Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in Texas, just south of the New Mexico state line. The park is full of both natural and human history. An interesting part of Guadalupe is that it is a part of a buried fossil complex known as Captain Reef. The land represents a variety of rock portions showcasing significant geological and environmental history.
First taste of the park!
Our visit to Guadalupe National Park was in October, allowing us to enjoy the most beautiful weather. There was plenty of sun and just enough of a breeze to make hiking very enjoyable. We camped at Pine Springs Campground for two nights. Both nights were slightly chilly, but we were comfortable with blankets and hoodies. Besides it being almost the only option, we really enjoyed camping here. The views were amazing, we were a short walk from major trailheads and there were bathroom facilities nearby! We highly recommend staying here if you are able to snag a spot. The tent area was first-come, first serve when we visited, but now appears to accept reservations. We had campsite #5 and had a great view of Guadalupe Peak. There is a small RV section next to the tent camping and in another area of the park, there is an equestrian only campground. Other than that, you’re out in the middle of nowhere, so definitely do your homework on lodging.
We LOVED site #5!
We arrived in the afternoon on a Monday, after doing a cave tour at Carlsbad Caverns. It’s only a 45 minute drive from the Carlsbad Visitor Center to the Guadalupe Visitor Center. Once arriving and snagging a campsite, we jumped right into exploring! We started with the McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail. This is an easy stroll through some beautiful scenery, where we snapped some photos and just enjoyed the relaxation. We wanted to do the 4.8-mile hike to Pratt Cabin, however, time was not on our side. If you’re able though, this out and back trail will lead you into the heart of McKittrick Canyon and to the historic Pratt Cabin. Wallace Pratt is a huge part of the human history of the park. In fact, much earlier on, Wallace Pratt was intrigued by the amazing structures and beauty of McKittrick Canyon, and began purchasing land. He later donated his land to the National Park Service.
The human history within the park is certainly not limited to Pratt Cabin. After cutting our cabin trek short, we made our way to Frijole Ranch History Museum. The Frijole Ranch was the first permanent house constructed within park territory. The structure was built in 1876 and served as a home to many different residents. Now-a-days, you can hike to the reconstructed ranch, AKA, Frijole Ranch History Museum. The museum is located just a little over a mile from the Pine Springs Visitor Center. We did not get to see inside the museum, but walked around and took some photographs. Also starting at Frijole Ranch, is the trail for Manzanita Spring. Again, this was something on our list, but time was running low due to the sunset. Another option in this area is the Smith Spring Loop. This is a 2.3-mile loop, which will showcase both Smith Spring and Manzanita Spring. From the pictures, it seems like a beautiful and worthwhile hike, if time allows.
Our explorations continued onto the visitor center. If you don’t already know by now, one of our favorite parts of visiting a National Park, is to watch the park film. Sadly, during our 2020 visit, the visitor center was an outdoor experience. From here though, you can walk along a paved trail to the ruins of Pinery Station. This was part of the Old Butterfield Stagecoach Route, built in 1858. Colin nerded out a little here!
The Pinery Station
The history of Butterfield Overland Mail is awe-inspiring, because the trail was a forethought to communication across the United States. This was the first attempt to link East and West with a communication system. Most everyone has likely heard of the Pony Express, and of course, the Transcontinental Railroad. However, Butterfield preceded these attempts to link people through communication, regardless of distance. John Butterfield was the man behind the route, and he also started the concept behind mail timeliness. John had a 25 days or less guarantee. These stations were typically no more than 20 miles apart and the Pinery Station was a main stop along the route. This station is well known for being “the only ruin of an original, company-built, Butterfield station, standing in close proximity to a national highway”. We really enjoyed walking this short path and reading about the history and magnitude of the location.
We finished up here around 6:00pm and decided to head back to our campsite and enjoy dinner and relaxation, before a full day of hiking on Tuesday. Dinner was full of very nutritious food (hot dogs and mac and cheese) and we had a beautiful view overlooking Guadalupe Peak. As we’ve said, staying at Pine Springs Campground was a gorgeous experience. We enjoyed stargazing and watching hikers descend the Guadalupe Peak Trail with headlamps. From our location, you could hear the voices of hikers in the distance, and it was cool to see these explorers forecast our morning plans.
Up before the sun the next day, we walked from our campsite to the trailhead for Guadalupe Peak. This incredible and somewhat strenuous hike is 8.4-miles round trip. To date, this is still one of our favorite hikes we’ve done. The hike takes you to the “Top of Texas”, since it is the highest point in the state, at an elevation of 8,751 feet. It’s definitely challenging with about a 3,000 feet elevation gain and limited shade. However, it is extremely rewarding!
A beautiful sunrise made the early start worth it!
It was a lovely start on the trail.
The whole hike took us around 7 and a half hours. We did spend a decent amount of time at the top, enjoying the views and eating lunch. I mean, when you spend 3 hours walking uphill, you should enjoy the best part for as long as possible, right? The view at the top of Guadalupe was breathtaking. We had a relatively clear and sunny day. The weather was perfect in October; not too hot and not too cold. We relaxed at the summit for over an hour and placed a sticker in the box next to the Post Office Monument. We really enjoyed everything about this unique hike. There’s even a campground 1 mile from the peak! This wilderness site is 3.1 miles from the trailhead and definitely only for the super adventurous!
One of the more sketchy portions.
After a bit of shade, the wide-open switchbacks await.
Guadalupe Peak - 8,751 feet
Postal Workers Monument at the summit!
We eventually had to make our way back down, and arrived back to our campsite around 4:00pm. We had celebratory wine in paper cups and toasted to an amazing experience at another National Park. As always, we could have spent even more time at the park exploring numerous additional hikes. However, if we had to choose again, we would still pick Guadalupe Peak Trail as our main event for this park. We feel we experienced so many environments throughout the 8.4- mile hike, had amazing views and enjoyed seeing the Top of Texas.