GUADALUPE PEAK TRAIL
If you’re a Hiking Texan, this is one you have to do. And we really do mean that - you have to summit the tallest peak in Texas! Guadalupe Peak stands tall at 8,751 ft above the surrounding landscape and provides some truly unbelievable views of this arid and beautiful region. This hike is recommended for physical fit hikers who can handle the nearly 3,000 ft of vertical gain from the trailhead to the summit. Dedicate at least 5-8+ hours depending on your speed and ability.
Starting at the upper Pine Springs parking and RV lot, the trail head is just above the bathrooms and water station. Make sure you have plenty of water — you won’t see anymore after leaving the lot! From the start, you will find clear and direct signage for the Guadalupe Peak Trail. You will climb your first of many stair steps as you begin the first section of the trail — 1,000 ft of vertical gain contained in a 1.5 mile exposed section. For new hikers, this means you’re going up the mountain in a hurry!
You should now be able to look out over Pine Springs as far as your eye can see. Turn “Around the Bend” and find some comfort in the next 2.5 miles as the trail looses some of its vertical and climbs under the shade of tall pines. Around the 3 mile mark you will see a sign for the Guadalupe Peak campgrounds which are excellent choices for those who wish to backpack and stay overnight. The campgrounds are just over 1 mile from the summit and can be found down the campground trail and over a small ridge to provide shelter from the wind.
With about 1 mile left to go, the hike is far from over! There is nearly 1,000 ft left to climb and the trail again becomes exposed and covered in loose rock and shale making the climb difficult. As you near the summit, you might find the trail harder to pick up but look for markers or indications of least resistance. Once you arrive at the summit, marvel at the epic views, admire the other peaks around you - most of these are in the top 10 of Texas — and make sure to sign the summit log that you’ll find in a case near the summit marker.
And that incredible ridgeline you see in our photo — that’s El Capitan. Its sheer face and shark fin like attributes make it one of our favorite views in the state!
MCKITTRICK CANYON TRAIL
McKittrick Canyon is one of the most popular trails in the park, and also holds some of the best fall color in the state. This is a fantastic trail with plenty to see in any season, but in fall, the maples, oaks and other trees explode in vibrant color. For this reason, the park’s peak visitation occurs in fall from October through November, so plan accordingly!
Starting from the Pine Springs Visitor Center (Park Headquarters), drive east on US 62/180 for 7.5 miles and turn onto McKittrick Canyon Road, traveling another 4.2 miles to the McKittrick Canyon Contact Station where the trailhead is. At the trailhead, spare a minute and log yourself or your party of hikers at the registry kiosk so the rangers know how many hikers to expect out on the trail. Note: the gate to McKittrick Canyon Road is open daily from 8am to 4:30pm (Nov - March) and 8am to 6pm (April - October).
For the first couple of miles, the hiking is easy on the wide, well-maintained gravel trail which is relatively flat. During these first miles, you’ll cross the pristine mountain stream several times back and forth as you make your way deeper into the canyon. The first great rest stop is the Pratt Cabin 2.4 miles in. Beyond the cabin, the trail slims down to a single track. After 1.1 miles, take the short spur trail down to the left to see the Grotto, a small rock shelter where stalactites hang from the cave’s ceiling, formed by water trickling through the rock above. This spot is very shaded and a great place to eat lunch at one of the stone picnic tables.
To continue on, retrace your steps back to the junction and head down the main trail again. Here, the trail begins to climb toward what is known as the “Notch” — a distinctive narrow slot in the mountain ridge that the trail climbs to and passes through. You’ll be trekking up one of the the toughest climbs in the park, taking the switchbacks up. From the Grotto to the Notch, you’ll only gain 600 ft in elevation, but you’ll hike about 1 mile to do so. Once you reach the Notch, take in the panoramic views and gaze back down the canyon you just hiked into — the views are astounding from up here! For typical day hikers, the Notch is a good place to rest a while before turning back toward the trailhead. Be sure to leave enough time to get back to your car and on the road again, as the park closes the gate at 4:30pm (Nov - March) and 8am to 6pm (April - October).
BUSH MOUNTAIN TRAIL
The hike to Bush Mountain, Texas’ second tallest peak, is not for the faint of heart! 3,500 ft of vertical gain is extended across 6.5 miles of exposed, rugged and steep trail. Start your trail from the Pine Springs parking lot, the trail head is just past the bathrooms and water station. You will first begin on the Tejas Trail which will steer you to hikers right and eventually across a washout. Follow that washout until the trail picks back up on the left hand side.
