Hike Name: Smith Spring Trail
Area: Frijole Ranch
Difficulty Level: Easy
Distance: 2.3 miles round trip
Time Needed: 1 hour
Elevation Start: 5400 feet
Elevation Gain: 390 feet
Best Time to Hike: Any time of year
The Smith Spring Trail is one of the easiest hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
It’s just a casual two-mile stroll that passes by a couple of natural springs that have been a lifeline for humans in this area for decades, including the region’s Native American residents and the first European settlers.
The Smith Spring Trail encompasses the shorter Manzanita Spring Trail, which is only a half-mile round-trip.
Hiking the Smith Spring Trail
This hike takes place in the Frijole Ranch area of the park. The old ranch here that once provided shelter has been turned into a museum. The ranch is an interesting place to stop, even if you don’t plan on hiking the entire Smith Spring Trail.
Trail Length and Difficulty
The trail is only 2.3 miles for the full loop, and it’s mostly flat, making it possible for everyone, including kids. It is not considered a difficult hike at all.
Alternately, if you want to make the hike even shorter, you can walk the Manzanita Spring Trail, which is the first section of this trail. It’s just a quarter-mile out and the same distance back.
Best Time to Hike
This is a rare trail at Guadalupe Mountains National Park that can be done any time of year, because it’s short and doesn’t gain much elevation.
The shade and the chill from the cool streams mean that this hike is doable even during the hot summer, as long as you have sufficient water.
Winter is totally fine as well, assuming you’re prepared for cold weather and potentially strong winds.
Trail Description and Highlights
Since this is a loop trail, you can hike it in either direction. I recommend going counter-clockwise. If you do so, you’ll reach Manzanita Spring after only a quarter-mile.
Follow the paved trail to the spring, which resembles a large pond.
The Manzanita Spring Trail is paved and is wheelchair-accessible up to the spring. However… it’s not worth it to visit here if you’re in a wheelchair, because it’s hard to see anything.
Even for me, standing up, I couldn’t see much of the water in Manzanita Spring, because of all the tall grass growing around the pond. In a wheelchair, you won’t be able to see the water at all.
This is the best view you can get of Manzanita Spring, and even this requires walking off the sidewalk into the grass:
When you’re ready, proceed past Manzanita Spring as the trail meanders back into sort of a mini-canyon.
This area has more trees and vegetation, and it’s reasonably scenic. It has a few small ups and downs as this section of the park isn’t entirely level.
You’ll finally reach Smith Spring, the pond with a mini-waterfall tucked up against the base of the mountain.
I like Smith Spring better than Manzanita Spring, as the view isn’t blocked, and the mini-waterfall and shaded trees create a peaceful, serene setting.
There’s a little bench at the spring itself where you can sit and rest. An informational sign explains how the water finds its way here from the higher elevations through joins in the limestone.
The cold water that runs through these springs helps sustain life here that couldn’t otherwise exist in the desert.
Expect to see lots of birds in this area! I saw a lot of small birds flying around here. You may want to study the bird list at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, so you’ll know which species you are seeing.
The full walk takes about an hour. Is it worth spending an hour to see such small springs? That depends on how much of a hiker you are.
If you like long, strenuous treks, skip the Smith Spring Trail. If you’re not much of a hiker, but want a small taste of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, then this trail is fine.
It does rank on our list of the top 10 hikes in the park.
Important Things to Know
The first section of the path, all the way to Manzanita Spring, is paved. That makes it one of the few park trails that is wheelchair-accessible. But, as noted, the views on that part of the trail aren’t amazing.
The rest of the Smith Spring Trail is not paved and not accessible.
There’s a short gravel road leading to Frijole Ranch and a gravel parking lot, with some accessible parking spaces and paved sidewalks.
This isn’t one of the most awe-inspiring hikes in the park, so if you’re an experienced hiker who loves outstanding peak views, you may want to skip this one and instead go for Guadalupe Peak, the Tejas Trail to Lost Peak, or the Permian Reef Trail.
The Smith Spring Trail is best for tourists and short-term visitors who are interested in the history of Frijole Ranch or just want a quick taste of the Guadalupe Mountains area.
See our list of important items to take on any desert hike, including a sun hat, trekking poles, and sturdy hiking boots.