Treks in Texas: Hiking Guadalupe Mountains National Park
If you ask a person on the street where Guadalupe Mountains National Park can be found, most people would say that they've never even heard of it. Being one of the most under-visited National Parks in the United States, it's also incredibly underrated. You wouldn't normally expect to find lush green hiking trails in an area that is completely surrounded by the desert of Texas, but after driving 1.5 hrs outside of El Paso, you'll come across a stunning display of mountains and peaks emerging from the horizon. These are the silhouettes of the Guadalupe Mountain range and their valleys and inclines have created incredible hiking paths spanning a broad range of trail difficulty. From simple paved routes to moderately difficult hikes that force you to rock scramble, to multi-day excursions to the top of the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park has something for everyone in its almost 80 miles of marked trails.
Guadalupe is unique because you can't drive into the park's grounds. All parking lots are located around the border of the park’s limits, along the highway. To actually experience the landscape, you’ll have to hop out of your vehicle and get walking. All of the trails start on the outskirts and will lead you deep into the secluded wilderness that the almost 360 degree wall of cliffs provides as well as the shadow of by Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas towering over 3,000 feet in the air.
Hike the Devil's Hall Trail
By far my favorite hike in Guadalupe Mountains is the Devil's Hall Trail. At 4.3 miles round-trip, it's the perfect moderately difficult hike to lead you deep into the center of the park. To access the trail, you make your way up from the Visitor's Center and follow a horse route which will slowly but steadily lead upwards and into the valley made by the mountain landscape. From the start of the Devil's Hall Trail, you’ll realize you’re ascending to higher and higher elevations. The path will lead you past yucca plants and trees and provides stunning views of the mountains rising above you.
About a mile in, the trail continues into a wash river, where you'll be climbing over boulders and scrambling over rocks. The wash is by far the prettiest part of this hike. Since you've made your way into a lower elevation, you will be surrounded by a quiet and secluded world of trees with blue sky peaking through. We were hiking Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the winter and although we were hiking with sun beating down on us for the first part of the trail, the shade of the wash greeted us with a layer of frost on all the tree branches and boulders. As the wind blew, the frost would blow around, causing snow to magically fall on us for brief periods of time. I honestly felt like I had walked into a Disney fairytale. Your hiking will continue through the wash and lead to a rock staircase which ends the trail at a slot canyon. I personally love a hike that includes rock scrambling…not only are you working out your legs but you’re using your mind to solve puzzle after puzzle of finding the best route to keep moving you forward.
Explore Natural Springs and Waterfalls on the Smith Spring Trail
Another great hike to pair with the Devil's Hall Trail is the Smith Spring Trail. This hike is shorter and much easier but provides beautiful views and some scenic stops along the way. The trail has a pretty impressive elevation gain for how easy the walk is. As you make your way along the looped trek, make sure to turn around to see the far-reaching views of the horizon as it stretches over the border of Mexico with cliffs and mesas in the distance. The walk will take you up towards the mountains for a serene stop at Smith Spring, a naturally occurring spring that is a hidden oasis in the middle of the park. Let the trickling water of the spring serenade you as you continue on the path and eventually come upon Manzanita Spring.
Check out the Other Trails
Pairing Devil’s Hall with the Smith Spring Trail is the perfect way to spend your day in Guadalupe National Park. However, there are a few additional trails that may interest you:
The Pinery Trail: A super simple, .75 mile paved hike near the Visitor’s Center which educates about the native flora and fauna along the way
McKittrick Canyon Trail: The is a trail we would like to tackle whenever we return to Guadalupe National Park. 4.8 miles round trip, this moderate trek will take you through different ecosystems and ends in the The Notch which gives you beautiful views of the entire canyon
Salt Basin Dunes: Located within the park are rare Gypsum Salt Dunes, much like those found in White Sands National Monument. They are accessible during the day only and require a bit of a hike to access but are definitely worth the work. Learn more HERE
Larger and more involved trails include the El Capitan/Salt Basin Overlook Trails (11.3 miles round trip), and the Guadalupe Peak Trail (6.8 miles round trip) which will take you to the “Top of Texas”
Guadalupe National Park is an amazing quite getaway while in Texas. Conveniently located just 40 mins from Carlsbad Caverns National Park (and less than half the visitors yearly), you can over-ambitiously try to see both parks in one day or spend a long nature-filled weekend in the area. Guadalupe now holds a special place in my heart due to the complete lack of tourists. The few people we encountered while hiking were there to enjoy nature and the quiet solitude that the park provides. Make sure you drive out of the park at sunset for an amazing display as the mountains and peaks look like they start to catch on fire in the light. It’s a beautiful National Park that should definitely be considered when planning a trip through the Southwest.