Guadalupe Mountains National Park – The Complete Guide

Guadalupe Mountains National Park 2

At the west edge of Texas, almost at the border with New Mexico, the underrated Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers visitors fewer crowds and an impressive array of natural beauty, with the main attraction being Guadalupe Peak – the highest mountain in the state.

Having received only 240,000 visitors to the park in 2021 (way less than the 14 million received by the Great Smoky Mountains), Guadalupe Mountains is one of the least visited National Parks in the US.

And because of its lack of visitors, this remote, rugged park is a sanctuary for those looking for solitude and an enjoyable outdoor experience. The hikes and roads are empty and, sometimes, the only thing you can hear is the wind and the birds (and your thoughts!).

In this post, I share all you need to plan a trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, including how to get here, places to eat nearby, the best hotels to stay at, top things to do, and more!

mountain views of Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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Getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is right at the Texas-New Mexico border. So, there are a few ways of getting to the park.

The first, and probably least convenient, is to go on a West Texas road trip (like I did) from major Texas cities, such as Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas. If this seems like a good idea to you, here are the main distances to the park:

  • Houston: 650 miles
  • San Antonio: 460 miles
  • Austin: 490 miles
  • Dallas: 510 miles

The good thing about hitting the road to see the West Texas attractions is that you can add Big Bend National Park, Marfa, and Terlingua Ghost Town to your itinerary. In doing this, you’ll tick off a bunch of Texas bucket list destinations on a single road trip.

The second way of getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park is to fly to the nearby cities, rent a car, and then drive to the park. If this option suits you better, the closest major airport is located in El Paso, Texas (ELP), around 110 miles from the park. Another major airport to fly into is the Midland-Odessa (MAF), around 180 miles away, which receives flights from Dallas, Houston, Denver, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

Once at the airport, you’ll need to rent a car to visit the park. When it comes to car rental, I’ve been a fan of RentalCars for a while, as it shows the best rates from major companies.

Once you arrive in the area, the best city to stay in to visit the park is Carlsbad, New Mexico, which is within one hour’s distance. In Carlsbad, you’ll have easy access to hotels and restaurants, and it’s also a good location if you’re also planning on visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Additionally, though not ideal, you can stay in El Paso, an excellent base to visit White Sands National Park. However, commuting to Guadalupe Mountains (3 hours, round trip) can take a lot of your day.

Hotels near Guadalupe Mountains National Park

If you’re like me and not into camping, there are many hotels you can stay at to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Here are a few alternatives if you want to stay in either Carlsbad or El Paso.

THE BEST HOTELS IN CARLSBAD, NEW MEXICO

  • The Trinity Hotel: set in a historic building from the late 1800s, the Trinity Hotel is probably the best in Carlsbad. The rooms are modern with a vintage touch, and the location is also on point.
  • Hyatt House Carlsbad: offering comfortable accommodations with an apartment-style vibe rather than a standard hotel room.
  • TownePlace Suites by Marriott Carlsbad: the rooms come with a kitchen that can be handy for staying in or preparing sandwiches to bring along on the hikes. They also offer complimentary breakfast and parking.

THE BEST HOTELS IN EL PASO, TEXAS

  • The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park: a historic hotel that offers luxury/boutique accommodations in the heart of Downtown El Paso. They also have a restaurant with Mexican cuisine, a rooftop bar, and a bistro (right across the street). The Plaza is hands down the best hotel in El Paso.
  • Hotel Indigo: offers modern and comfortable rooms in Downtown El Paso. It has a restaurant, a bar, and a rooftop pool to beat the heat.
  • Hotel Paso del Norte: part of Marriot’s Autograph Collection, the rooftop bar (on the 10th floor) offers views of Downtown El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, and the gorgeous Dome Bar serves cocktails under the beautiful stained-glass dome.

Restaurants near the park

In Carlsbad, the biggest city near Guadalupe Mountains National Park, you can find restaurants offering Mexican cuisine and international/American menu.

THE BEST RESTAURANTS TO EAT IN CARLSBAD, NEW MEXICO

  • Carniceria San Juan de Los Lagos: a small neighborhood Mexican market with a food hall serving delicious tacos and other Mexican delights.
  • El Charro: a Mexican food chain serving, among other things, burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. The price is unbeatable, and it’s a budget-friendly place to eat in Carlsbad.
  • El Jimador: a traditional Mexican food chain with an extensive menu that includes Menudo, a local favorite.
  • Yellow Brix: has an international menu, and you can order pizza, burgers, and steaks.
  • Trinity Hotel: open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this restaurant has an expansive menu. Dinner options include pasta, steak, and wine by the glass or bottle.
view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park from above

Entrance Fee

The entrance fee to Guadalupe Mountains National Park is US$ 10 per person and is valid for 7 consecutive days.

