Guadalupe Peak

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Trip Date: Saturday, February 16th, 2019
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 26th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Very hard
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 8.4 miles roundtrip
Time 6 hours
Terrain Strenuous climbing, 2900 feet of elevation gain
Best Seasons Spring, Fall, Winter
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

My 9th state highpoint and the highest 4-digit elevation state highpoint, Guadalupe Peak towers 3,000 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert at an elevation of 8,751 feet. As a uniquely Texan feature, this is probably one of the only mountainous state highpoints reachable on horseback. While the summit view is certainly the highlight of this hike, the entire trail is immensely scenic. In the strenuous 3,000 feet of elevation gain, you'll witness the gradual transition from the sparse scrubland of the desert floor to pine forest, and the views of the surrounding Guadalupe Mountains and endless desert continue to increase in beauty the higher you go. Even though it's only February, I'm already sensing this hike might make my 2019 end of the year top list.

The trail starts in a valley between two prominent peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains: Guadalupe Peak to your left and and Hunter Peak to your right, pictured below. These mountains are so massive it's hard for the human eye to comprehend, though you'll soon understand after several hours of uphill climbing. Follow signs for the Guadalupe Peak Trail and turn left to take the hiking route -- there's also a more gradual route that allows horses but adds an extra mile.

The ridge topping out at Hunter Peak to the right of the trail

The ridge topping out at Hunter Peak to the right of the trail

Almost immediately after turning onto the Guadalupe Peak Trail, you'll start the arduous uphill climb. The first mile or so of the trail is surprisingly one of the steepest sections of the hike, and wooden and stone steps like pictured below will be common.
Wooden steps are common on the first part of the trail

Wooden steps are common on the first part of the trail

Continue straight as the horse trail (on your right) meets back with the Guadalupe Peak Trail. After ascending the zigzagging switchbacks pictured below, you'll notice the parking lot has shrunk and your views of the vast desert are already impressive. Eventually you'll reach a rocky outcropping, a coincidentally perfect spot for a water and snack break.
Zigzagging switchbacks and the parking lot shrinking below you

Zigzagging switchbacks and the parking lot shrinking below you

Once you go around the rocky outcrop, the frequent high winds (especially in winter) are blocked by the mass of Guadalupe Peak directly to the west but still not quite visible. The trail gains elevation more gradually as scenery changes to the first grove of pines on the trail, mostly pinion pines -- the state tree of New Mexico. The trail steepens again as it starts switchbacking. When the switchbacks end, a look back will reveal the nicely framed view of Hunter Peak pictured below.
Hunter Peak rising above the now forested scenery

Hunter Peak rising above the now forested scenery

At the top of those switchbacks, the trail flattens out a bit as you enter a meadowy space that reminded me of Colorado, most likely because of the ponderosa pines growing here. You'll pass the backcountry campsite on your right and reach a saddle.
Meadows and pine forests reminiscent of Colorado are found at higher elevations

Meadows and pine forests reminiscent of Colorado are found at higher elevations

Beyond the saddle, the trail descends a bit before you reach the highest bridge in Texas, pictured below. Soon after crossing the bridge, you'll lose the wind protection previously provided by the mountain for the remainder of the hike, at least until you return to this spot again. To the left, you will once more have views to the south and can see the top of El Capitan. This will dominate your scenery as you switchback up the final push to the summit.
The highest bridge in Texas

The highest bridge in Texas

Now above 8,000 feet, this final segment is where you'll really start feeling the altitude (if you haven't already). The trail is rocky and the landscape barren -- not much can survive on the chilly, dry, and wind-whipped peak. You'll know you've reached the top once you see the steel pyramid, a monument built by American Airlines in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route, a long journey that carried mail and passengers between St. Louis and Memphis all the way to San Francisco. After all that climbing, you can finally sit to enjoy the views and a long break.
The summit monument built by American Airlines in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route

The summit monument built by American Airlines in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route

To the west, you can see the white gypsum sands of the Salt Basin Dunes directly below and the Franklin Mountains in El Paso on the horizon (shown in the first picture below). Although it feels like you're the tallest thing as far as the eye can see, the Organ Mountains just east of Las Cruces are 100 feet taller, and can be visible to the northwest on a clear day; the Sacramento Mountains are even taller and closer, but their view is obstructed. To the south, you'll have an improved view of El Capitan and the rugged Chihuahuan Desert as it enters Mexico (shown in the second picture below).
Views of the Salt Basin Dunes below and Franklin Mountains of El Paso in the far west

Views of the Salt Basin Dunes below and Franklin Mountains of El Paso in the far west

El Capitan and the Chihuahuan Desert extending into Mexico

El Capitan and the Chihuahuan Desert extending into Mexico

The descent is straightforward. The only concern is going slow on the steepest sections. As you near the bottom, your tired legs are more likely to make a mistake and cause you to trip. Don't be embarrassed of taking a break on the "easier" downhill!

Guadalupe Peak is a grand achievement. As the memories of the hard climbing fade, you'll be left with images of mountain scenery and long desert views. There is no doubt this hike is the highlight of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

As with most national parks, dogs are prohibited on all trails. This hike would be brutally difficult with children; more family friendly options are the Smith Springs Loop or the Pinery Trail. Spring and fall are the two best seasons. Although winter temperatures are generally pleasant and snow and ice aren't common even at higher elevations, winds are astoundingly high with gusts up to 80 mph common at the top -- not necessarily a deal breaker for the hike, but something to prepare for. In summer, temperatures are scorchingly hot on the lower part of the mountain and shade is rare. In addition, summer brings the threat of afternoon thunderstorms so a very early morning start is essential.

In all seasons, sun protection is crucial as is bringing ample water and snacks. Temperatures continue to decrease as you ascend to a height over 8,700, so bring extra layers. The rocky, steep trail makes good footwear a must! Despite its difficulty, the draw of climbing the highest peak in Texas makes this a popular trail, so choose another trail if you're looking for prolonged solitude.

Directions

From El Paso, take U.S. Highway 62/180 (Montana Avenue) east. After an hour and a half or so, turn left on Pine Canyon Drive for the Guadalupe Mountains National Park visitor center. Stop by the visitor center if you need to pay your fee with a card, otherwise continue to the Pine Springs trailhead parking area.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Park entrance fees are $7 per person aged 16 and older and are valid for 7 days. Fees are payable either at the trailhead in cash only using provided envelopes or at the visitor center using card or cash. Annual passes for Guadalupe Mountains National Park are available for $30 and admit the pass holder plus 3 others. All interagency passes are also accepted and admit the pass holder plus 3 people. More information about fees and passes is available on the park's website. Park staff regularly patrol the lot, so don't forget to pay your fee!

This parking lot is deceptively large, but in reality much of the space is reserved for RVs. If you can't find a space here, you can park at the visitor center and hike in, adding about one mile roundtrip to your hike. The trailhead has flush toilets and water.

External Links

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