Visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park: What You Need to Know

Disclosure:  In order to keep providing you with free content, this post may contain 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.

When planning a trip, have you added another destination due to proximity?  That is exactly what happened to us when researching our travels in southern New Mexico.  

Our primary goal was to visit the state’s two national parks: Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands.  Then we discovered there was another national park nearby.  

Although located in Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is only 45 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns.  We simply could not pass up this opportunity.  Sometimes add-ons turn out to be wonderful.  

We will cover everything you need to know about this little-known national park.  Then, you can plan your Texas-sized adventure in the Guadalupe Mountains.

GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK: BASIC INFORMATION

Guadalupe Mountains National Park welcome sign
Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Location & Directions

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in west Texas about 110 miles east of El Paso and 55 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The park is accessible by U.S. Highway 62/180.  Since this highway also takes you directly to Carlsbad Caverns, it has been aptly named the National Parks Highway.  

We have included a map at the end of this post so you can view the area and plot your course.

Gas

Make sure you have plenty of fuel in the tank.  The closest gas station to the park headquarters is 35 miles in either direction.  

Your last stop for gas will be Dell City in Texas or White’s City in New Mexico.

Fees and passes

The park entrance fee is $10 per person (age 16+).  Your pass is good for 7 days, starting at date of purchase.  Or, you can purchase an annual pass to Guadalupe Mountains National Park for $35.

You may want to consider an America the Beautiful park pass for $80.  This annual pass is good for 1 year, starting at date of purchase.  It is valid at all our national parks.

Pets

This is not the best park to bring your pet.  Opportunities are very limited.  

Leashed pets are permitted only in areas accessed by vehicles:

  • Established roadsides
  • Parking areas
  • Developed picnic areas
  • Campgrounds

Leashed pets are only allowed on two trails in the park:

  • Pine Springs Campground Connector Trail
  • Pinery Trail

If these parameters are not a good fit for you, it is best to leave your furry friend at home.

Weather

From May through October, temperatures can reach highs anywhere from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to over 100Lows can be between 40 and 60 degrees.  

November to April tends to be milderHighs are between 50 and 70 and lows range from 30 to 50.

Please heed my warning.  Guadalupe Mountains National Park is known for being windy year-roundWind gusts can exceed 60 miles per hour.

During our visit, we experienced 30 to 40 mile per hour winds with 60 mile per hour gusts.  We love hiking, but going against that wind is a challenge!  

Plus, the real feel temperature is considerably lower.  Be sure to pack layers and a windbreaker.

What time is it?

This place is in the zone.  Nobody is sure what zone though.  One of the strangest things about the park is the confusion over the time zone.

A park ranger advised us that the park is in the Mountain time zone.  However, cell service in the park comes from towers located in the Central time zone.  So, your electronic devices will likely show the wrong time.

How many districts does the park have?

Guadalupe Mountains is broken out into five different park districts:

  • Pine Springs
  • McKittrick Canyon
  • Frijole Ranch
  • Dog Canyon
  • Salt Basin Dunes

Operating hours and seasons

It is important to note that each park district has its own hours of operation.  

Between the time zone issues and the different operating hours, maybe this is the land of confusion…

  • Pine Springs is open 24 hours a day year-round.
  • McKittrick Canyon is open daily with hours that vary based on season.  
    • April – October: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm Mountain Daylight Time  
    • November – March: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm Mountain Standard Time
  • Frijole Ranch is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
  • Dog Canyon is open 24 hours a day year-round.
  • Salt Basin Dunes is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

THINGS TO DO IN GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Top activities

  • Scenic drives
  • Hiking
  • Backpacking
  • Horseback riding
  • Observing wildlife

Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these.

SCENIC DRIVES

National Parks Highway

One of the great things about many of our national parks is that you can take a scenic drive inside the park.  Unfortunately, that is not the case with Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

The only real scenic drive here is the National Parks Highway itself.  You can see the mountain ranges as you make your way, but the drive is along the outside of the park

There are several short spur roads from the National Parks Highway.  I would not classify any of these as a scenic drive.  They are short roads only intended for access into the different sections of the park.

HIKING

Trail to Pratt Cabin
Section of trail to Pratt Cabin

The main attraction

Guadalupe Mountains National Park may not have long scenic drives, but she can certainly boast about her extensive hiking trails.  

There are many challenging, yet rewarding opportunities.  You can hike:

  • Along rugged, beautiful mountains
  • Through rocky canyons
  • Up iconic peaks
  • Up a series of large boulders

Make no mistake, hiking is the main attraction at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The scenery may not be as majestic as the red rocks in Sedona, but it is beautiful.  

