Plan Your Visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Where to stay and eat

There are no hotels in the park, only three developed campgrounds. Pine Springs Campground, near the base of Guadalupe Peak and the main visitor center, has 20 tent sites and 13 RV sites among scrubby juniper and oak trees against a magnificent mountain backdrop. A tent site is accessible, as is an RV site.

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For more solitude, visit Dog Canyon Campground on the north side of the park in a quiet, tree-lined canyon beneath cliff walls that offer a respite from the wind. It has nine tents and four camper pitches. Frijole Horse Corral Campground is a group campground near the highway with corrals for horse riders.

All campsites have no water or electricity connection and they have toilets but no showers. They often fill up, especially in the spring and fall, so reservations (recreation.gov) are recommended. Single sites are $20 per night in Pine Springs and Dog Canyon; $60 per group per night at Frijole Horse.

In addition, 10 campsites in the hinterland have 60 campsites. You must get a permit to use them in the main visitor center. There is a $6 reservation fee and a $6 recreation fee per person per night.

Guadalupe Peak Trail

things to do

Go hiking: Hiking is one of the most popular activities in GMNP, and lace up your boots for the quintessential park experience. You have many options, with 80 miles of hiking trails criss-crossing the grounds. Choose between an easy nature walk or a full-day quad-busting hike up Guadalupe Peak, where the reward is huge—a view from the top of Texas.

​“What makes the park special for many visitors today is the challenge it presents. They want to prove to themselves what they can and can’t do,” says Barr.

Special guided hikes are offered regularly, including moonlight hikes to the dunes of the Salt Basin, as well as guided history and nature walks. Check the event schedule online and at park headquarters.

For something short and easy, head to the Pinery Trail, a wheelchair-accessible paved trail that starts just outside the Pine Springs Visitor Center. The trail leads to the ruins of an old stagecoach station in Butterfield Overland that was once a relay station on the 2,800-mile mail route from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco. Standing next to the remains of the rock faces, it is hard to imagine what it must have felt like to drive a stagecoach back then. At an average speed of 6 mph, the journey took three weeks. Signs along the trail describe the surrounding desert plant life, a spiky vegetation that appears to stab, claw, or poke anyone who gets too close. This is the only trail open to pets (if they are leashed).

Another easy paved trail, the half-mile Manzanita Spring Trail, begins at the parking lot at Frijole Ranch, an old-time cattle ranch 1.5 miles northeast of the main visitor center within GMNP boundaries. The trail passes through an old orchard and leads to a shallow pool that attracts birds all year round. Keep walking as the trail turns to dust and in less than a mile you’ll be in Smith Spring for shade and more birdlife.

One of GMNP’s most popular attractions is McKittrick Canyon, a day use area in the northeast portion of the park that features the 10.9-mile McKittrick Canyon Trail. Visitors flock here for a few weeks each fall to admire maples, oaks, and other trees that show off their bright red and orange coats. For the first four miles the trail follows a creek bed, usually dry, while winding through a ravine. You’ll feel like stepping out of one world and stepping into the next as you transition from prickly desert terrain dotted with cacti and yucca to a shady thicket of juniper, bigtooth maple and pine, wedged between advancing hills. In the canyon it is wetter and also cooler. After about 2.3 miles you will pass an old cabin. Keep walking and you’ll see pools of water, another abandoned shack, and a grotto dripping with gnarled formations that look like someone has piled handfuls of mud in there. Settle at one of the picnic tables in the shaded alcove and enjoy the lush setting that doesn’t feel like the park’s desert floor. Many day hikers turn back at the grotto, but the trail continues, becoming steep and rugged as it climbs more than 2,000 feet on its way to McKittrick Ridge. Eventually it joins another long path, the Tejas Trail.

Dunes of the Salt Basin

For another unique hike, opt for the easy trail to the sparkling white sands of the Salt Basin Dunes, which will take you there is clay. From the parking lot it’s a mile and a half down a sun-kissed and exposed path to the dunes that may remind you of one of the desert scenes from the Star Wars series. (Don’t worry, there are no Wookies here.)

Eat your wheaties when you decide to hike the Guadalupe Peak Trail, a full-day hike to the highest peak in Texas. Gain 3,000 feet during the 8.4-mile round-trip hike that begins near the main visitor center. The first section is the steepest, but the increasingly breathtaking views mitigate the discomfort. Photo buffs like to pitch their tents at the small campground a mile from the summit, then get up early to enjoy the sunrise from above. When the sky is clear, the desert spreads out in all directions like a crumpled gray-green blanket far below. While you’re up there, think about it: Three paraplegic men made the journey in 1982, wheeling their sturdy, custom-built wheelchairs (and crawling in some sections) all the way to the state’s highest point.

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