Also, if you want to visit the park throughout the year, you can purchase the Guadalupe Mountains National Park Annual Pass, which costs U$ 35, admits up to four adults per vehicle, and is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase. You can purchase this pass at the Pine Springs Visitor Center.

And if you are planning on visiting other national parks in Texas (Big Bend), or in the United States, you should consider purchasing the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass costs US$ 80 and allows you to visit all the national parks you want for 12 months (starting from the date of purchase). Here’s why you should buy the America the Beautiful pass.

view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park from above

Weather and best time to visit the park

The best time to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park is during spring and fall, from April to May and September to mid-November, when temperatures are mild. Summer can bring hot temperatures reaching almost 900 F and occasional showers, while winter can bring cooler temperatures with strong winds that can reach over 70 mph at times.

When planning a trip to the park, please be mindful of the change in temperatures on summit hikes, especially on Guadalupe Peak. According to the park’s website, “the temperature at the higher elevations will be 7-10 degrees cooler with the possibility of higher winds.”

I was at the park at the end of February, and while the temperatures were ok (around 400 F), the wind was very strong along the hike up to and at Guadalupe Peak. Though I don’t regret going during this period, I recommend going during fall, when the McKittrick Canyon also has beautiful autumn colors.

The best things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

When you arrive at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, be sure to stop by the Visitor Center to pick up maps, learn about trail conditions with the rangers, and get your park’s passport stamp.

There are currently two Visitor Centers open at the park. The main one is Pine Springs Visitor Center which has a store and a museum and is available from 8 am to 4.30 pm (Mountain Time). The other is in the McKittrick Canyon day-use area, a gated part of the park that is open from 8 am to 4.30 pm (MST) and until 6 pm during daylight savings time (MDT).

Hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

When it comes to hiking, there are approximately 80 miles of trails throughout Guadalupe Mountains National Park to choose from.

The most famous and best hike in Guadalupe Mountains, which attracts many visitors, is Guadalupe Peak. This 8.5-mile (round trip) hike is considered strenuous, as it reaches more than 8,000 feet and will give you bragging rights of saying you have been at the “top of Texas”. The hike starts in the Pine Springs area, and you should allocate between 4 and 6 hours of your day for it.

Another hike in the Pine Springs, the Devil’s Hall Trail is a strenuous 4-mile hike (round trip) that takes you to a 200-foot-long canyon lined with limestone cliffs. Please note that this trail has rock scrambling and loose rock surfaces.

You can find other hiking opportunities in the McKittrick Canyon area. For an easy, family-friendly hike, head over to the McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail, a 1-mile loop that is all about geology and natural history. However, if you want to go deeper into the canyon and have stunning views along the way, then the Pratt Lodge (5 miles round trip) or The Grotto and Hunter Line Cabin (7 miles round trip) are the ones for you. I went to Pratt Lodge, and it’s one of the best hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

For a less visited hike that will give you solitude and extensive views into McKittrick Canyon, head over to the Permian Reef Trail. This 8.4-mile out and back strenuous trail can provide peace and an impressive landscape.

You might also like to read: All About McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

When wanting isolation and an off-the-beaten-path part of Guadalupe Mountains, it’s time to go to the Salt Basin Dunes Trail. This 2.6-mile trail (to the bottom of the dunes) is located in the western part of the park, 47 miles from the Pine Springs Visitor Center, and takes you to a stunning gypsum dune field with towering mountains as background. It might be a bit far from the other activities, but I definitely recommend a visit, as it was one of the best things we (my husband and I) did in the Guadalupe Mountains, and we were the only ones there.

Scenic Drives

Unlike in many other national parks, there are no scenic drives within the park itself, though there are stunning drives in the area. Of the Scenic Drives in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, there are two I highly recommend spending some time at.

The first one is Highway 62/180, which connects El Paso (Texas) to Carlsbad (New Mexico). Along the road, you can take in the stunning peaks, Guadalupe and El Capitan, and other beautiful features of the park, such as the impressive salt flats.

Another beautiful scenic drive in Guadalupe is the Salt Basin Dunes, which takes you to a lesser-visited part of an already less visited park, meaning you might find this area for yourself. The long road goes through a deserted region with a handful of ranches until you reach the parking lot, where you can hike the Salt Basin Dunes Trail.

Salt Basin Dunes
Salt Basin Dunes

Tips for visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park

  • Though in Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is on Mountain Time.
  • There is no gas or food available within the park. From El Paso, Dell City is the closest town to fuel up and get supplies, and from New Mexico, it’s Whites City. Because of the distances, always have at least half a tank, water, and snacks.
  • If you plan camping, you must reserve the Pine Springs and Dog Canyon Campgrounds spot online in advance (up to six months).

Where to go from Guadalupe Mountains National Park

From Guadalupe Mountains, you can’t miss the chance to check out Carlsbad Caverns National Park, as they are separated by just 30 miles. An advanced reservation is required to visit Carlsbad Caverns, and you can do so online.