After crossing the wash, you begin your hike into the Guadalupes with a gradual and then steep climb up the Tejas trail. The trail is exposed and offers little shade and even experienced hikers may find themselves panting and searching for breath. The Tejas trail cuts a path like a razor up the mountain and will eventually top out at a three trail intersection, turn left onto Bush Mountain Trail.
It is along this section of trail that hikers will begin to experience the enjoyable charm of the Guadalupes. Tall shady pines and magnificent views guide your way to the Bush Mountain campsites. We recommend spending the night at one of the Bush Mountain campsites so you can enjoy the area and rest your legs. You will see a sign for the campsites which are about 0.25-0.5 miles past the sign.
Set up camp, possibly take a well earned nap, and then continue your hike to the top of Bush Mountain located about one mile past the campsite sign. The view from Bush Mountain is spectacular, overlooking the salt flats below and looking as far to the west as your eye and the atmosphere will allow. After a long days hike, a sunset from this quiet mountain peak will make the journey even sweeter. Return back via the same route.
Note: the Guadalupes are notoriously windy, exposed and generally ill tempered. Always check the weather, carry more than enough water, and pack appropriate gear to tie down your tent and belongings. This park is a true backpacker’s park and rewards those who respect it!
SMITH SPRING TRAIL
Hike to a stunning oasis in the eastern foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains and take in a mix of scenery from scrubby desert to forested canyon on this unique trail. As a relatively short hike with little elevation gain, this trail is fantastic for solo hikers and family experiences alike! This special spot has many people surprised what they can find in the mountains of west Texas!
Starting from the Pine Springs Visitor Center (Park Headquarters), drive east on US 62/180 for just over 1 mile and turn onto Frijole Ranch Road. Drive up and park at the historic ranch/museum and find the trailhead just beyond. This is a loop trail, so you can head either way up the trail, but we recommend a counterclockwise route. The first .25 mile of the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible. The paved path takes you from Frijole Ranch to Manzanita Spring, where you’ll find water year-round in the marshy pond, encircled by lush vegetation. Afterwards, the trail begins to gradually ascend into the foothills with the Guadalupe Mountains looming before you.
As you hike up, the terrain gets more interesting as you hike into this riparian zone — you’ll be crossing the deepening ravine and notice the trees get taller as you continue on. Listen careful and you’ll hear you’re getting closer to Smith Spring, where the abundance of water forms several small waterfalls along a live stream. The spring is heavily shaded by bigtooth maple, Texas madrone and maidenhair fern. Sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of this desert oasis for a while! Since this is a fragile and protected spot, please view and photograph the spring from the fenced viewing area.
Once you leave the wooded spring area, enjoy the easy 1.25 mile hike and the desert views on the way back down the other side of the loop. You’ll pass the Frijole Trail junction and the Foothills Trail junction — take a left at both junctions, and you’ll reach the Frijole Ranch and the trailhead.
DEVIL'S HALL TRAIL
Hike through Pine Springs Canyon into the heart of the Guadalupe Mountains over varied terrain to a small slot canyon known as Devil’s Hall. This trail is particularly beautiful in the fall when the bigtooth maples in the canyon are turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Any time of year you can marvel at the tall ponderosa pines and steep cliffs rising up to Guadalupe Peak above you as you hike deeper into the canyon.
Starting from the Pine Springs Trailhead, you’ll soon come to the well-marked junction of the El Capitan Trail and the Guadalupe Peak Trail. Take the Devil’s Hall Trail to the right. The first mile is a well-maintained trail until it drops into a rocky wash for the remainder of the hike, which requires you to scramble over large boulders here and there. Once you’re in the stream bed, you’ll hike another 1.1 miles to your destination. There are no trail markers and rock cairns may be far and few between, but you won’t get lost as long as you stay in the stream bed.
The trail bends around to the right as you get deeper into the canyon and the cliff walls rise beside you. Just before you reach Devil’s Hall, you’ll come to an unmistakable section of the trail known as the Hiker’s Staircase — a peculiar stair-step formation that you can climb up while avoiding the tinaja (usually full of water) in your path. After that, round the corner to the finale — Devil’s Hall and the end of the trail. To return, simple retrace your steps back to the trailhead.