One of the things that I love to do while traveling is check out the highpoints. Sometimes they are a challenge (or impossible for me) to summit, and other times they might be a cute hill in an out-of-the-way spot. In the case of the Texas highpoint, Guadalupe Peak is an attainable, but strenuous trek. For prepared hikers, this summit is well worth the upward hike. Trekkers will climb up from the desert landscape, into the forests of the higher elevations. And finally up to the top of Texas, where exceptional views await. Learn more about this hike here, along with need-to-know information about the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
- 1 On the Guadalupe Peak Trail
- 2 Need to Know Information
- 3 Getting to the Trailhead
- 4 Other Trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- 5 Interesting Facts About the Park
- 6 Staying Safe on the Trail
- 7 More West Texas Adventures
On the Guadalupe Peak Trail
The first section of the trail up towards the Texas highpoint takes you up from the desert. This part of the trail, unsurprisingly, is thus characterized by the open spaces and hardy bushes of the Chihuahuan desert. It’s a bit of a steep climb here, but there are some nice switch backs to help mitigate the upwards trek.
You will notice that there are two routes here. One is for horses, and the other is for hikers. Definitely stick to the one for whatever kind of adventuring you are doing. This will make you more safe and give much-needed space to other recreationists.
As I climbed upwards, I really enjoyed the stony cliffs and passages that popped up here and there on the trail. I found these little places to be challenging, beautiful, and a great break from the dusty character of the trail. That being said, you will want to be careful in some of these spots, particularly if you are riding a horse. Follow all signage and keep your eyes open for warnings.
Passage into the Forests
While the plants get more lush progressively as you hike higher and higher, to me there was a distinct transition from the desert section of the hike to the forest. And that was a VERY windy rocky outcropping that you cross over. My hat almost flew off my head and I stumbled in the wind it was so powerful. So watch out!
After you cross the pass, the trail will straighten out for a bit and run through the pines that cling to the top of the mountains. You will continue your upwards climb, with some more shade, and dropping temperatures, until eventually the trail will take you down a mountain wash with some protection from the elements.
It is around here that you will run into the camp site. It’s a great check on how far along you have come. However, much to my disappointment, I could not find any back country restroom here. So, if you do find yourself needing to use the restroom at this point on the Guadalupe Peak trail, you will have to hope for a quiet section of trail and a good place to hide.
Shortly after you leave the campsite behind, you will start traversing more stony cliffs. Sometimes these will have wooden supports to keep you safe, and bridge-like structures to facilitate your continued journey up to the Texas highpoint.
At this point, you will still be traveling through the forest, but the trees do thin a little bit as you go higher and higher. At several points on this section of the trail, you will be completely exposed as you climb your way up rock-faces. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you are bouldering up there. But there will be times that you will need to use your hands and feet to keep going up.
This is another section with a horse and a hiker route, remember to follow the signage!
Finally, you will cap out at the top of Guadalupe peak, where there is a very heavy-duty maker. You will know when you make it. It is very windy up here too, so make sure to be surefooted while you take your pictures from the top.
From there, you will need to hike all the way back down.
Need to Know Information
Trail length: 8.4 miles
Elevation gain: ~3,000 ft
Water available on the trail: No
Toilets at the trailhead: Yes
4WD needed for access: No
Fee: $10.00 per person
Getting to the Trailhead
If you can access Guadalupe Mountains National Park, getting to the trailhead for Guadalupe Peak is very easy. From the 63/180, you will want to take the turn for the Pine Spring Visitor Center. If you’d like to pick up a map or chat with a ranger, stop there. I’d highly suggest it. Otherwise, you can drive a little further down the road to the trailhead. There is ample parking and restrooms there. The visitor center has restrooms as well.
Other Trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Besides Guadalupe Peak and Pine Springs visitor center, there are two other primary spots to explore the national park from. One is Dog Canyon (which has camping) and McKittrick Canyon which is day use only. There is also the Bowl Trail which can be accessed from Pine Springs.