And 3 hours away from Guadalupe Mountains is White Sands National Park, a place where you can explore the immensity of the park as you wander among the soft dunes.

Also, if you want to visit other National Park in Texas, drive 270 miles (˜5 hours) to Big Bend National Park and spend at least 3 days here. On the way, stop by Marfa for a coffee and see the Prada Marfa, walk the streets of Alpine, and visit the quirky Terlingua Ghost Town.

Prada Store Marfa Texas

FAQ

Is Guadalupe Mountains worth visiting?

Yes, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is worth visiting. Though this remote park is one of the least visited National Parks in the US, the status couldn’t be less deserved, as it combines imposing mountains, deep canyon scenery, and striking isolated dunes.

What is special about Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

In Guadalupe Mountains you’ll find not only Guadalupe Peak, the highest mountain in Texas, but also other three of the state’s highest peaks – Bush Mountain, Shumard Peak, and Bartlett Peak.

How long do you need in Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

If you want to hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak, explore the trails of McKittrick Canyon, and go on the scenic drives, you need 2 days to do so.

Here is a sample itinerary: start your first day going to the Salt Basin Dunes, then go back to explore the McKittrick Canyon. On the second day, do the McKittrick Canyon hike to the Pratt Lodge (if you have time, go to The Grotto and Hunter Line Cabin)

Can you do Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains in one day?

Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns are very close, separated by 30 miles. So, when you visit one, you have to see the other!

If you only have one day to see both parks, you can visit Carlsbad Caverns early in the morning and then explore the McKittrick Canyon in the afternoon. Or, you can have a super early start on the Guadalupe Peak hike and visit Carlsbad Caverns in the afternoon (the last admission is at 2:15 pm).

How long is the Guadalupe Peak trail?

The Guadalupe Peak trail is an 8.5-mile out and back hike. This strenuous hike will take you to the top of Texas at more than 8,000 feet. It’s one of the best things to do in the park, and it should take between 4 and 6 hours to complete.

Hiking Packing List – What to Pack For Guadalupe Mountains

  • Backpack: a good bag can make your hiking experience much better for a day hike in the National Parks. Personally, I think the best day hiking backpack is Osprey Daylite Plus 20L – it fits my water bottle, camera, snacks, and has many outside pockets for small stuff. And if you like to carry more things, the Osprey Manta 24L is a hiking favorite.
  • Jacket: the best way to hike is with layers, and this Patagonia jacket is my go-to. Though not the cheapest, the quality is undeniable, and since you’ll be using/carrying it for every hike, it’s a product worth investing in. I also use this Columbia hooded jacket, which is lightweight to carry and warm enough when layering up.
  • Rain Jacket: for every hike, I always bring a rain jacket, especially for ones headed for the summit, as the weather may change along the way. This Patagonia rain jacket is the one I’ve been using for years, and it also serves as a windbreaker.
  • Tops/T-shirt: the best t-shirt for hiking also comes in a long sleeve version for winter. If you like tank tops, this one hasn’t let me down.
  • Legging: I prefer to hike with leggings, and I have two favorite ones – both from Athleta. The Rainier tights are the best for winter and colder climates, and the Elation is the one I use for the summer, the most comfortable pair of leggings you can have.
  • Shoes: do you need proper shoes for hiking in Guadalupe Moutains National Park? Absolutely! Though it might be tempting to go with gym shoes, having appropriate hiking shoes or boots can make a lot of difference. I’ve been using these Columbia boots for some time now, and they are my favorite for day hikes. They’re waterproof and stylish, lightweight, and comfortable for a day hike. If you don’t like boots, try this waterproof hiking shoes.
  • Socks: having a hiking-specific pair of socks can make your hike more comfortable and avoid those dreaded blisters. Try a pair of merino wool socks that are breathable and a valuable item for both summer and winter. Be sure to consider how thick the socks are and your shoes/boots.
  • Reusable Storage Bags: pack some dishwasher-safe reusable storage bags to bring snacks and sandwiches along with you on the trail. They are compact enough to save space on your backpack when done with your food.
  • Water Bottle: if you, like me, like to drink cold water, then you need this water bottle! It’s one of the best purchases I made since it holds 40 oz (1.2 liters) and keeps liquids cold (or hot) for hours.
  • Sunscreen: don’t forget to wear sunscreen when hiking, even if the weather is cloudy.
  • Hat: for extra sun protection and a way to keep the hair at bay, try these baseball hats that can also make a statement when hiking.
  • Headlamp: bring along a headlamp for when you want to hike for sunrise or sunset, it’s easier to use than relying on your cell phone’s light. This compact one can always be kept in your backpack without taking up too much space. It also operates on batteries and has multiple settings.
  • First-Aid Kit: lastly, but definitely not least important, don’t forget to pack a first-aid kit! We never want any accident to happen when hiking, but even for day hikes, you want to be prepared if anything happens.

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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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