (7-8 hours). Elevation gain 2,050 ft.
- The Bowl Loop: via Bear Canyon. 8.5 miles round trip (6-8 hours). Elevation gain 2,380 ft.
- Salt Basin Overlook: 7.8 miles round trip (4-6 hours). Elevation gain 740 ft.
- El Capitan: 11.3 miles round trip. Elevation gain 1690 ft.
Guadalupe Mountains is a great spot for backpacking… although really this is just an extension of “hiking”! There are 10 designated wilderness campsites and permits are required to camp overnight here. Some of the most popular backpacking routes include Bush-Blue Ridge Loop, Tejas Trail hike-thru, Pine Springs to McKittrick Canyon and Guadalupe Peak. More information on safely backpacking in Guadalupe Mountains can be found on the NPS website.
Of the 80 miles of trails in Guadalupe Mountains, about 60% of them permit horseback riding if you have your own horse. The trails that allow horses are available for day-use only and, unlike Big Bend National Park, horses are not permitted overnight in the backcountry. However, camping for those with horses is available by reservation at Pine Springs and Dog Canyon.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park 1-Day Itinerary
For many, time is precious and you want to see as much as you can in as little time as possible. This section explains my personal recommendation for the perfect one-day itinerary for the Guadalupe Mountains NP.
It goes without saying that if you are hoping to attempt the popular Guadalupe Peak hike, you will need at least 6-7 hours for this alone, which will likely be the entire itinerary for most. Instead, I will focus on shorter trails, lookouts, and options.
Also, as has been noted, there is no food or services available in the park so be sure to arrive prepared!
Sunrise in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Sunrise photography from El Capitan Lookout just outside the park.
Start your day in the park at either the El Capitan Lookout or the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Both of these areas saw beautiful morning light each day during my visit.
Of the options, I prefer the compositions from El Capitan Lookout. However, I will be recommending this same location for sunset as well, so if you want some diversity in your photo album it is probably better to shoot “El Cap” at sunset and Pine Springs area for sunrise.
The reason I find the Pine Spring visitor center appealing is that during my visit, this stretch of mountains always seemed to have interesting cloud cover which collected some beautiful morning light. In contrast, the El Capitan Lookout was completely devoid of any sky interest.
Sunrise at the entrance to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Canyon “Trailhead”
You will not see signs for this trail! This has something to do with property lines regarding a local farmer and the National Park, but the trail is public, and it is beautiful!
The desert has begun reclaiming the road at the beginning of the Guadalupe Canyon Trail.
Just a mile north of El Capitan Lookout is a large dirt pull-off with a small sign for Guadalupe Canyon Road that you will likely miss. Just be sure to keep your eyes open.
Once parked, you will see a turn-style that leads to a trail up toward the mountain. This was once a road, but the desert has begun reclaiming it. That was actually my favorite part! It was amazing to see the wide variety of cacti that were absolutely thriving in this region, and having El Capitan in the backdrop of photos makes it a special place for a stroll.
This section is the most interesting part of the El Capitan Trail. You can walk as far as you like, up to 7 or 8 miles, but as this is a one-day itinerary I recommend just going up about a mile or so.
The sun descends on the desert from Guadalupe Canyon on the El Capitan Trail.
Pine Springs Trailhead
If you consider yourself physically fit and prepared for a day of hiking, the next stop will be at the Pine Springs trailhead to begin the 4.2-mile roundtrip hike to Devil’s Hall. While a hike of this distance should typically only take about 2 hours, expect it to be closer to 3 as it can be slow-going.
Devil’s Hall is a popular hike from the Pine Springs Trail.
If you are not looking to hike more than a couple of miles on your visit, skip this hike and simply stop by the Pine Springs Visitor Center instead. They have some great displays on the local vegetation and wildlife, as well as a small nature walk.
Smith Spring Trail
You are going to be hungry at this point, but I promise you will want to avoid scarfing in the car and pack a picnic for the Smith Spring instead! Park at the Frijole Ranch History Museum and begin the loop trail to this enchanted oasis. You will enter a shaded area with benches and fairy pools just over a mile up.
The short hike to Smith Spring was my favorite in Guadalupe Mountains NP.
I’m not sure how to explain why I enjoyed this little spot so much, but it has a feeling to it. You almost expect a fairy to pop out at any point!
When you are done eating and resting, it is just another 1.2 miles back to the car via the loop trail.
The Grotto at McKittrick Canyon
Another eerie view of The Grotto… does anyone else see the face?!
This last stop I would rank as very optional, unless you happen to be visiting during the Autumn season or just love hiking. I am including it so as to maximize your time on a one-day itinerary, but this was my least favorite of the hikes mentioned so far.
Still, it is certainly worth doing if you have the time and energy. Begin by hiking 2.3 miles to Pratt Cabin, a beautiful stone and wood cabin tucked away in the canyon. From there, it is just over 1 more mile to otherworldly sight known as The Grotto. And since you’re here, you may as well walk another 200 yards (2 minutes tops) to Hunter’s Cabin ahead.
