The 10 Best Hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

From sand dunes to mountain peaks to canyon forests to barren desert, Guadalupe Mountains National Park in western Texas has landscapes that are much more diverse than you’d think.

I’ve found the hikes there to be equally varied. Each section of the park has its own rewards, from the solitude of Dog Canyon to the huge peaks and awesome views from the peaks near Pine Springs.

What are the best hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park? That depends if you’re an experienced hiker in great shape, or a casual tourist just visiting for the day. Let’s go over my personal list, based on my visits to these trails.

All photos were personally taken by our staff, except where noted.

guadalupe peak hike
The best hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The 10 Best Hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Most of the park is undeveloped wilderness. As a result, there are only 20 total hiking trails in the park, including short nature trails near the visitor centers.

The small number of trails makes it easy to narrow down your options. We’ve ranked these in order, based on how much reward you’ll get (in terms of views) for the amount of time you have to spend on the trail.

The best hikes in the park for newcomers to the park are:
• 10. Bush Mountain Trail
• 9. Tejas Trail (Dog Canyon to Lost Peak)
• 8. El Capitan Trail
• 7. Salt Basin Dunes Trail
• 6. Permian Reef Geology Trail
• 5. Smith Spring Trail
• 4. McKittrick Canyon Trail to the Grotto and Pratt Cabin
• 3. Bowl Trail to Hunter Peak
• 2. Devil’s Hall
• 1. Guadalupe Peak

Some of these trails are better for experienced hikers and backpackers, while others are fine for the average park visitor.

For all of these hikes, you’ll want to start early in the day if possible, to avoid the hottest sun (and the occasional summer afternoon thunderstorms!)

Bring a lot of water, wear sturdy footwear, wear sun protection, and take a wind jacket, even in summer, because it can get really gusty here!

Let’s dig into the details of each hike!

best hiking trails in guadalupe mountains

10. Bush Mountain Trail

Best For: Experienced hikers in good shape
Location: Pine Springs
Distance: 13.2 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 3600 feet
Time Needed: 6-10 hours

The Bush Mountain Trail is a lengthy path that winds through the less-traveled western escarpment. The hike to the summit is a full 13 miles round-trip, with 3600 feet of elevation gain.

That makes it appropriate only for experienced hikers. You can definitely leave this one off your list if you’re just making a general visit to see the park.

The trail follows the same route as the route to the Bowl Trail, but when you reach the Pine Top Junction, you go west and continue ascending up the ridge.

Bush Mountain is the second-highest peak in the state of Texas, behind only Guadalupe Peak, which ranks number 1 on this list!

Read our full guide to hiking the Bush Mountain Trail.

9. Tejas Trail from Dog Canyon to Lost Peak

Best For: Casual tourists or experienced hikers
Location: Dog Canyon
Distance: 6.4 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
Time Needed: 3-5 hours

At 12 miles long, the Tejas Trail is one of the longest trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It runs all the way through the heart of the park, from the Dog Canyon to Pine Springs.

You can get to the Bowl via the Tejas Trail. But our focus is on the portion of the Tejas Trail that starts in the more remote Dog Canyon section.

This trail travels for just over three miles one way, gaining 1500 feet of elevation as it reaches Lost Peak. The views here are spectacular, as you can look out cross the desert valley beneath you.

Getting to Dog Canyon requires a lengthy driving detour, so that’s why this hike sits lower on our list. It’s still one of the best hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but for many folks, it’s not worth the longer drive.

Read our full guide to hiking the Tejas Trail to Lost Peak.

8. El Capitan Trail

Best For: Casual tourists or experienced hikers
Location: Pine Springs
Distance: 9.1 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1650 feet
Time Needed: 4-6 hours

El Capitan is that huge peak that you’ll see for miles if you drive into the park from the west. It’s striking, and imposing, and doing a hike there is a great thrill.

Just be aware that the El Capitan Trail does not summit the peak. In fact, it doesn’t really go up the mountain that much – it just wraps around the base of El Capitan.

el capitan hike

So you’ll be looking up at El Capitan the whole way. That means this hike doesn’t have the stunning peak views of some others on this list, which is why it only ranks at number eight.

I’d recommend this hike only if you’ve already done some of the others on this list. Or, if you’re not an experienced hiker, this could be a good choice, since it’s the longest hike in the park that we rate as Moderate rather than Strenuous.

Read our full guide to hiking the El Capitan Trail.

7. Salt Basin Dunes Trail

Best For: Casual tourists or experienced hikers
Location: Salt Basin Dunes
Distance: 3 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 40 feet
Time Needed: 1-2 hours

The Guadalupe Mountains have sand dunes! They’re located in the far western side of the park, which is a bit out of the way.

But if you make the drive, you can park and walk a flat 1.5-mile trail to the dunes. The dunes stand as high as 60 feet tall.