The Bowl trail is a 8.6 mile loop that will see an elevation gain of 2,565 ft. It is strenuous and has no water along the trail. The draw of this particular trail is that it will take you into the forests of the mountains. While the Guadalupe Peak trail will likewise show you what the forests of a mountainous sky island can be like. You will see so many different ecosystems on this particular trek.
If you want to see an oasis while hiking in West Texas, McKittrick Canyon is a great option. However, in order to do this entire trail, you will be looking at 20.2 miles… which unless you are a super star hiker, won’t be a day hike option. So, I would suggest, if you want to check out this trail, trek out for a few miles and then turn around. You will get to enjoy the canyon, and you can go further or shorter depending on your preference for how much of a challenge you’d like to set for yourself. That all being said, this is a very special riparian habitat that is unique from the temperate forests of Guadalupe Peak and the Bowl Trail. Furthermore, if you make it far enough, you will get to check out the Pratt Cabin ruin. Please do note that this area is only open for day use.
If you end up taking a shorter hike down the canyon, you might also consider checking out the Permian Reef Geology trail. It’s a great way to learn more about the fossilized reef that makes up the mountain range.
This northern section of the park has a short nature trail, and also some options for backpacking. With a corral at the trailhead, this is also a great area to visit if you are adventuring with horses.
Interesting Facts About the Park
Many people envision Texas to be a fairly flat state, so it may come as a surprise to some that there are places like Guadalupe peak towering above the desert. But that isn’t the only thing that makes the Guadalupe Mountains National Park special.
(1) It’s a giant fossilized reef
The Guadalupe Mountains are part of the Capitan Fossil Reef, which formed 260-270 million years ago. This massive, ancient reef actually arches up into New Mexico, and down to the Glass Mountains and Apache Mountains in central West Texas. Due to this, you can see fossils in the park if you know where to look, and those fossils belong in the ocean, not the desert that is there now. (No taking fossils if you find them! It is illegal.)
(2) They played an important role in history
Before Texas was colonized, the Nde people called the Guadalupe Mountains home. Eventually, however, the prominence of the peaks and the presence of water in the mountains drew European pioneers to the area. For a time, the mountains served as natural place of protection for the Nde people, which allowed them to survive a 30 year campaign of the US Army against them. But by 1880, the Nde people were “driven” from the mountains. It then became a place where pioneers made their home, some of which can still be seen today, such as the Frijole Ranch.
As you will experience if you hike up Guadalupe Peak, go to the Bowl, or McKittrick Canyon, this national park is home to desert, forests, riparian areas, and everything in-between. That means that the Guadalupe Mountains are a sanctuary to many species, large and small. In fact, there is even a small population of reintroduced elk that live in the mountains.
Staying Safe on the Trail
Safety on the trail is one of the most important things, for you, and for everyone else. Remember that you are always responsible for your own safety on the trail. If you are hiking Guadalupe Peak, or hiking anywhere in West Texas or elsewhere, please keep these common safety tips in mind:
For Guadalupe Peak itself, I found that the weather was something I wasn’t used to. In particular, the WIND. It was windy as heck up in the mountains, particularly as I was crossing from one side to the other. I know it sounds silly, but when there is powerful wind, you do need to be a little extra careful. Make sure you hike in the middle of the trail, and be wary of any drop offs, cliffs, etc.
Also, please be aware of trail etiquette when hiking in West Texas and elsewhere. It’s about safety and manners. E.g. people hiking up have the right of way. So, if you are going down, pull over (safely) and let people pass. If people come up behind you, hiking faster than you, also safely pull over and let them pass.
It is also possible that you will see horses on this trail. And everyone should be yielding to horses. If you see people riding them up or down the Guadalupe Peak trail, please pull over safely so that everyone can pass.
More West Texas Adventures
If you are interested in seeing more of West Texas, consider checking out our West Texas itinerary. This trip will take you to Guadalupe Peak, Fort Davis and the surrounding area, and end with a few days exploring Big Bend National Park and the nearby state parks.
For those travelers looking for more of a historic adventure, with less time on their hands, I also cover how to plan a fun weekend in Fort Davis.
If you are looking for more hiking in West Texas, I also have a post on the best trails in Big Bend National Park.
Like this? Pin it for later!