Sunset in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Aerial photography showcasing sunset on the Guadalupe Mountains (taken from outside the national park).
You’re going to be wiped from a full day of hiking and exploring, so reward yourself with dinner and a show at the El Capitan Lookout picnic area! You will not be able to see the sunset from anywhere within the national park interior as it will be disappearing behind the mountains long before setting.
The composition at El Capitan Lookout has been explained previously. However, it is worth repeating that this was my favorite place to photograph the Guadalupe Mountains. The side-lighting that El Cap gets during sunset is beautiful and the nearby hills and mountains get some very interesting light as well.
Planning Your Visit to Guadalupe Mountains NP
Sunrise colors gracing the landscape in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Below is an assortment of information that readers who consider themselves “planners” will find useful. Be sure to at least skim this information to ensure your visit is safe and successful!
When to Visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Arguably, the best time to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in the spring or fall when the temperatures are milder. Spring is typically a little cooler and drier than fall. However, fall has the added bonus of vibrant foliage in McKittrick Canyon.
As one of the least visited national parks you don’t really need to worry about crowds, although you will find it is slightly busier during spring break.
How Many Days to Spend in Guadalupe Mountains
If you do not plan on undertaking one of the major hikes, such as Guadalupe Peak, one day should be enough. Depending on your desire and level of fitness, you should be able to get a few select hikes in and, if possible, enjoy a sunset from the El Capitan Lookout just outside the park.
How to Get to Guadalupe Mountains National Park
A vibrant sunset on Hwy 62 on the way to the Guadalupe Mountains.
The majority of the park will be accessed via Highway 62 that runs from El Paso to Carlsbad. This includes the trailheads and visitor centers at Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch, and McKittrick Canyon.
Dog Canyon is reached by driving about 2.5 hours through Carlsbad, then taking the 408 west through the Sitting Bulls Falls recreation area before going south.
The Guadalupe Mountains Salt Basin Dunes require an hour detour from the Pine Springs area with 11 miles of dirt-road driving.
Getting Around Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The only way to get around the park is on foot (or by horse if you have one)! There are no paved roads in the interior of the park so you will need to park at one of the visitor centers or trailheads and walk from there.
Gas and Supplies
You will need to be prepared when visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park as it is very remote. There is no gas or food available within the park. In fact, there’s no gas available for 35 miles in either direction from the visitor center.
In the direction of El Paso, Dell City is the closest town with amenities including gas and food. In the other direction, towards New Mexico, Whites City is the closest place you can find gas and food supplies.
Where to Stay in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Pine Springs Visitor Center and Campground, seen here at sunrise, will be home base for most visitors.
Options for staying within Guadalupe Mountains National Park are extremely limited, with only two campgrounds within the park or the option of backcountry camping.
There are no lodges within Guadalupe Mountains NP.
There are technically two developed campgrounds within the park, but don’t be fooled – Dog Canyon Campground is only accessible by driving 2-3 hours around to the backside of the park! Instead, you will be looking to get a spot at Pine Springs Campground near the visitor center.
Individual camping is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis for $15 per site per night for both tent and RV camping. Spaces at Pine Springs fill up very quickly, so be sure to get there early, particularly on weekends.
There are two group sites at Pine Springs and one at Dog Canyon which can be reserved up to 60 days in advance for groups of 10-20 people. The group sites cost $3 per person per night, with a minimum charge of $30 per night.
Both sites offer potable water, a utility sink for dishwashing and flushing toilets, but no other amenities. There is also no cell service or internet connectivity at either campground.
There are also 10 designated backcountry wilderness campgrounds within Guadalupe Mountains. Backcountry permits are required to camp at any of these. They are free of charge and must be obtained at either Pine Springs Visitor Center or Dog Canyon Ranger Station.
Where to Stay Outside Guadalupe Mountains NP
If you don’t require access to a bathroom, there are some places you can park and sleep along Highway 62 as well. Much of the highway falls just outside the National Park boundaries, so look for one of the many pull-offs that do not explicitly prohibit camping. Signs will alert you when you have entered the National Park, at which point it becomes illegal to freedom camp.
About 30 minutes north of the park is the Chosa Campground, which is a free option for those who don’t mind the extra drive. This is on BLM land and no services will be available, so be sure to follow standard leave no trace principles and pack out everything you pack in!
If you need RV hook-ups, the closest option is the Whites City RV Park about 30 minutes north of the Guadalupe Mountains visitor center. If this is full, the next option is the Carlsbad RV Park another 15 minutes from there.
Those of you who prefer hotels and amenities will find them by driving a little less than an hour from the park to the city of Carlsbad. While the city is not exactly rich with charm, it does have everything you need in the way of stores, hotels, and restaurants. Click here for current availability and prices in Carlsbad.
