The McKittrick Canyon is one of the top areas to visit in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The deep canyon offers breathtaking views and provides visitors with many hiking opportunities suitable for every level. Also, some claim it holds the title of the most beautiful natural place in Texas.
McKittrick Canyon is one of the best places to see fall foliage in Texas! The months of October and November display a spectacle of fall colors – a harmonious combination of red, yellow, and brown.
In this article, you’ll learn about how to get to McKittrick Canyon, the best things to do in the area, and get valuable tips for visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Table of contents
- About McKittrick Canyon
- Location and Operating Hours
- Top things to do see in McKittrick Canyon
- What to Know for Visiting McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
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About McKittrick Canyon
There is an interesting story behind the McKittrick Canyon and the National Park itself. In the early 1920s, a geologist named Wallace Pratt was scouting for oil in the surroundings and fell in love with the area.
Later, Wallace bought a substantial amount of property in the McKittrick Canyon and even built a cabin for sojourn purposes. He then donated almost 6,000 acres that became the core of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the federal government purchased an additional 80,000 acres of adjacent property. Finally, in 1972, the park was officially opened to the public.
Though today other famous parts of the National Park attract many visitors, like Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, there’s an undeniable beauty and importance of the McKittrick Canyon.
Location and Operating Hours
The McKittrick Canyon is located at McKittrick Road, right off Highway 62/180. At the end of the road, there is a Visitor Center where you can get the park’s brochure, your National Parks passport stamp, and use the restroom and water facilities.
Here are the GPS coordinates to McKittrick Canyon for driving purposes.
The McKittrick Canyon is a day-use area open from 8 am to 6 pm from April through October (MDT) and 8 am to 4.30 pm from November to March (MST).
The entrance gate is closed and locked outside operating hours, so be sure to exit the area before closing (and check the updated schedule at the Visitor Center).
Top things to do see in McKittrick Canyon
McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail
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. This is the perfect trail if you have kids, don’t have enough time, or aren’t into longer hikes.
McKittrick Canyon Trail
The McKittrick Canyon Trail is an easy to moderate hike of approximately 10 miles (out and back) that goes deep into the canyon to see the stunning scenery. Along the way, you can see a few places before turning around whenever you want – Pratt Lodge, The Grotto, Hunter Line Cabin, and The Notch.
The first stop of the McKittrick Canyon Trail is Pratt Lodge (2.5 miles), a 1920s cabin that was constructed for geologist Wallace Pratt before he donated the land to the park. This part of the trail is easy, has no elevation gain, and there are picnic tables around the cabin, so you can rest and peek into the still-furnished lodge.
From Pratt Lodge, continue for 1.1 miles through the thick forest until you reach The Grotto and Hunter Line Cabin – a lodge used by cowboys who worked on the Guadalupe Ranch. There’s a slight elevation on this part, but it’s still moderate. Once you arrive, you’ll see the cave and stone picnic tables at the Hunter Shack, which are also the perfect spot to stop and have a snack.
Then, keep going for another mile to hike The Notch, a challenging section of the trail that goes through the canyon to a breathtaking viewpoint about halfway up toward McKittrick Ridge. The Notch is the last part of the day hike and the best spot to turn around and complete the top things to see in the McKittrick Canyon trail.
If you have enough time and stamina, then from The Notch, you can go further up (3 miles) to McKittrick Ridge. Because of its length and challenge, this strenuous hike is also an overnight camping experience.
The entire trail, passing from Pratt Lodge to The Notch until the Ridge, is 15 miles (round trip), so be sure to have all the supplies before venturing down this path.
If you decide to go up and camp on McKittrick Ridge, stop by the Pine Springs Visitor Center to learn about trail conditions and get the required permit for overnight camping (may be obtained up to 24 hours in advance of the trip).
Permian Reef Trail
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.
The Permian Reef Trail is especially recommended if you’re into geology since it showcases the Permian age geologic and fossil features preserved in the park.
What to Know for Visiting McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Located right at the Texas-New Mexico border, there are a few ways of getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. If you’re in Texas, you can drive to the park from main cities such as Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.
Additionally, if you’re not in the state or prefer to fly, the closest major airports are in El Paso (ELP), around 110 miles from the park, and Midland-Odessa (MAF), around 180 miles away.
Once at the airport, you’ll need to rent a car to visit the park. And, when you arrive in the area, you can set up base in either Carlsbad, which is within one hour’s distance from the park or a bit further in El Paso, 1,5 hours away.
Where to stay
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.
The entrance fee to Guadalupe Mountains National Park is US$ 10 per person and is valid for 7 consecutive days. You can also purchase the park’s annual pass (Guadalupe Mountains National Park Annual Pass) at the Pine Springs Visitor Center for US$ 35. It admits up to four adults per vehicle and is valid for 12 months consecutive months.
The America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is also accepted at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This pass costs US$ 80, and here are a few reasons to purchase it.
Best Time to Visit
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 that reach almost 900 F and occasional showers, while winter brings cooler weather with strong winds of up to 70 mph.
Places to eat nearby
If you’re looking for delicious and classic Mexican cuisine, try Carniceria San Juan de Los Lagos, El Charro, or El Jimador.
And if you’re craving international cuisine with pasta, burgers, and steak on the menu, head over to Yellow Brix or the Trinity Hotel.
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park operates 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 want to camp, you must reserve the Pine Springs and Dog Canyon Campgrounds spot online in advance (up to six months).
- The Pine Springs Visitor Center is the main one in the park, has a store and museum, and is available from 8 am to 4.30 pm (Mountain Time). There’s also another Visitor Center at 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). Stop by one of them as soon as you arrive for the latest updates.
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