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I knew most people that visited Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas did it for longer backpacking trips, or at least overnight trips. We were just passing through and didn’t really know what to do. So if you’re just passing through, not backpacking, and want to know how to spend half a day in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, then welcome! If not, well, you’re still welcome here!
On our little road trip out to Utah from Florida, we stopped at four national parks, three new to me, and one return trip. One of the new ones was Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas! We really had no idea what to expect going into it (shocking, right?) but I was excited, like usual. I mean, it was a new park for me, after all. Now, I would definitely consider it a hidden gem and even say it’s underrated.
I had also read Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr a few years ago and anything I knew about the park came from that. After a worrying drive that we might run out of gas before getting to Carlsbad (get gas before you come here!) but we ended up being fine.
Of course we stopped at the visitor center first. Then we set out to do the short walk to Manzanita Spring by Frijoles Ranch. This was a nice little walk, just half a mile, and we ended up hiking part of the Smith Spring Trail here, too. This is a little longer at 2.3 miles round trip. There are still buildings here that you can (sometimes) go into with information about the ranch and area, officially the Frijoles Ranch Museum.
Next up was the McKittrick Nature Trail in McKittrick Canyon. I’m not sure exactly how long this is but it’s less than two miles for the whole thing. It’s a pretty easy trail with a little elevation gain, but it’s nothing crazy. I think we maybe saw one other person on here in early March and this is an easy hike, so I can’t imagine how few people you would see out on any of the longer trail.
While we just did these two short hikes only spending a couple of hours in the park, there are some that are longer than this, but shorter than the long hikes making them the perfect day/afternoon hikes. I would love to come back here and do the day hikes and maybe even try backpacking here eventually. Once I ever try it, that is.
Where is Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Waaaaaay over in west Texas, right on the New Mexico border. It’s an hour from Carlsbad, New Mexico, three hours and 40 minutes from Big Bend National Park, and about two hours from El Paso. It’s a good stop between Big Bend and Carlsbad Caverns.
Short hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
While these are all of the shorter hikes (under 7 miles) there are some that could still be day hikes but they are over nine miles round trip. I don’t tend to do those and they would take much more than half a day or a few hours, so I’m keeping it under five miles here. There isn’t anything between five and nine miles unless you just do part of a longer trail.
Devil’s Hall Trail – 3.7 miles
This is the number one trail I want to go back for. It will take about two hours, maybe a little longer if you like to stop, and has 590 feet of elevation gain. It’s great for wildflower viewing and takes you to a cool slot canyon-y section. It’s no Antelope Canyon, but it still looks pretty cool.
Smith Spring Trail – 2.4 miles
This will take a little over an hour and has 387 feet of elevation gain. You’ll get to see the Manzanita Spring, Frijoles Ranch, Smith Spring, and a river. This is a good choice if you want something that is desert-y and woodsy.
McKittrick Nature Trail – Less than 2 miles
This is a great trail for learning about the foliage in the park. You would think by now I would know what everything out here is but I never remember so I always love seeing it. It’s a dirt/rocky loop trail in McKittrick Canyon making it a good stop on your way out of the park towards Carlsbad.
Pratt Lodge via McKittrick Canyon Trail – 4.8 miles
This is the longest of the short trail clocking in just under five miles, taking just over two hours, with 341 feet of elevation gain. Hike up through the mountains and relax at the Pratt Lodge before heading back down. It almost seems like a desert/mountain version of the Fakahatchee Hilton. But with fewer gators.
The Pinery – 0.9 miles
This is a nice, paved trail to learn about the ecology and history of the area. It has 78 feet of elevation gain and is out an back near the visitor center. Twenty minutes should be plenty here.
Manzanita Spring Trail – 0.5 miles
This isn’t the most exciting trail, but it is paved and takes you past the historic Frijoles Ranch. You can continue on to Smith Spring from here. It has a nice view of the desert below and mountains behind you, though.
What to bring hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer, rocky hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Light Jacket – Because you just never know. Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’ll be in any slot canyons, they can get cool depending on the time of day and season. I usually use my rain jacket for this.
Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking. This isn’t the exact one I have, but it’s similar and if I needed to replace mine, I’d probably get this one. This is essential for sunrise and sunset hikes.
How long do I need for Guadalupe Mountains National Park
It depends on what you want to do! It’s not a great “drive-through” park but you can see some cool stuff in a short visit. If you just have an hour or two, the nature trails at the visitor center and McKittrick Canyon will be good to do. If you have half a day, then consider the Devils Hall trail along with the nature trails. If you have all day you can do one of the longer trails with or without the nature trails.
Most people see the park through backpacking trips, so if you like backpacking, that will definitely be the best way to get to experience the park. Even I’m interested in it and I’m not super interested in backpacking at this point.
The best time to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The park is open and accessible year-round, but different areas and facilities have varying operating hours. The only area you’d probably visiting on a short trip that has limited hours would be McKittrick Canyon, which is day-use only.
I would say fall and spring are the best times to visit. Summer will be pretty hot, but you can see it all green. It may snow in the winter, so if you’re going then, check the weather before you go and be prepared for cooler temperatures and possible snow. There probably isn’t a bad time to visit, but your preferred temperatures and weather could help decide.
Overall, I would highly recommend visiting even if you only have half a day in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I really loved it and I barely saw anything. I can’t imagine what it’s like back in the mountains. A lot of people skip this park but I still think it’s worth even a short visit. It is pretty remote itself, though there are facilities within 35 miles of it. So, if you’re planning a west Texas road trip, consider a stop here!
Have you been to Guadalupe Mountains National Park? What did you think of it? What did you do there? Do you want to go?