The small town of Dell City to the south of the park also has camping, lodging, and basic services available, though it is far smaller and more limited. Still, it is a fine option if this makes more sense for your particular itinerary!
Where to Eat in Guadalupe Mountains
There are no restaurants or convenience stores within the national park, so be sure you bring any food you need for the time you’ll be there with you.
Packing List for Guadalupe Mountains National Park
While your individual packing list will vary depending on the type of vacation you intend to have, there are a few essentials that you will want to consider taking with you to Guadalupe Mountains.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
The annual national park pass costs $80 and provides access to all 63 national parks in the US. Additionally, it grants admission to over 2000 federal recreation sites! Discounted passes are offered to some groups, including seniors, military personnel, and 4th graders. Check the NPS website for up-to-date information and to purchase your pass.
You are undoubtedly going to want to capture photos of Guadalupe Mountains, so don’t forget your camera! We use the Sony a7riii and have loved it ever since the first photo we took with it. However, for beginners,you may wish to consider an entry level DSLR. This will allow you to start learning manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.
Much of the national park is exposed and can be very hot in the summer so ensure you have good protection from the sun. Bring a sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as a minimum. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s eco-friendly and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
As mentioned, to really explore the park hiking is required. You’ll therefore want to ensure you pack some comfortable shoes. Closed-toe, sturdy hiking shoes are better than hiking sandals. This will help to reduce risk of injury to your feet in the desert environment.
The weather varies by season and altitude. Spring and summer is warm with occasional showers. During fall and winter, the weather is cooler and can have high wind. Additionally, temperatures can vary by 10 degrees at higher elevations.
With this in mind, you’ll want to pack layers of clothing. A wind and waterproof jacket is also likely to come in handy. I love my Columbia jacket as it’s comprised of two layers. This allows me to just wear the outer waterproof/windproof shell, inner insulated layer or combination of both, depending on the weather.
Reusable Water Bottle
We don’t travel anywhere without a reusable water bottle. Remaining hydrated is even more important in the desert. Bring your own bottle to prevent wasting single-use plastic bottles! Water is available at trailheads and visitor centers.
It’s likely you’ll be using your phone to navigate, take photos, and more! Bring a power pack with you to keep your phone charged on the go.
You’ll want a backpack that’s comfortable and sturdy to carry around during the day. I use the GoGroove camera backpack as it also provides easy side access to my camera while out and about.
Mini First Aid Kit
When out hiking, we always have a mini first aid kit in our bag just in case. You never know when it may come in handy (particularly as I’m clumsy)!
Useful Tips for Visiting Guadalupe Mountains NP
- Plan ahead: Camping is extremely limited and is first-come-first-serve, so plan to arrive early if you need a space!
- Temperatures vary wildly: Be sure to bring warm clothes and blankets for the nights as the temperatures can drop significantly. During the day, the dry desert heat can quickly cause dehydration and the sun can be intense. Additionally, the frequent winds can disguise the intensity of the sun. Carry plenty of water for all hikes and always wear sunscreen.
- Leave no trace: Please be respectful of the park. Keep to the trails, dispose of waste properly, and leave any plants etc. that you find.
- Let wild animals be wild: Much of the wildlife in the park is nocturnal, making wildlife spotting somewhat rare. However, there is the possibility you may encounter many different animals including cougars, javelinas, mule deer, jack rabbits, and coyote. Please do not feed or disturb them. Feeding wildlife can alter their behavior with humans, making them less fearful and more aggressive. This can lead to wildlife having to be euthanized.
- Desert critters: The desert is home to venomous snakes, scorpions, spiders and centipedes. Check your shoes and bedding just in case one thinks your stinky shoes smell like home!
- Drive carefully: The roads can be busy and you may share them with wildlife. Please adhere to speed limits and drive responsibly on Highway 62 through Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Fun Facts About Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas, reaching 8,751 feet (2,667m).
- The lowest elevation in the park is 3,640 feet (1,109m) in the Salt Basin Dunes.
- There is evidence of people living in the many caves here 10,000 years ago.
- It is the 6th least visited national park out of the 47 national parks in the 48 contiguous states.
- The hottest recorded temperature in Guadalupe National Park was 105°F in 1994.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where are Guadalupe Mountains?
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in West Texas, 110 mile east of El Paso.
Is Guadalupe Mountains National Park worth visiting?
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is worth a short detour, but not worth visiting as a destination. In others words, it is worth including the park in any road trip itinerary through the south, but not worth planning an entire trip around. As the detour distance is minimal when traveling between Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Big Bend National Park, it makes sense to stop in and enjoy some scenic views on your way.
Conversely, I would not recommend this park as an isolated destination for anyone who doesn’t have a specific goal in mind on their visit, such as “highpointers” hoping to cross Texas off their list. If you are wanting to do some desert hiking, I found Big Bend National Park provided similar landscapes while offering more diversity, and it is only a couple hours down the road.
