Posted: October 20, 2020
Each month, Discover Our Parks will choose a “Park of the Month” to showcase on our site and why we choose to feature it. We will utilize comments, time of the year and other factors when making our decisions. We might even ask you, our adventurers which park you think should be next.
***Note: This month we’re posting a little late, due to launching our site. Going forward, look for the Park of the Month around the first week of the month.
Without further delay… what park gets October 2020’s “Park of the Month”???
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Formed from a 260–270-million-year-old reef, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is not only a geologist’s dream, but it is also a natural beauty! “The Guadalupe Mountains rise more than 3,000 feet above the arid Chihuahuan Desert that surrounds them. El Capitan, the park’s most striking feature, is a 1,000-foot-high limestone cliff. Nearby Guadalupe Peak, 8,749 feet above sea level, is the highest point in Texas.”1 The park is very popular during “Fall Colors” season, happening now, in case you aren’t aware. With numerous beautiful hikes that provide amazing flora to enjoy this time of year.
The park has numerous types of ecosystems to enjoy and it’s hard to determine which one you are in when you are there, as a simple hike on some trails will find you wondering when things changed. “Many scientists recognize four to five generalized habitats ranging from succulent and shrub desert in the lowlands and south facing slopes, to semiarid grasslands above 5,000 feet to mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands and coniferous forests at the highest elevations. These classification schemes give us something to grasp when trying to understand a land filled with magic and majesty. In the field the distinctions blur as communities blend into one another and we are reminded that Nature mocks man’s categories.”2
Why “Park of the Month”?
With fall colors already well underway around the country, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is just beginning to see the changes take shape. This allows for a longer time to enjoy the colors and explore. The park also has so many hiking opportunities and the ability to get away from others and Social Distance.
With over 80 miles of hiking trails, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a hikers dream! There are so many hikes to name, so we’ll limit it to the 4 best day hikes within the park, each ranging in difficulty.
Our first suggestion is for the leisure hiker, something almost anyone can do. The Smith Spring Loop starts at the Frijole Ranch area (yes… “Beans” Ranch, lol) and is a 2.3 mile round-trip loop. It begins in the desert and then at the high point, is lush vegetation around the Smith Spring near it’s source. Be careful to stay on the trail in this area, as the wildlife use the spring for life giving water and disturbing the spring can change the way it produces water and provides for nature in the future. Download the NPS Guide and Map for this Hike.
Our second hike is a little more difficult, but again worth it! Marcus Overlook starts at the Dog Canyon Trailhead, located on the Northern Side of the park from the Lincoln National Forest. You’ll “follow the Bush Mountain Trail to Manzanita Ridge. Once on top, the trail abruptly levels off for a short distance. Stop at the point where the trail drops steeply, and enjoy the view down West Dog Canyon. Turn back here and return to Dog Canyon along the same route.”3 This hike is 4.5 miles.
Our third hike suggestion is McKittrick Canyon Trail. This is the hike for all the Fall Color lovers! “Hike through riparian vegetation and stream crossings to the historic Pratt Cabin or the scenic Grotto. McKittrick Canyon is a moderate hike that follows the bottom of the canyon and begins to climb after 3 miles, eventually connecting you to McKittrick Ridge.”4 This hike has multiple turnaround points but is moderate to strenuous if you go the full length to the top f the ridge. The length is 4.8 miles round-trip to Pratt Cabin, 7 miles round-trip to The Grotto and 15.2 miles round-trip to the top of the ridge and McKittrick Ridge Campground. Download the NPS Guide and Map for this Hike.
And finally, the hike so many set out for, is the Guadalupe Peak Trail. The top of the trail, located at 8,751 feet above sea level, is the tallest point in the state of Texas. The trail climbs 3,000 feet and travels through a conifer forest to this point from it’s start, but the view is amazing. Allow 6-8 hours for this hike, longer if you want to rest more or take it slower, we suggest starting before 8AM. The length of this trail is 8.5 mile round-trip. Download the NPS Guide and Map for this Hike.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park has two campgrounds with in the park.
Pine Springs Campground is located near the Pine Springs Visitor Center in the South-East part of the park. It is in the desert area and has little shade. There are 20 leveled, gravel tent sites that are all first-come, first-serve and RV camping is a paved parking lot with 19 sites, also first-come, first-serve.
The second campground is Dog Canyon Campground, located “in a secluded, forested canyon on the north side of the park.”5 There are 9 tent sites and 4 RV sites. These sites are all first-come, first-serve.
Both campgrounds have group sites and require special reservations.
If you find yourself without a campground upon arrival, which easily happens during peak time, like right now, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options that the park service can suggest at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. This includes one we recommend for those okay with Primitive style camping, the Chosa Campground. This is located on a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land in New Mexico, only about a 20 minute drive to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and conveniently located along the main U.S. highway, but without really noticing it is when you’re there.
One of the best nearby things to see and do, is visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It is just about a 46 minute drive from visitor center to visitor center and the payoff is worth it! Touring the caverns is beautiful and the hiking is also amazing. The park is also located in the Guadalupe Mountains and is apart of the same reef system that has created what exists today.
Another nearby location is to visit Lincoln National Forest. It has beautiful drives, hikes and camping locations throughout. Visit the National Forest Service’s site for more information.
For more information about Guadalupe Mountains National Park, October 2020’s Park of the Month, and to plan your trip, visit our park page, which includes specific information about the park status in regards to Covid-19. Be sure to check out the more detailed About the Park page with information from the park’s Foundation Document.
Have you been to Guadalupe Mountains National Park or have a comment regarding our choice? Let us know below in the comments section.
We got some of the above information from the following:
1: Foundation Document Overview – Guadalupe Mountains National Park
2: NPS – Guadalupe Mountains NP – Natural Features & Ecosystems
3: NPS – Guadalupe Mountains NP – Trail Descriptions
4: NPS – Guadalupe Mountains NP – Day Hikes
5: NPS – Guadalupe Mountains NP – Camping
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