Smith Spring Trail

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Trip Date: Friday, February 15th, 2019
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 6th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 2.3 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Fall, Winter
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible Yes

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

The Smith Spring Trail is no doubt the best easy trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Not only will you see two rare desert water sources, you'll also experience the shift from desert to riparian landscape all while enjoying beautiful views of the Guadalupe Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert. Whether you only have time for one trail or if you're looking for a warm-up to introduce you to the fantastic wilderness in the park, this trail is a winner!

The trail starts as an accessible paved path passing the Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum, pictured below. Inside the original ranch structures you can learn about the human history of the Guadalupe Mountains from initial Native American life to early ranchers to becoming a national park -- the complex was closed when I visited due to dangerous trees and high winds, but hopefully it will be open when you visit. The two springs you'll visit on this hike are the main reason anyone could survive in the harsh desert conditions and why Frijole Ranch was built here in the first place.

Historic buildings at the Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum

Historic buildings at the Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum

The paved path continues past Frijole Ranch and into the desert scrub. In the distance you can see Nipple Hill (I've also seen it called Cone Mountain) prominently rising above the flat surroundings. After about a quarter mile, you'll reach Manzanita Spring, the small pool of water pictured below. In the spring, the tall brown grass circling the pool turns a lush green -- an oasis in the desert. Birds and other wildlife frequent the area, so be on the lookout for mule deer and elk!
Manzanita Spring with Nipple Hill in the background

Manzanita Spring with Nipple Hill in the background

Beyond Manzanita Spring, the accessible pavement ends and is replaced by a rocky trail heading towards the Guadalupe Mountains as pictured below. Over the course of the next mile, the trail slopes gradually uphill as you gain about 400 feet in elevation. You'll cross a seasonal creek several times, an otherwise gravelly and dry streambed that floods after heavy rains as evidenced by the variety of riparian plants along the sides.
The trail as it heads towards the base of the Guadalupe Mountains

The trail as it heads towards the base of the Guadalupe Mountains

As you near Smith Spring at the trail's apex, you'll begin to hear the trickling sounds of water. The landscape shifts from desert scrub to a lush riparian tree canopy fueled by the constant presence of water. The centerpiece is the small waterfall pictured below, a sight you can enjoy while sitting on a stone bench and eating a snack. As one of the only perennial water sources, protecting this spring is essential for wildlife preservation; hence, the Park Service installed metal railings to discourage visitors from swimming or disturbing the area around the spring.
A small waterfall feeding Smith Spring

A small waterfall feeding Smith Spring

After leaving the shaded grove of Smith Spring, the gain in elevation combined with the low bushes and spiky yucca grant you unobstructed views of the seemingly endless desert as pictured below. This view will be constant during your descent from Smith Spring back to the parking lot. Behind you, the Guadalupe Mountains loom overhead, and if you look closely you can see the tops of pines crowning the highest elevations.
Puffy clouds cast shadows on the vast desert

Puffy clouds cast shadows on the vast desert

As you round a bend in the trail, you'll have a different view of the Guadalupe Mountains to your right, as pictured below. Further in the distance, you'll be able to see the famous cliffs of El Capitan. The shade structures of the picnic area by the parking lot will stick out to the south, and soon your hike will be over.
The Guadalupe Mountains tower thousands of feet above you

The Guadalupe Mountains tower thousands of feet above you

This trail is a pleasant journey to view the tremendous scenery you can't see from the road or developed picnic areas and visitor center. If this is your first time at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, this hike is a must do! 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 is one of the best family friendly hikes in the park: the trail is short with interesting scenery and set destinations to keep everyone engaged. The portion of the trail from the parking lot to Manzanita Spring is paved and designated wheelchair accessible. The best seasons for hiking here are fall, winter, and spring since summer temperatures in the desert are hot and shade is minimal on this trail. Regardless of the season, wear sun protection and bring plenty of water -- the springs' water is not drinkable. As one of the best short hikes in the park, this trail is popular, especially on weekends.

Directions

From El Paso, take U.S. Highway 62/180 (Montana Avenue) east. After an hour and a half or so, you'll reach Guadalupe Mountains National Park.turn left on Pine Canyon Drive for the Guadalupe Mountains National Park visitor center. If you need to pay the entrance fee with card, turn left on Pine Canyon Drive to stop by the visitor center; otherwise continue straight, turn left onto Frijole Ranch Road, and park in the lot at the end of the short dirt road.

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!

There are pit toilets and picnic shelters near the lot.

External Links

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