Sunset from El Capitan Lookout.
Can you drive through Guadalupe Mountains National Park?
Technically speaking, nearly the entirety of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in the mountains, meaning there are no roads through the park. Hwy 62 will deliver you to the main trailheads at Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch, and McKittrick Canyon, as well as to El Capitan Lookout, and technically part of the highway is within the National Park borders. However, to really explore the park you will need to do some hiking.
How many days do you need in Guadalupe Mountains National Park?
This depends entirely on how much hiking you plan on doing! If the answer is somewhere between “none” and “moderate”, one day should be plenty! Consider our 1-day in Guadalupe Mountains National Park itinerary above if this is you!
If you are hoping to undertake Guadalupe Peak in addition to some of the other popular trails, you will need at least two days. You will also need extra time if you hope to visit the Salt Basin Dunes and/or Dogwood Canyon.
Is Guadalupe Peak the highest point in Texas?
Yes, Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas standing at 8,751 feet (2,667m).
How long does it take to hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak?
The hike to Guadalupe Peak typically takes around 6-8 hours. It is an 8.4-mile round trip with an elevation gain of 3000 feet (914m).
What animals live in Guadalupe Mountains?
Guadalupe Mountains is home to a huge number of animals, including 60 species of mammals, 289 species of birds, 55 species of reptiles and 9 species of amphibians. Some of these include javelinas, coyotes, black bears, cougars, gray foxes, rock squirrels, porcupines, mule deer, bats, porcupines, rattlesnakes, and various lizards.
This smiling javelina was captured from the Smith Spring trail from Frijole Ranch.
Are dogs allowed at Guadalupe Mountains National Park?
It is advised not to bring dogs to the park as there are very few areas they are allowed. Leashed pets are restricted to areas accessed by vehicles, including established roadsides, parking areas, developed picnic areas and campgrounds. They are also allowed on the Pine Springs Campground connector trail and along the Pinery Trail from the visitor center to the Butterfield Stage Station.
Pets are not permitted on any other trails, park buildings, restrooms or in the backcountry.
Related Guides to Guadalupe Mountains National Park
If you enjoyed the photos and writing in this guide, you may also find some of the following resources helpful:
- Big Bend National Park: The Ultimate Guide
- Big Bend National Park Pictures: A Guide to Photographing Big Bend
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park: EVERYTHING You Need to Know
- Ultimate Guide to Sitting Bull Falls
- Night Sky Photography tips and tutorials
- 101+ Dream Destinations for your Travel Bucket List
Final thoughts on Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Golden light on a variety of desert cacti taken from El Capitan Trail in Guadalupe Mountains NP.
I truly hope you have found this travel guide to Guadalupe Mountains National Park useful and/or inspirational to help plan a visit of your own. Personally, I was more impressed with the park than I had expected to be based on the photos I had seen, but found it hard to avoid comparisons to the much-larger Big Bend National Park that I had just visited.
In the end, I was able to capture some photos and moments that I really enjoyed and found a unique love for this little mountain gem.
Hiking trails at Guadalupe Mountains provide access to a landscape that will challenge and inspire you.
The Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness has over 80 miles of trail to explore with a great range of elevation, ecological zones, and solitude. Whether you are day hiking or backpacking, your trip is a uniquely protected opportunity to provide maximum freedom to roam in Wilderness. So, in planning a trip, it is important to find the right experience for your interests, timeframe, and abilities. A good planning process will enhance your understanding of the park and your safety. Therefore, as part of the wilderness experience, park rangers can provide general guidance but will not plan a wilderness trip for you; you must plan your own trip.
When you have thought about or decided what you want from your trip, you can start planning and researching your hike. A detailed topographic map is a must for any hike. In addition, a good guidebook can help you choose a trip that is right for you. Remember that visiting the wilderness is an adventure: do not be afraid to explore a new area and discover what wonders it has to offer!
Bear Canyon Trail
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: from Frijole Trail to the top of Bear Canyon is 1.8 miles (2.9 km).
The Bear Canyon Trail is a lesser used access point into the high country from the Pine Springs area. This short trail is among the steepest in the park, gaining two thousand feet in less than two miles. To reach the Bear Canyon Trail use the Frijole trail from either the Pine Springs or Frijole Ranch Trailheads. While the climb is steep, rangers recommend that hikers ascend Bear Canyon, rather than hike down it. The trail is on the face of the eastern escarpment and received the full force of the mid-day sun, however, portions of the trail will have tree cover. At the top of the ridge, this trail connects with the Bowl trail to asend to the summit of Hunter Peak, or descend into the Bowl.
Blue Ridge Trail
Trailhead(s): Connects the Tejas Trail to the Bush Mountain Trail
Duration: from the Tejas Trail junction to the Bush Mountain Trail junction is 2.0 miles (3.2 km).
