Monday, October 24, 2016

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

I've been asking my mom, Dana Brinkman, to share some of her adventures for the last year. She is a fabulous writer and photographer. She loves to travel and explore all over the world. We joke that she gets the itch if she sits still too long. Today she is sharing about Guadalupe Mountains National Park that is right here in Texas! 

I love fall! I love the cooler temperatures and the beautiful red, yellow, and gold colors that come with them. One of the best places to view the color changes in West Texas is at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and since it’s the centennial year for our National Park Service, it’s the perfect time to visit.

GMNP contains 4 ecosystems and is an excellent example of a fossil reef from the Permian Era. It contains 2 campgrounds and 86 miles of hiking trails. On my first hike in the park I went to the top of Texas. Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in the state at 8751 feet. The steep trail is graded as strenuous largely due to the 3000 feet of elevation gain. But once at the top, the view is phenomenal! On a clear day you can see for miles! Allow 6-8 hours to hike the 8.4 round-trip trail and carry plenty of water.

But my favorite fall hike is McKittrick Canyon Trail. The colors of the trees are astounding! There are examples of big tooth maple, oak, walnut, ash, Texas madrone, aspen, juniper, Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, white pine & other varieties of trees in the park and there is no better place to view the vivid fall colors than McKittrick Canyon. The trail begins at the McKittrick Canyon Visitor Center, approximately 3 ½ miles from Hwy 62/180. The trail is well maintained and only gains a moderate 300 feet in elevation on the 6.8 mile roundtrip hike to the Grotto. At the Grotto there are picnic tables beside a spring-fed stream for a beautiful spot to rest or have a snack. Just beyond the Grotto lies the historic Hunter Line Cabin. Allow 3-5 hours depending on how long you linger on the trail. If that is a bit far, it’s only 4.8 miles roundtrip to Wallace Pratt’s summer vacation cabin. Pratt donated 5632 acres of this land to the national park service around 1960. He once described it as the most beautiful spot in Texas. I just might have to agree.

For those who want more of a hike, continue beyond the Grotto to the Notch where the trail climbs another 800 feet in elevation. Those hardy individuals will be rewarded with fantastic views of the canyon.

McKittrick Canyon is a day use area. Gates open at 8:00 AM and close at 6:00 PM in summer and 4:30 PM in winter.  And it’s in Mountain Standard Time, not Central Standard Time so clocks should be set back an hour for Texans! McKittrick Canyon picnic area is wheelchair accessible.

Another favorite fall hike in the park is Devil’s Hall Trail. The trail begins at Pine Springs Campground and goes up the streambed of Pine Springs Canyon, through the natural rock that forms Hiker’s Staircase and culminates into a narrow slot canyon called Devil’s Hall. Allow 3-5 hours for this moderate rated 4.2 mile roundtrip hike. Due to higher elevation, color usually shows here before McKittrick Canyon.

Smith Springs is a little oasis in the middle of an arid landscape! It is 2.3 miles round trip loop and takes about 1.5 hours. The trail is paved from Frijole Ranch to Manzanita Spring and rated easy to moderate. The hidden gem is Smith Springs with its clear pools and shady canopy.

The Pinery Trail is a short, 0.9 mile round trip hike in a desert landscape on a paved trail near the Pinery Ruins Visitor Center. It features remains of the Old Butterfield Stagecoach Overland Mail Route Pinery Station built in 1858.

Another trail worth mentioning for fall color is Dog Canyon and Tejas Trail on the west side of the park which makes it more difficult to access from Texas. There are also gypsum dunes on the west side of the park.

Color is usually at its peak sometime between the last 2 weeks of October and first week of November but before planning a visit, check out the fall color report  
Because trees turn colors at different rates within the park, it is also wise to stop at the visitor center and ask which hike is best for the time you are there. The Pine Springs Visitor Center is located at Pine Springs and can be accessed via U.S. Highway 62/180 between Carlsbad, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in far west Texas on U.S. Highway 62/180. It is approximately 330 miles or 5 hours from Abilene, TX.
For more information on visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park, go to:

Thank you for sharing Dana!

Also don't forget if you have a 4th grader:

You can sign up here for a free park pass to visit the National Parks with A Kid in Every Park. This includes free admission for everyone in your family too. 

I'm adding Guadalupe Mountains National Park to my bucket list. Are you?


  1. Oh the leaves! The foliage in these pics have my heart going bananas!

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  3. Thanks for sharing my pictures and thoughts on the park, Megan. I love this place in the fall and I'm thinking that in a couple more weekends, the color should be at its peak. Roadtrip?