There are no established trails in the dunes, so you can wander around on your own. Soak in the distant views of the mountains, and look for the footprints of small animals in the sand.

pic from salt basin dunes
The peaks of GMNP as seen from the Salt Basin Dunes area. (NPS)

The hike itself isn’t anything special. The best thing about this hike is the destination. Getting to spend time walking through a sand dune is a lot of fun.

Read our full guide to hiking the Salt Basin Dunes Trail.

6. Permian Reef Geology Trail

Best For: Experienced hikers
Location: McKittrick Canyon
Distance: 9.9 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 2380 feet
Time Needed: 5-7 hours

Have I mentioned that the Guadalupe Mountains were once underwater? The Permian Reef Geology Trail has markers that point out fossils of marine animals that can still be seen today.

You can pick up a booklet with detailed information on these markers from the McKittrick Visitor Center (if it’s open.)

This trail gains 2000 feet of elevation in its first three miles, then mostly levels out atop Wilderness Ridge.

It’s 4.8 miles one way if you follow it all the way to the New Mexico border, but you can always turn around before then, since the views don’t change a lot once you reach the ridge.

Wear long pants for this one – you’ll encounter a lot of cacti and spiky shrubs on the way.

Read our full guide to hiking the Permian Reef Trail.

5. Smith Spring Trail

Best For: Casual tourists
Location: Frijole Ranch
Distance: 2.3 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 390 feet
Time Needed: 1 hour

At Frijole Ranch, you can walk the Smith Spring Trail to see both Smith Spring and Manzanita Spring, natural springs which attract a lot of plants and animals to the area.

This is a short walk, and can be done any time of day as long as you bring water, so it’s an ideal add-on to any Guadalupe Mountains National Park itinerary. Keep an eye out for deer, javelinas, and birds of all kinds.

This walk is mostly flat, and in fact, there’s a paved path to Manzanita Spring, so that part of the trail is wheelchair-accessible.

manzanita spring trail

Although it’s an easy walk, the Smith Spring Trail is still worth doing, because it’s fascinating to see these unexpected springs in the middle of what appears to be a completely dry desert region.

Read our full guide to hiking the Smith Spring Trail.

4. McKittrick Canyon Trail to the Grotto via Pratt Cabin

Best For: Casual tourists or experienced hikers
Location: McKittrick Canyon
Distance: 7 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 455 feet
Time Needed: 2-4 hours

Pratt Cabin is a stone cabin built by geologist Wallace Pratt in the 1930s. The hike here is 2.4 miles one way, with only 200 feet of elevation gain.

You can see the old cabin from the outside and sit on its porch. It’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.

Continue another mile to reach the Grotto, which features stone picnic tables and exposed cave walls. Just past the Grotto is Hunter Line Shack, an old ranching building from the 1920s.

This is the most popular trail in the McKittrick Canyon area in the northeast section of the park. It’s fine for folks who aren’t big hikers, since it’s not too far and doesn’t have a lot of elevation gain.

Read our full guide to hiking the McKittrick Canyon Trail.

3. Bowl Trail to Hunter Peak (via Bear Canyon)

Best For: Experienced hikers
Location: Pine Springs or Frijole Ranch
Distance: 7.6 to 8.5 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 2530 feet
Time Needed: 5-8 hours

The Bowl is one of the most interesting parts of Guadalupe Mountains NP. Climb more than 2500 feet, and you can look down into “the Bowl,” a flat, high-elevation area surrounded on all sides by hills and mountains.

When you’re standing here, it really feels like you’re in the middle of a bowl. This area is one of the most forested parts of the park and has substantial amounts of plant and animal life that are missing from other areas of the park.

bear canyon autumn

Hunter Peak is one of the few peaks in the park over 8000 feet, and the panoramic views are remarkable, with the Bowl on one side and miles of expansive desert on the other. It may be the best view in the national park.

Getting here requires a lengthy hike from Pine Springs or Frijole Ranch on parts of the Tejas Trail, Frijole Trail, and Bear Canyon Trail.

Read our full guide to hiking the Bowl Trail to Hunter Peak.

2. Devil’s Hall Trail

Best For: Casual tourists or experienced hikers
Location: Pine Springs
Distance: 4.2 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Time Needed: 2-4 hours

In our opinion, the Devil’s Hall Trail is the top hike in GMNP for casual tourists. We rank it as the best because it’s not super-long, it’s only moderately strenuous, and it reveals some of the most interesting geologic features in the park.

If you only have one day in the GMNP, or even just a few hours, this is a good trek to get a sense for what the Guadalupe Mountains are all about.

natural staircase - devil's hall hike

One of the highlights of the Devil’s Hall hike is a natural staircase you’ll have to climb. Incredibly, these steps were formed naturally over time, millions of years ago, when this part of Texas was underwater.