The Blue Ridge Trail connects the Tejas and Bush Mountain Trails, crossing east to west near the center of the park. Climbing slightly from the Tejas Trail junction, it passes the Marcus Trail junction at 0.3 mile and then climbs fairly steeply toward the crest of the Blue Ridge. The trail levels off and the Blue Ridge campground is passed at 1.5 miles. The Bush Mountain trail is met in a grassy meadow near the edge of the western side of the Guadalupe escarpment.
Bush Mountain Trail
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs via the Tejas Trail, Dog Canyon
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Top junction to Dog Canyon is 12.3 miles (19.8 km).
From the Pine Top junction to the Bush Mountain Wilderness Campground is 2.7 miles (4.4 km);
Bush Mountain Wilderness Campground to Blue Ridge Trail junction is 2.2 miles (3.5 km);
Blue Ridge Trail junction to Marcus Trail junction is 3.9 miles (6.3 km);
Marcus Trail junction to the Dog Canyon Trailhead is 3.5 miles (5.6 km).
The Bush Mountain Trail is a major artery of the trail system, leading from the Tejas Trail above Pine Springs Canyon all the way to Dog Canyon. The trail loops far to the west to wind above the cliffs on the western side of the escarpment, then descends through the isolated northern portion of the park before climbing back up to terminate at Dog Canyon. The Blue Ridge allows the Bush Mountain trail to be done as northern or southern loops.
The northern portion of the trail beyond the Blue Ridge junction is infrequently traveled and may be challenging to follow when overgrown with grass. Cairns mark the route. Hikers should have a compass and paper topographic map in this area of the park and be prepared for route-finding.
Trailhead(s): Connects the Tejas Trail at the Pine Top junction and Juniper junction, returning to the Bowl trail above the Pine Top junction. Connects to the top of the Bear Canyon Trail, north of Hunter Peak.
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Top junction on the loop is 3.6 miles (5.8 km).
From the Pine Top Junction to Hunter Peak is 0.9 miles (1.4 km);
Hunter Peak to the Bear Canyon junction is 0.5 miles (0.8 km);
Bear Canyon junction to Juniper Trail junction is 0.8 miles (1.3 km);
Juniper Trail junction to top of ridge near Pine Top is 1.4 miles (2.3 km).
The Bowl trail is an excellent loop through the Wilderness high country, providing fine views from the top of the escarpment above Pine Springs Canyon and Bear Canyon as well as a descent into the heart of the dense remnant forest area known as the Bowl. The view from the summit of Hunter Peak may be the best in the park. Deer and elk may be spotted in the Bowl area and remnants of a ranch era water system can be spotted along the trail.
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs Trailhead
Duration: from the Pine Springs Trailhead to Devil’s Hall is 2.1 miles (3.4 km).
Devil’s Hall, a narrow slot formation within Pine Springs Canyon is located a little over two miles from the Pine Springs Trailhead. The first mile follows above the wash, the second miles is in the wash and requires route finding, rock scrambling, and caution as rock surfaces are slippery when dry. Do not attempt this trail in wet or rainy conditions.
El Capitan Trail
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Williams Ranch
Duration: Pine Springs Trailhead to Guadalupe Canyon and the east junction of the Salt Basin Loop is 3.4 miles (5.5 km);
Gudalupe Canyon to the west junction of the Salt Basin Loop is 0.9 miles (1.5 km);
West junction of the Salt Basin Loop to Williams Ranch is 5.1 miles (8.2 km).
Total length of trail is 9.4 miles (15.2 km) from Pine Springs to Williams Ranch.
The El Capitan Trail begins at the Pine Springs Trailhead. The trail leads around the base of El Capitan and along the west side of the Guadalupe escarpment, ending at the historic Williams Ranch house. It is the only trail to provide access to the west side of the Guadalupes. As such, the trail provides excellent opportunities for solitude and sweeping views. This trail connects to the Salt Basin Overlook loop trail.
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: from the Pine Springs Trailhead to Frijole Ranch is 2.9 miles (4.7 km).
Elevation Gain: 532 feet (162 meters)
The Frijole Trail crosses the lower slopes of the eastern escarpment connecting the Pine Springs Trailhead to the Frijole Ranch area. The Foothills Trail connects to this trail on the north and south and can make an excellent loop hike without significant elevation change.
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: from the Frijole Trail junction to Frijole Ranch is 1.9 miles (3.1 km).
Elevation Gain: 351 feet (107 meters)
The Foothills Trail is a lower elevation trail that connects to the Frijole Trail in two places, forming a loop trail. The trail winds throughjuniper punctuated grassland below the mountains.
Guadalupe Peak Trail
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs
Duration: from the trailhead to the summit (one-way) is 4.2 miles (6.8 km).
Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet (914 meters)
The trail starts at the Pine Springs Trailhead (1/2 mile from the Pine Springs Visitor Center – check in at the visitor center, then turn right out of the visitor center parking lot). Follow the signs for the Guadalupe Peak Trail. Follow the hiker trail; the horse trail will add about 1 extra mile to the trip (although it is less steep).