These hikes will test you, but they are so gratifying.  We felt a big sense of accomplishment after tackling the rocky trails here.  If you enjoy hiking, this park is calling your name!

BACKPACKING

Long hikes and campsites

If you enjoy long hikes that require more than a day to complete, Guadalupe Mountains National Park has plenty to offer you.  

The park website has a list of suggested backpacking itineraries.  It details the mileage, elevation change and number of campsites for each of these adventures.   

Guadalupe Mountains National Park has 10 designated campsites in the wilderness.  You will need to obtain a permit from the Pine Springs Visitor Center.

HORSEBACK RIDING

Bring your horse

Do you have your own horse?  If so, you can have a unique adventure in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  

Riding is permitted on 60% of the trails and is limited to day trips only.  The park website contains details on horseback riding, including trails and corrals. 

OBSERVING WILDLIFE

Mule deer in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Mule deer

There are many different types of wildlife in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Whether you enjoy birdwatching or observing animals, there are opportunities for you.

Common birds of Guadalupe Mountains

Throughout the year, many different bird species will inhabit the park at one time or another.

  • Canyon towhee
  • Sparrow (various types)
  • Northern mockingbird
  • Loggerhead shrike
  • White-winged dove
  • Woodpecker (various types)
  • Roadrunner
  • Warbler (spring)
  • Oriole (spring)
  • Phainopepla (winter)
  • Pyrrhuloxia (winter) 

Best places to spot birds

  • Frijole Ranch
  • Smith Springs 
  • McKittrick Canyon
  • The Bowl 
  • Pine Springs

Common animals of Guadalupe Mountains

  • Mule deer
  • Elk
  • Coyote
  • Grey fox
  • Desert cottontail
  • Black-tailed jackrabbit
  • Ringtail
  • Rock squirrel
  • Mountain lion
  • Javelina

Since most animals in the park are nocturnal, sightings are not easily accomplished.

We were fortunate to observe three mule deer feeding close to the trailhead for Devil’s Hall.  Although near the trail, the deer blended in with the environment and were extremely quiet.

I must admit a sharp eye is needed to find them.  In our case, it was sheer dumb luck.

Common reptiles of Guadalupe Mountains

Reptiles may be spotted during the warmer months.

  • Chihuahuan spotted whiptail
  • Prairie lizard
  • Collared lizard
  • Mountain short-horned lizard
  • Wester diamondback
  • Black-tailed rattlesnake

Tips for observing wildlife

  • Your best chance is near sunrise and sunset.  
  • Seek out permanent water sources.  
  • Look for tracks.

Best places for animal sightings

  • Manzanita Spring
  • Smith Springs
  • McKittrick Canyon

Now that we talked about things to do, let’s discuss the different park districts so you can better plan your adventure.

PLACES TO GO IN GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

One of our biggest challenges when planning this trip was to figure out where to go.  With five park districts, we were not sure where to spend our time.  We saw names of trails and destinations, but we had no idea where to find them.  

We have details on each park district so you can decide where and how to spend your time.

PINE SPRINGS

Devil's Hall in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Devil’s Hall

Pine Springs Visitor Center

Pine Springs houses the main visitor center and headquarters for Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Pine Springs Visitor Center can be easily accessed by U.S. Highway 62/180.  

You can obtain maps and brochures in the visitor center.  The park store sells a few souvenirs, books and other useful items.  It is not as big as some of the other national park visitor centers, but it covers the basics very well.  

The park rangers here are very helpful.  After describing our interests, they gave us suggestions on which trails to hike.  They provided input on weather and trail conditions. 

Whenever you visit any national park, I encourage you to talk to a park ranger.  You are essentially getting tips from an insider.  That may not fly in the stock market, but it is perfectly fine here.

Day Hikes in Pine Springs

  • Pinery Trail – easy, paved 0.9 mile round trip hike outside the Pine Springs Visitor Center.  This path takes you to the Old Butterfield Stagecoach Route Pinery Station.
  • Foothills Loop – moderate 4.5 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 2 to 5 hours.  You will have a nice view up Bear Canyon and of El Capitan along the way.  Although not the tallest point, El Capitan is the most pronounced peak on the horizon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
  • Devil’s Hall – strenuous 4.2 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 3 to 6 hours.  Starts at Pine Springs Trailhead.  
  • Guadalupe Peak – strenuous 8.4 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 6 to 10 hours.  Guadalupe Peak is the highest mountain in the state.  As such, you can climb to the “top of Texas” on this trail.  The elevation gain is 3,000 feet.
  • Hunter Peak – strenuous 9 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 6 to 10 hours.  This hike is a loop up the Bear Canyon Trail and down the Tejas Trail.  There is a 2,700 feet elevation change with gorgeous views.

