The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is probably one of the park systems best kept secret and a place you will not want to miss out on. GMNP averages 200k visitors a year, while a National Park like Yosemite or Grand Canyon can go as high as 5 or 6 million visitors in a year! This means that if you are looking for solitude and some of the most amazing views of Texas, you are in for a treat.
The park is located in West Texas on the border of New Mexico and is quite a trip from even the closest major cities. Carlsbad is around 55 miles away, and El Paso is roughly 110 miles away, making this park a challenge to get to for weekend warriors. Sleeping at the park is limited first to come campsites and a few RV sites, but no official lodging options exist. If you are not comfortably lucking out with a campsite or want an actual hotel room, then Carlsbad and Artesia are most likely your best bets.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail is arguably the main attraction at GMNP and for a good reason. This hiking trail leads to the highest point in Texas – 8,749ft above sea level at Guadalupe Peak – and is considered a strenuous hike with just over 2,200 ft of elevation gain. The hiking trail offers scenic views of desert life and mountains, as well as the famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park, about 10 miles away from the peak.
According to the National Park Service, the hike can range from 6 to 8 hours, depending on your level of fitness. If you keep a good pace and hike frequently, you should be able to knock it out faster. Gus was able to summit in just over 2 hours with 30-45 minutes at the top and another 2 hours descending.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice is to check in with the Rangers at the Visitor Center to confirm weather conditions at the top. If you have researched this hike, you might have already read how strong the wind conditions can get at the peak, and we are here to confirm they are not exaggerating. Gus has never experienced wind speeds that strong before, and admittedly the last few meters are definitely sketchy depending on the weather.
Getting to Guadalupe Peak Trailhead
The trailhead is located right off the parking area for the Pine Springs Campground, where you will be able to refill water, use the restroom and sign the logbook before heading up. Depending on what time of day you arrive, you might need to park at the visitor center; a short 1/2 mile walk away.
Once you arrive at the Pine Springs Campground parking and RV lot, you should see the trailhead’s start. This is also the entrance for the Devil’s Hall, El Capitan, and The Bowl Trails. This will be the last spot for water on the trail, so make sure you have enough in case of any emergency. The NPS recommends a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person, and in the summer months, we would double that to be safe.
Guadalupe Peak Hike
The trail up to Guadalupe Peak is marked the entire way until the last few hundred feet, where it gets a bit dicey depending on wind conditions.
The first mile and a half will be the steepest part of the hike, where you will encounter multiple switchbacks as you begin your initial climb. While the trail is steep, it is still very manageable, but we recommend hiking poles to keep pace.
Once the ground starts to level off, you will encounter some fantastic views of the campground and just the vistas of Texas. You will soon turn onto the north-facing side of the mountain, where you will discover a small forest, which was not expected at first due to the desert environment surrounding the region.
There is a false summit at around three miles but do not get your hopes up yet since you still have roughly a mile left until the summit. Around this time, you will also see the signs for the backcountry campground that you can reserve a spot at to sleep near the summit and catch sunset and sunrise at the peak.
The last mile is relatively flat, with a quick descend to a wooden bridge that crosses a gap where you will make your summit push.
Guadalupe Peak Summit
The last few hundred feet to the summit is where things will get interesting, mostly dependent on how windy it is. Gus was not expecting the wind to be pushing him around as hard as it did. There were plenty of times when he lost his footing and was grabbing onto the rocks to keep moving forward.
Please make sure to put any hiking poles away, hats strapped to your bag, and no loose object that can be carried out and hurt someone.
Once you get to the top, you will know why anyone who has done this hike recommends it as much as they do. There is nothing compared to the views from the top of Guadalupe Peak, and now you can also say you have been to the “Top of Texas”!
Make sure to bring warm clothing and a snack to get your energy levels back up and shield yourself from the high winds!
One of our favorite pictures at the peak of Gus is of the American Airlines steel pyramid erected in 1958 to honor the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, a route used in stagecoach travel 100 years ago. This old road passed to the south of Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan. The steel pyramid has three sides – one with the American Airlines logo, one with the Boy Scouts logo, and one paying tribute to the Pony Express Riders of the Butterfield Stage by the U.S. Postal Service.
Time to Hike Down
Once you get all the views, your heart can contain the time to descend the same way you came up. The hike down is always more challenging in our eyes and definitely punishes the knees and hips more than any steep hike up.
Watch your step and take it slow since the loose gravel is slippery, and Gus paid the price when he slipped and slid down quite a bit down the trail.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
One day at Guadalupe Mountains National park is truly not enough time to see everything this park offers. We do think you can get a good idea of how unique this park is in a day, but you will want to see more on your way out. We cannot wait to go back together so we can spend a few days to see some of the other amazing hikes in the park, notably Devil’s Hall Trail, which looks like the 2nd best hike in the park.
We hope you enjoy Guadalupe Mountains National Park as much as Gus did and get to hang out in the Top of Texas even if just for a few minutes.