You will encounter the steepest part of the hike in the first mile and a half, as the trail switchbacks up the first steep slope. Be sure not to cut across the switchbacks, as this causes accelerated erosion. The views will get better with every switchback you climb.
After about a mile and a half, the trail will become less steep as it passes a cliff and then turns around to the north-facing slope. Here, hikers will discover a small forest of pinion pine, south-western white pine, and Douglas fir. The forest exists here since on a north-facing slope there is not as much sunlight. The slightly cooler, shadier climate allows these pines to survive.
After nearly three miles the trail will top out at a false summit. It is still a little more than a mile to the actual summit. The trail will flatten out for a short distance as it passes through a sparse forest of ponderosa pine. The backcountry campsite for overnight backpackers is on this summit (backcountry permit required to camp).
After passing the backcountry campsite, the trail descends slightly and crosses a wooden bridge. After the bridge, the trail begins the final climb to the summit. After only a few switchbacks, the top of El Capitan will dominate the view to the south. Eventually you will pass the horse hitching posts and arrive at the summit, where on a clear day you will be rewarded with a tremendous view of the surrounding mountains and desert.
Indian Meadow Nature Trail
Trailhead(s): Dog Canyon, across from the ranger station
Duration: this short loop trail is 0.6 miles (0.9 km) in length.
Elevation Gain: 106 feet (32 meters)
A short loop trail begins across the road from the ranger station and next to the group campsite, offering good views of the landscape. At a leisurely pace it takes 30-45 minutes. The trail is rated easy as it remains almost level after crossing an arroyo.
Trailhead(s): Connects the Bowl Trail to the Tejas Trail.
Duration: from the Bowl Trail junction to the Tejas Trail junction is 2.0 miles (3.3 km).
The Juniper Trail connects the Bowl Trail and the Tejas Trail, via a route that leads from the Bowl before climbing a ridge and descending through forest to meet the Tejas Trail. Excellent views of the bowl, ranch remnants, and a forested environment await the hiker along this trail.
Trailhead(s): Connects the Bush Mountain Trail to the Blue Ridge Trail. Generally accessed via Dog Canyon.
Duration: from the Bush Mountain Trail junction to the Blue Ridge Trail junction is 3.8 miles (6.1 km).
Good views of the Lost Peak area and north into New Mexico are available along this trail as it follows an old road that ascends steadily along West Dog Canyon (not to be confused with Dog Canyon), rising to meet the Blue Ridge Trail from the floor of the canyon.
The northern portion of the trail in the lower portion of West Dog Canyon is infrequently traveled and may be challenging to follow when overgrown with grass. Cairns mark the route. Hikers should have a compass and paper topographic map in this area of the park and be prepared for route-finding.
McKittrick Canyon Trail
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: Total distance from the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the Tejas Trail junction is 10.9 miles (17.6 km).
From the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the Pratt Cabin is 2.3 miles (3.7 km);
From the Pratt Cabin to the Grotto is 1.1 miles (1.8 km);
From the Grotto to the McKittrick Canyon Wilderness Campground is 4.0 miles (6.5 km);
From the McKittrick Canyon Wilderness Campground to the Tejas Trail junction is 3.5 miles (5.6 km).
The McKittrick Canyon Trail follows the floor of South McKittrick Canyon for four miles before climbing steeply to gain the ridge on the north side of the canyon. This is an arduous climb of 2,380 feet in about two miles, and provides spectacular views into the canyon and to the ridges that border it. The trail continues along the ridge above South McKittrick Canyon, ascending to a high point of 7,916 feet and gradually descending to a junction with the Tejas trail.
This is an extremely rewarding trail, offering both the variety of McKittrick Canyon and the grandeur of the high ridges that surround it. The floor of McKittrick Canyon provides a panoramic experience through the unique environments of the canyon; to protect this special habitat, visitors are asked to stay on the trail and stay out of the water.
McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail
Trailhead(s): McKittrick Canyon
Duration: this short loop is 0.9 miles (1.4 km) in length.
Elevation Gain: 216 feet (66 meters)
This short nature trail climbs and descend a ridge and along the way encounters an intermittent seep 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 0.9 miles round trip, is rated moderate, but takes less than one hour to complete.
Salt Basin Dunes Trail
Trailhead(s): Salt Basin Dunes Trailhead
Duration: one way from the trailhead to the dunes is 1.5 miles (2.9 km).
This short trail takes visitors to the gypsum sand dune field on the west side of the Guadalupe Mountains. These amazing bright-white dunes cover nearly 2,000 acres and range from 3 feet high at the southern end of the area to 60 feet high at the northern end.
The hike to the dunes follows along the northern edge of the dune fields with excellent views of the western escarpment and the largest dunes of the area. The trail is flat and relatively easy, but there is no shade, so carry plenty of water and avoid hiking during the hottest parts of the day.