You’ll be able to see the El Capitan peak on most of this trek, as you hike in the valley below it.

The trail eventually reaches a slot canyon known as Devil’s Hall. Despite its intimidating name, this is a fairly wide natural corridor you can walk through and get great pictures in. It’s such a cool natural feature!

The National Park Service describes the Devil’s Hall hike as “strenuous,” but that’s silly. It’s only 2 miles each way, and there’s very little elevation gain.

devil's hall canyon

The only challenges on the hike are a small section of climbing over some large rocks, and the aforementioned staircase.

We saw plenty of families and kids hiking on this trail. Anyone without physical limitations can do it. I’d say kids age 8 and up are fine to complete this one.

Read our full guide to hiking Devil’s Hall.

1. Guadalupe Peak Trail

Best For: Experienced hikers
Location: Pine Springs
Distance: 8.4 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 2950 feet
Time Needed: 6-8 hours

Visitors typically assume El Capitan, the prominent peak that you see driving into the park, is the highest spot in the area.

But El Capitan is not the highest point in the park. Guadalupe Peak is a bit higher. At 8751 feet, it’s the highest point in Texas!

This hike picks up 3000 feet in 4.2 miles one way, so it’s a substantial climb. The trail passes through a pine forest before reaching the summit, providing cool views looking down on El Capitan.

guadalupe peak marker

Don’t try to tackle this trek unless you have experience doing elevation hikes. An incline of 3000 feet is no joke, and it’s not a trail for beginners.

Because of its incredible peak view and the thrill of making it to “the top of Texas,” Guadalupe Peak tops our list of the best hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Read our full guide to hiking Guadalupe Peak.

FAQ About Hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

This is a fun park to hike in, but it’s important to take some precautions and to be prepared.

Choose your season carefully.

Spring and full are the most popular seasons in Guadalupe Mountains NP, because summer can get too hot, and winters can be brutally cold.

You don’t want to plan a July visit and then be unable to do any substantial hikes because the temperature is in the upper 90s F!

See our guide to the best time to visit Guadalupe Mountains NP.

Check the forecast for temperature and wind.

Even if you plan a spring or fall visit, check the daily forecast before driving into the park. Not just for temperature, but for wind.

As a high-elevation desert park, Guadalupe Mountains NP frequently gets winds in excess of 30 mph. In winter, they can be even stronger.

Dress in layers and have a long-sleeve shirt and knit hat, especially if you plan on tackling any of the peak hikes. It’s best to be prepared for chilly weather.

Bring way more water than you need!

Whatever amount of water you plan to bring on a hike, double it. The dry air and hot desert temperatures mean you’ll be sweating a lot, and will need sufficient liquids to replenish what you’re losing.

Sources vary on the exact amount of water needed, but one liter per hour is a good way to play it safe. The park recommends 4 quarts (3.7 liters) of water per person for a day hike.

When you’ve consumed half of your water, it’s time to turn around and end the hike.

Download trail maps in advance.

Many of the trails in the park intersect with each other, which can be confusing at times. Although there are signs, it’s definitely possible to miss one or get off course.

hiking trails gmnp

To be on the safe side, use a service like AllTrails to download GPS maps to your phone before hiking. That way you’ll never get lost, and you’ll have the added bonus of having access to trail reviews and detailed elevation information.

Have good shoes and watch your step.

Most of these hikes have rocky sections with small boulders that you’ll need to go around or over. These are not like the flat dirt trails you may have back home.

Wear sturdy shoes with ankle support, and keep your eyes on the ground as you traverse these rocky sections. Rattlesnakes and scorpions live here too – another reason to watch your step as you walk.

You’ll also want a sun hat, trekking poles, a large water bottle, and other desert hiking essentials.

Know what to do in case of a wildlife encounter.

This park is home to black bears and mountain lions. You’ll see warning signs everywhere, from the visitor centers to the trailheads. It’s a bit unnerving.

Visitors are advised to hike in groups because of the presence of mountain lions. However, lots of people still do solo hikes here. I’ve hiked solo myself.

Mountain lions are rarely seen, and it doesn’t appear there’s been an attack on a human here. But they live in all parts of the park, so you should know how to handle an unexpected encounter. See the sign below.

mountain lions guadalupe mountains national park

Arrive early to avoid crowds and afternoon heat.

If you’re hiking during spring or fall, the trailheads and visitor center parking lots can sometimes fill, especially on weekends. Get there as early as possible, not just to beat the crowds, but to avoid hiking during the hottest afternoon hours.

Note the hours in certain parts of the park.

Certain parts of the park, like McKittrick Canyon, have a locking gate, meaning that you need to finish your hike and leave the area before rangers lock the gate for the night.

As of this writing, the gates for McKittrick are open from 8 am to 5 pm Mountain Time (sometimes 4:30 pm in winter).

What’s your favorite hike in the Guadalupe Mountains?

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