Julie and I hiked Devil’s Hall.  This is one of the most popular hikes in the park.  

The first half is a rugged, but clearly marked path.  The last half takes you along a rocky wash.  

You will do quite a bit of bouldering through the wash.  Then you will come to a natural staircase.  This all culminates in a narrow hall between two steep canyon walls.  

This hike is a bit of work as you make your way up the boulders through the wash.  The actual hall is a nice reward after making your way up the staircase.  

We really enjoyed this hike.  Bouldering makes it feel like a full-body workout.  You will have a great sense of satisfaction after completing this hike.  We definitely recommend Devil’s Hall. 

MCKITTRICK CANYON

Pratt Cabin in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Pratt Cabin

McKittrick Canyon Visitor Center

McKittrick Canyon Visitor Center is small. It is more of a contact station.  You can grab park maps and brochures.  They have outside exhibits as well.

The rangers at this district were top notch just like at Pine Springs.  They offered such great insight on weather and trail conditions. 

Day Hikes in McKittrick Canyon

  • The Notch – difficult 9.9 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 5 to 6 hours.  The trail goes through McKittrick Canyon and about half way up toward McKittrick Ridge. 
  • Permian Reef Trail – strenuous 8.4 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 4 to 6 hours.  This is a long climb up the north side of McKittrick Canyon to the top of Wilderness Ridge.  You are rewarded with fantastic views of the horizon and down into the canyon.
  • McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail – moderate 0.9 mile loop trail of loose rock.  Plan on 1 hour.  At the top, you will have a view down into McKittrick Canyon.
  • The Grotto and Hunter Line Shack – moderate 6.8 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 4 to 5 hours.  There is a mild elevation gain.  The Grotto is an exposed cave formation.  The Hunter Line Shack is part of an old 1920s ranch operation.  Here you will find stone picnic tables.  After seeing the cave features you can have lunch or a snack.
  • Pratt Cabin – moderate 4.8 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 2 to 4 hours.  The trail crosses a stream and eventually takes you to a cabin.  Be sure to sit in a chair on the front porch and enjoy the fantastic view of the mountainous horizon.  You earned it!

Julie and I hiked to Pratt Cabin.  This was a very nice hike.  The view outside the cabin is amazing.  

This was the day we had 30 to 40 mile per hour winds with gusts up to 60 miles per hour.  For the first half of the hike, we were fighting against the wind.  The temperature was in the 40s that morning.  So, it was cold.  

Under pleasant conditions, this hike is probably easy to moderate.  The winds and temperatures made it more difficult for us.  

We still highly recommend this hike.  The views at the cabin are worth it.

FRIJOLE RANCH

Manzanita Spring in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Manzanita Spring

Note that Frijole Ranch does not have its own visitor center.  It is just down the road from Pine Springs. 

Day Hikes in Frijole Ranch

  • Smith Spring Trail Loop – moderate 2.3 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 1 to 2 hours.  The trail takes you to Smith Spring.  Much of the park consists of dry desert or rugged mountain landscapes.  Here you will find a beautiful pool of water surrounded by vegetation.  It actually seems a bit odd, if not out of place.  This location is a literal oasis for wildlife.
  • Manzanita Spring – easy 0.5 mile out and back trail.  Plan on half hour to an hour.  You will find a wide pool surrounded by tall grassy vegetation.  This is a great location for potential bird and animal sightings.
  • Foothills Loop – moderate 4.5 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 2 to 5 hours.  This hike is also listed under Pine Springs.  There are actually two trailheads, one in each park district.

Our recommendation for this district is the Smith Spring Trail Loop.  It is a nice change of pace to see shade trees and water.  

This really is one of the best spots to observe birds and animals.  Even if you do not see any wildlife, I think you will find this to be a good hike with beautiful scenery.

DOG CANYON

Note, Dog Canyon is a two hour drive from Pine Springs.  You need to be on the opposite side of the mountain range in order to access this area.  In full disclosure, we did not visit this section of the park.

This area is more secluded and sits in a forested canyon.  The elevation is 6,300 feet.  With more solitude, you have opportunities for hiking and birding.