Salt Basin Overlook Trail
Trailhead(s): This trail connects in two places to the El Capitan Trail
Duration: from the east junction to west junction is 3.5 miles (5.6 km).
This trail leads from the point at which the El Capitan Trail reaches Guadalupe Canyon and loops south down the canyon and around the tops of some mesa-like cliffs before climbing steeply to rejoin the El Capitan Trail after 3.5 miles. The total distance of this loop trip from the Pine Springs Trailhead is 7.8 miles. The trail provides close views of El Capitan and views to the south and west to the salt flats.
Permian Reef Trail
Trailhead(s): McKittrick Canyon
Duration: Total distance from the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the park boundary is 4.7 miles (7.6 km).
From the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the Wilderness Ridge Campground is 4.1 miles (6.6 km);
From the Wilderness Ridge Campground to the park boundary is 0.6 miles (1 km).
The Permian Reef Trail begins at the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead and in three miles climbs 2,000 feet to the top of the escarpment. The ascent provides good views to the east and into McKittrick Canyon. Once the ridge is gained, the trail levels out and is often forested.
There is a short loop available near the start of the trail that adds 0.3 miles to the route.
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs Visitor Center
Duration: from the Pine Springs Visitor Center to the pinery ruins is 0.38 miles (609 m); roud trip distance is 0.75 miles (1.2 km).
Travel the short mile path to the ruins of the old Pinery Station, once a favored stop on the original 2,800 mile Butterfield Overland Mail Route. The trail is paved, rated easy, and wheelchair accessible. Pets are allowed on leash, making this the only pet friendly trail in the park.
Smith Spring Trail
Trailhead(s): Frijole Ranch
Duration: From the Frijole Ranch Trail to Smith Spring is 1.1 miles (1.9 km). Total loop distance is 2.3 miles (3.8 km).
This loop trail begins at the Frijole Ranch Trailhead and leads to Smith Spring, a lovely forested oasis up agaisnt the lower slope of the mountains. This short hike passes by two additional springs (Frijole Spring, at the ranch, and Manzanita Spring, a quarter mile up the trail from the ranch).
This short hike does not gain significant elevation, and is an excellent choice for visitors with limited time.
Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Dog Canyon
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Springs Trailhead to the Dog Canyon Trailhead is 11.9 miles (19.2 km).
From the Pine Springs Trailhead to the Pine Top Junction is 3.8 miles (6.1 km);
From the Pine Top Junction to the Blue Ridge Junction is 2.6 miles (4.2 km);
From the Blue Ridge Junction to the McKittrick Canyon Trail Junction is 1.5 miles (2.4 km);
From the McKittrick Canyon Junction to the Dog Canyon Trailhead is 4.0 miles (6.5 km).
The Tejas Trail is the primary north/south through trail within the park, connecting the Pine Springs Trailhead with the Dog Canyon Trailhead at the park’s northern boundary. This major artery can be used to connect to numerous other trails to make a variety of loops.
Headed north the trail climbs out of Pine Springs Canyon into the Wilderness high country. The central portion of the trail from Pine Top until the McKittrick Canyon Trail Junction is forested, passing through the Bowl and numerous drainages. Descending from the area of Lost Peak the trail passes through the grassy areas that define the northern portion of the park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Complete Guide
Justine Harrington is a TripSavvy writer based in Austin, Texas, where she covers topics spanning travel, food & drink, lifestyle, culture, social advocacy, and the outdoors.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
One of the country’s least-visited national parks, the highly remote Guadalupe Mountains National Park in western Texas combines otherworldly mountain wilderness with rugged desert terrain, making for a truly breathtaking Southwest getaway. It isn’t easy to get to the park, but the reward for making the journey includes spacious hiking trails, panoramic views, and a night sky lit up by twinkling stars.
Things to Do
Because of the park’s remoteness, Guadalupe Mountains is a place to disconnect and enjoy the outdoors. There are no roads that pass through the park, so plan to hike. You’ll need to get off the pavement and onto the trails to fully experience the breadth of Guadalupe’s natural beauty. Spending the night in one of the park’s campsites gives visitors the best chance at spotting wildlife—since most of the animals are nocturnal—and also the opportunity to stargaze. With no cities nearby or major light pollution, you’ll be able to make out thousands of stars and easily spot the Milky Way.
Mammals like mountain lions, wild boars, and elk are elusive during the day, but birdwatchers can spot over 300 different types of local avian species. Birds are found in the park throughout the entire year, but the types of birds you’ll see vary from season to season.
The Texas desert isn’t typically associated with fall foliage, but Guadalupe Mountains National Park puts on a spectacular display of fiery reds, oranges, and yellows throughout the season. The peak foliage typically takes place from mid-October to mid-November, but you can follow the annual report to find out exactly when and where to visit. Weekends throughout the fall typically fill up to capacity, so try to visit on a weekday if possible.
