Spanning 86,416 acres, the Guadalupe Mountains rise to it’s highest summit, Guadalupe Peak. Guadalupe Peak Trail is a strenuous hike with a 3,000 ft elevation gain, ultimately rising to 8,749 ft. making it the highest point in Texas. As we approached the mountains from New Mexico, a monolithic wall rose from the desert terrain of West Texas.
We drove 40 minutes from New Mexico, crossing the Texan border, as I continued to eye the mountain range 35 miles ahead of us. I waited for a tiny bunny hill to appear where I could cry out, “There it is!” Instead as we approached the seemingly foreign backbone of the mountain range, I recognized El Capitan (a notable peak of the Guadalupe Mountains) as it towered over us. I realized – we were here. I looked at my husband and said rather solemnly, “I’m not climbing that in a day.” But we did.
Guadalupe Mountain National Park is a hiker’s paradise – with contoured canyons, protruding peaks, zigzagging switchbacks, and a total of 80 miles of trails for the most energetic backpacker. I wanted to conquer the summit trail, Guadalupe Peak. I seemed to shrink against the giant backdrop of my surroundings, and I challenged the geographical fact that this was once a reef growing beneath a bygone inland sea – the same sea that created the honeycomb features of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.
Europeans and Apache tribe members created legends of the mounds of gold that could be found here in the Guadalupe Mountains, maybe due to the rich abundance of glistening quartz scattered along the mountainside. Spear tips, pottery, and baskets have also been found in these mountains, suggesting that people inhabited the mountain range some 12,000 years ago.
What was so striking about the journey to Guadalupe Peak was the drastic changes in terrain along the hike. The first mile consisted of climbing nearly vertical switchbacks up the mountainside along a gravel pathway. While the pathway is clear, it is certainly rocky. There are no barricades around the cliffsides, only your balance and your nerve to keep you on the trail. The next couple miles weaves through a gorgeous conifer forest and is a rather easy stroll, however, much colder as the tree cover staved off the afternoon heat. The last mile consists of more extreme switchbacks toward the summit.
The view from the Guadalupe Peak Trail certainly rewards, with gorgeous views of the backside of El Capitan, as well as scenic views to the South and to the West. One of my favorite parts upon reaching the summit was signing the register. It gave me a moment to collect my thoughts and really focus on what I wanted to say – what I felt was important enough to say after this venture. Other day hikes include Devils Hall Trail, Smith Spring Loop, and McKittrich Canyon Trail, all of which offer incredible bouts of color in the Fall as the foliage changes. Check the Fall Colors Report to see which areas are at their peak. Happy trails and happy reading!
Guadalupe Peak Trail Details:
- Distance: 8.4 miles round-trip
- Time: 6-8 hour hike (we finished it in 7 hours, stopping several times to eat snack bars and take pictures)
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Best time: September – November, March – April (Fall foliage is at it’s peak in October/November)
- Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft.
- Dogs: Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the trails.
- Bring plenty of water/Gatorade – I recommend 2 liters per person. We carried 4 L and we drank all of it by the end of the hike.
- Bring high carbohydrate/high protein snacks.
- Cloth yourself with a few layers.
- Bring sunscreen.
- This should go with out saying, but wear comfortable, sturdy hiking boots or tennis shoes.
- If you have weak knees or ankles you may want to consider trekking poles. It’s on the way down where they are best utilized.
- Plan for 6-8 hours, add more if you plan on picnicking, bird-watching, lounging.
- Keep going – you’re almost there.
For more information about the Guadalupe Mountains.
NOTE: All blog posts, articles, and photographs are the intellectual and creative property of Melissa J. Koziol. Thank you for reading!