9 Reasons Why Texans In-The-Know Visit Guadalupe Mountains
From the parched desert floor of West Texas, upward through lush forests and valleys, to the highest mountain peaks in the state, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a place of wild extremes.
As vacationers from all over Texas are discovering, these qualities make Guadalupe Mountains one of the best outdoor destinations in the state and a hidden gem of the National Park System.
THINGS TO DO
- Hiking and backpacking - With 80 miles of trails, hikers have a lot to explore. For those in search of a short day hike, the 2.3-mile Smith Spring Loop is a good starting point. The landscape transforms gradually from desert scrub to lush forest as the trail passes alongside the trickling waters of Smith Canyon and Manzanita Spring. For backpackers in search of a longer trip, all 80 miles of interconnected trails allow you to set your own course.
- Camping - In addition to 10 primitive backcountry campsites for backpackers, Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers family campsites for tents and RVs at Dog Canyon and Pine Springs. Both campgrounds have picnic tables, restroom facilities, and drinking water in a sheltered setting alongside the Guadalupe Mountains. Take heed that hookups are not available.
- Horseback riding - There's nothing in the world to make you feel more like a pioneer than riding a horse through the canyons and mountains of West Texas! Horses are not available to rent in the park, but visitors who bring their own have many miles of equestrian trails to explore. Corrals and horse camping are also available.
- Birding and wildlife photography - Each of the park's distinct ecosystems, from riparian forest to desert grassland, hosts a unique bird population, including migratory species and year-round residents. Photographers looking to capture the famous roadrunner or the calliope hummingbird may have to act fast, but there are few places where you'll get better shots.
- Stargazing - Bring your telescope! One of the most surprising aspects of wilderness camping is the night sky. Guadalupe National Park has less light pollution than almost anywhere in the country, and more than 11,000 stars of the Milky Way are visible from the dark desert floor.
PLACES TO GO
- Frijole Ranch - One of the best starting points in the park for bird watchers, the Frijole Ranch also marks the beginning of the Smith Trail and includes a museum that details the history of Guadalupe Mountains from the days of Native Americans and early ranchers to the present.
- McKittrick Canyon - The winding streams, rich forest, and rare plant and animal life tucked between the 2,000-foot limestone walls of McKittrick Canyon are worth a look at any time of year, but striking fall foliage makes autumn a particularly scenic time to visit.
- Salt Basin Dunes - The 2,000 arid acres of shifting desert sands that make up the Salt Basin Dunes represent the most desolate landscape in Guadalupe National Park, but there's no denying their beauty. The Salt Basin Dunes are also a popular area for hiking, but be sure to talk to a park ranger about safety precautions before you stroll off into the dunes.
- Guadalupe Peak - Standing 8,751 feet above sea level and more than 3,000 feet above the desert floor, Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas. For some, the mountain appears striking enough when viewed from afar. For others, the best view is from the top, and it's a challenging 8.5 mile out-and-back hike to the summit.
From camping out under the stars and climbing rugged mountains to horseback riding in the footsteps of Texas' early settlers, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the most exciting outdoor destinations in the Southwest.
Photo credits: Heather Weinberg, Diana Philpot via Share the Experience; Sand Basin Dunes by NPS/Buehler