At first glance, Guadalupe Mountains National Park might appear desolate and remote, but scratch the surface here and visitors find a region that reaches from the desert floor to the highest mountain in Texas. In the towering cliffs of El Capitan lie the remnants of an ancient marine fossil reef, the largest example in the world.
Carved out of these imposing mountains sits an interior of sheer-sided canyons, white gypsum sand dunes and habitat so sweeping in its diversity that over 1,000 plant species and a variety of 60 mammal groups live here. A peek into the park will overwhelm travelers with its grandeur and humble existence as they realize it’s been hiding in plain sight all along!
History of Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The first inhabitants of the Guadalupe Mountains were hunter-gatherers that followed game into the area about 10,000 years ago. Since then the region has been influenced by the Spanish, who although they did not explore the mountain range, forever changed the area by bringing horses with them.
Mescalero Apaches, like those that came before, tracked game through the Chihuahua Desert and utilized various parts of the prolific agave plants found there. In fact, today visitors might come across an agave roasting pit within the park.
The Apache thrived in the Guadalupe Mountains for a time, as it appeared inhospitable to others. After the Civil War, Americans began moving west and the Butterfield Overland Mail was established to transport passengers and mail from back east to San Francisco. Its trail ran through the park region. Cavalry troops, including Buffalo Soldiers, were assigned to protect the line and in doing so, destroyed two Apache camps. Eventually what was left of the tribe were driven out of the area and to a reservation.
One of the first settlers to make a permanent home was rancher, Felix McKittrick, who came in the 1870s. By the 1920s Wallace Pratt arrived. A geologist for what would later become Exxon Oil, Pratt fell in love with the McKittrick Canyon and built two homes there. In 1960, Pratt donated his 6,000-acre parcel to the National Park Service and with the purchase of another 80,000 acres, the road was paved for Guadalupe Mountains National Park to be created in 1972.
Why Visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Your RV?
The park has two campgrounds that accept smaller RVs and the area is large enough to spend several days exploring. Rather than driving two to three hours back to an RV park or motel in the city every evening, most travelers opt to boondock in their motorhomes or trailers. Having your home with you provides a great platform from which to venture out into the wilderness.
Places to Go
There are plenty of fantastic places to go in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Here are some spots you have to check out.
A remote forested canyon on the north end of the park, Dog Canyon lies at the base of steep cliff walls. It’s a perfect place for hiking and camping in solitude.
One of the most visited locations in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, this canyon is splendid in the months of October and November, when autumn colors are at their peak. This is a day use only destination.
A high clearance vehicle is needed to access Williams Ranch, and travelers must check out a gate key at Pine Springs Visitor Center to traverse this rugged road for 15.6 miles. The ranch house backs up to Bone Canyon.
This old ranch on the edge of the Guadalupe Mountains is surrounded by 6 springs, a virtual oasis in the desert. The ranch headquarters building houses the Frijole Ranch Historic Museum, telling the human story of the region from Native Americans to the formation of the national park.
Salt Basin Dunes
Gypsum has eroded into sand dunes here at the Salt Basin Dunes, in some places up to 40 feet tall. The wind is the sculptor and can make the area inhospitable on occasion, and the dunes are a designated day use area, so no camping is allowed.
Things to Do
There’s more than just places to go in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There are plenty of fun things to do, too. Here are some of the best!
The most popular activity in the park is hiking, as there are miles and miles of trails to follow. Here are just a few samples:
- Indian Meadow Nature Trail – 0.6 miles
- Marcus Overlook – 4.5 miles
- Lost Peak Trail – 6.4 miles
- McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail – 0.9 miles
- Pratt Cabin Trail – 4.8 miles
- The Grotto – 6.8 miles
- Permian Reef Trail – 8.4 miles
- Devil’s Hall Trail – 3.8 miles
- Guadalupe Peak Trail – 8.5 miles
If you enjoy hiking but want to stay in the backcountry longer, take a look at the packing information, trails, and campsites on the park’s backpacking page.
The park has two campgrounds, one at Pine Springs and the other at Dog Canyon. Both have flush toilets and sinks, but no showers and no hookups. There are numerous backcountry tent sites along backpacking trails, as well, which can be found here.
The diversity of ecosystems within Guadalupe Mountains National Park offer habitat for a variety of animals like mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions and javelinas. During warmer temperatures, reptiles like diamondback rattlesnakes and prairie lizards will soak up the sun. Best viewing is close to water sources like Smith Springs, Manzanita Spring and McKittrick Canyon
Bring your own horses and ride on open stock trails at the park. There are corrals at Frijole Ranch and Dog Canyon and all horse trails begin and end at these locations. No riding off trail is allowed.
The Guadalupe Mountains are an exceptional place to go birding. One of the best places to start is at Frijole Ranch, where water is in abundance and so are trees with shade! You’ll see everything from a roadrunner to mountain bluebirds, tanagers, and Cooper’s hawks throughout the park.
When to Visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park
With a location in the Chihuahua Desert, this park hits temperatures in excess of 100 degrees in summer. So most visitors enjoy the cooler season for exploration of the desert floor. However, mountain peaks are much more temperate for hikers, and those looking for fall colors won’t be disappointed by coming to the Guadalupe Mountains in October and November.
Where RVers Can Stay
There are two campgrounds within the park that have room for smaller RVs and each campground has flush toilets and sinks. However, there are no RV hookups or showers. The campgrounds are located at Pine Springs and in Dog Canyon. If you desire hook-ups, here are a few RV parks within driving distance:
Getting to and Around Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Getting to the National Park is not difficult, but the location is a bit remote. The park is located 110 miles east of El Paso, Texas or 56 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico in the Chihuahua Desert on US Highways 62/180 or via New Mexico State Road 137.
Once there, roads through the park go only to the following: Pine Springs Visitor Center and campground, McKittrick Canyon Contact Station, Frijole Ranch, Salt Basin Dunes area, Williams Ranch (high clearance vehicles required), and the park trailheads, as most visitors come here to hike and backpack.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park holds a great attraction for explorers, those willing to venture into the unknown and leave with newfound secrets. Secret trails. Secret swimming holes. Secret canyons. While many travelers bypass it on the way to other more ostentatious parks and monuments, this park is willing to wait for more curious visitors to discover its hidden treasures.
Have you ever been to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park? Leave a comment below.