Best Hikes & Trails
There are more than 80 miles of trails in Guadalupe Mountains, ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. With divergent ecosystems—scrubby, cactus-covered flatlands, lush backcountry meadows, and thick coniferous forests—and an abundance of wildlife and birds, this is a hiker’s paradise.
- Smith Spring Loop: Watch the landscape change from arid desert to riparian vegetation on this 2.3-mile loop hike, which ends at the lush Manzanita Spring. The difficulty level is considered moderate and the trail takes about one to two hours to complete.
- Devil’s Hall: This gorgeous, rocky trail has very little elevation gain and is 4.2 miles round trip, making it one of the most popular day hikes in the park. Some scrambling over big boulders is required.
- McKittrick Canyon: If you only have one or two days to spend in Guadalupe, plan to explore as much of McKittrick Canyon as possible. This 2,000-foot-deep limestone chasm is sustained by a year-round, spring-fed stream—it’s the best place in the park to do some wildlife-watching. The 4.8-mile round-trip hike to Pratt Lodge takes roughly two hours; allow three to five hours if you plan on tackling the Grotto and Hunter Cabin.
- Guadalupe Peak: At 8,749 feet, the highest point in Texas gets a lot of attention. As you might expect, the trail is steep and very strenuous—it’s 8.5 miles round trip, with a 3,000-foot elevation gain. Plan to spend the better part of a day doing this hike (at least eight hours or more). The panoramic views are worth your tired lungs and aching limbs.
- The Bowl: Explore a peaceful forest of pine and Douglas fir atop high ridges and canyons on this strenuous 9.1-mile hike (allow eight to 10 hours).
Backpacking in the Guadalupe Mountains requires some planning beforehand. You’ll need to have an itinerary already prepared—including which wilderness camps you plan to sleep at—in order to obtain a Wilderness Use Permit. To reach any of the wilderness camps requires a lot of elevation gain (at least 2,000 feet), so make sure you’re fully prepared for the journey before departing.
One itinerary option that’s especially popular with novice backpackers is the Bush Mountain/Blue Ridge Loop. Hikers depart on the Tejas Trail from the Pine Springs Visitor Center and then continue along the Bush Mountain and Blue Ridge trails. The entire trip is just under 17 miles and can be completed in two days or three days depending on your pace.
Where to Camp
Camping in the park is on a first-come, first-serve basis; reservations are only taken in advance for group campgrounds. There are two devoted campgrounds here: Pine Springs and Dog Canyon. In addition, there are 10 backcountry campgrounds spread throughout the park. Do note that fires are strictly prohibited at both campgrounds (along with everywhere else in the park) due to generally dry weather conditions and occasional high winds.
- Pine Springs Campground: This campground has 20 tent sites with leveled tent pads and picnic tables, along with 19 RV sites. There are no showers, but campgrounds do have water, flush-toilet restrooms, and utility sinks.
- Dog Canyon Campground: Dog Canyon is in a secluded canyon on the north side of the park. There are nine tent sites and four RV sites. Restrooms have sinks and flush toilets, but no showers.
Where to Stay Nearby
Other than camping, there are no lodging options in the park. The closest towns are either Dell City, Texas, or Whites City, New Mexico. For more options, you’ll have to find lodging in Carlsbad, New Mexico, about 50 minutes away from the park, or El Paso, Texas, about an hour and 45 minutes away.
- : The closest option to the park is an Airbnb in Dell City, which is inside what was once a Mexican Baptist Church. With just a couple hundred residents, Dell City has a ghost town feel to it and will appeal to any traveler looking to get off the radar and enjoy the Old Frontier. : A smalltown motel that evokes a road trip along Route 66, this smalltown lodging is less than 30 minutes away from Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Plus, it’s the gateway to Carlsbad Canyons National Park, so you can get two parks in one. : The quintessential bed and breakfast, Fiddler’s Inn is one of the top-rated accommodations in southern New Mexico. Located in the city of Carlsbad, each room is uniquely decorated and breakfast is included at the adjacent bakery and cafe (on Sundays, breakfast is even delivered to enjoy in bed).
How to Get There
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in Far West Texas on U.S. Highway 62/180. The nearest major city with an international airport is El Paso, Texas, which is less than two hours away. Just across the border with New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Because of the two parks’ proximity to each other and remoteness from everywhere else, most travelers choose to visit them both while already in the area.
Since there are no paved roads within the park, visitors with mobility challenges are limited to what they can see. The visitor centers at Pine Springs, Dog Canyon, and McKittrick Canyon are all accessible, including designated parking spaces, restrooms, and drinking fountains. Additionally, there are two short trails—about a half-mile each—that are paved and accessible to visitors with wheelchairs or strollers. The first is the Pinery Trail, which leaves from the Pine Spring area, and the second is the trek to Manzanita Spring, which departs from Frijole Ranch.