Dog Canyon Ranger Station

Dog Canyon Ranger Station is open intermittently.  From everything we have seen, I think it is best to plan on this ranger station being closed.  Staff and volunteers are occasionally in the area.

Day hikes in Dog Canyon

  • Lost Peak Saddle – moderate 4 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 3 to 5 hours.
  • Marcus Overlook – moderate 5.2 mile round trip hike.  Plan on 3 to 5 hours.

Both of these hikes provide beautiful views south into the Guadalupe Mountains.

SALT BASIN DUNES

Important things to know about Salt Basin Dunes

Note, Salt Basin Dunes is about an hour drive from Pine Springs.  

There is no visitor center here.  

The area is designated as day use onlyCamping is prohibited in Salt Basin Dunes.  

The surface of the access road is clayWhen wet, it is slippery and unsafe for travel.

You will find parking, picnic tables and pit toilets in Salt Basin Dunes.  Water is not available.

The area has a vast landscape of rolling sand dunes.  You can see sections of both white gypsum dunes and red quartz hills.  Rangers ask that you stay on established roadways and trails.

TIPS FOR VISITING GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Guadalupe Mountains NP
Mountain vista in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  • Decide which park districts you plan to visit – Pine Springs, McKittrick Canyon and Frijole Ranch are all in close proximity.  Pine Springs is considered the main hub.  Dog Canyon offers more solitude in a forested canyon, but is two hours away.  Salt Basin Dunes offers rolling sand dunes, but is an hour away.  We spent two days in the park and were able to hike in Pine Springs, McKittrick Canyon and Frijole Ranch.  If you plan to include either Dog Canyon or Salt Basin Dunes, you will likely need another day or two.
  • Choose which hikes you plan to take – There are many great hikes offered.  Some will take up most of the day though.
  • Wear light layers and a windbreaker – The park’s reputation for being windy is real.  Do not underestimate the impact of the wind.  Pack accordingly.
  • Wear hiking boots – Many of the trails are rugged and contain rocks.  Some of the trails require bouldering.  You will need good traction and support.
  • Fuel up before going to the park – The closest gas station in either direction is 35 miles.  Be sure you have plenty of gas in the tank.
  • Bring food and water – With no gas stations near the park, there is no real opportunity for supplies either.  Be sure to pack water and healthy snacks before you hit the trails.

PLAN YOUR TRIP TO GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Where to start

  • Check the Guadalupe Mountains National Park website for information and current updates.
  • Watch our video for more travel tips.
  • Use the map to view the area and plan your travels.
  • Pack light layers, a windbreaker and hiking shoes.
  • Bring a camera to capture beautiful memories.
  • Consider making the loop.

Make the loop

Locals asked if we were making the loop.  Yes, we are!  We already discussed two parks being near one another.  There are actually three national parks in close proximity.  

You can complete the loop too.  You will be glad you did.  Each park is unique and offers something very different.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, located in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is literally 45 minutes down the same road.  I highly recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity and hit this park as well.  The enormous underground caves are mind blowing!  It is one of my favorite national parks.  See our Carlsbad Caverns complete planning guide and watch the Carlsbad Caverns video.

White Sands National Park, located in Alamogordo, New Mexico, is about 3 hours from Guadalupe Mountains.  It is a massive field of rolling sand dunes where you can play, hike and go sand sledding.  Unlike Salt Basin Dunes, you do not need to stay on established trails.  You have more freedom to explore.  See our White Sands complete planning guide and watch the White Sands video.

Where to stay

Carlsbad, New Mexico is a great place to stay.  There are plenty of hotels at good rates.  The city has lots of restaurants  and things to do.  See our Carlsbad post for restaurant suggestions

We stayed at Hampton Inn & Suites Carlsbad.  The room was clean.  A hot breakfast was provided.  The staff members were so friendly and helpful.  They answered our questions about the area and offered suggestions.

 Hampton Inn & Suites Carlsbad is on the edge of town.  This gives you quick access to the National Parks Highway which takes you directly to both Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains.  

You can reach Carlsbad Caverns in about 25 minutes.  The drive to Guadalupe Mountains from the hotel is an hour.

Hampton Inn & Suites Carlsbad is a great home base for both parks.  We did not need to use a map or a GPS.  We literally pulled out of the hotel parking lot and drove until we saw signs for the parks.  It was so convenient.

We found traffic to be light.  It was an easy, relaxing drive.  This is coming from someone who finds driving to be stressful.  I was completely at ease with low traffic and simple directions.  Serenity now…

Check out our other national park guides:

About the author

We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.

Leave a Comment