As one of the least-visited American national Parks, Guadalupe Mountains NP in western Texas isn’t on the radar for a lot of travelers.
Aside from being one of the 63 official national parks, does this place have anything to offer? Well, yes. We’ve got a whole post on the best activities in the park, from observing ancient marine fossils to hiking the highest mountain peaks in Texas.
But the park is somewhat remote, and it doesn’t necessarily have the same iconic attractions like the rim of the Grand Canyon or the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone.
Is it worth visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park? Well, we’re biased, given that we run an entire website dedicated to the Guadalupe Mountains! So we think the park is great and everyone should consider a visit.
But we’ll be objective here and focus on the specific types of activities in the park that might appeal to different kinds of travelers. There are some folks who won’t enjoy Guadalupe Mountains NP and perhaps should make plans to travel elsewhere.
Reasons to Visit Guadalupe Mountains NP
The hikes here are outstanding. While some are typical dry desert hikes, others rise into high-elevation territory, with lush forests and vegetation, not to mention incredible views.
Guadalupe Peak, in fact, is the highest point in Texas. I would argue that the hikes here are more impressive than those in the other Texas national park, Big Bend.
Believe it or not, this part of Texas used to be under a tropical ocean around 260 million years ago. Incredibly, fossils of sponges and other marine life are still visible in rocks in some parts of the park, such as the Permian Reef Trail.
You can also see interesting natural formations like the slot canyon known as Devil’s Hall, which is reachable via a moderate hike from the Pine Springs Visitor Center.
Most pioneers did not attempt to live in this part of Texas, with its harsh summer weather. But occasionally, some ranchers would set up residence here. You can see century-old ranch buildings at the Frijole Ranch History Museum or on the McKittrick Canyon Trail.
You can also take a short walk to Pinery Station, an 1858 station that was part of the historic Butterfield Stagecoach Route, a mail delivery route that stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The small crowds.
This is not a park where you have to battle hordes of other tourists on a regular basis. Most of the year, you can find plenty of solitude on the hiking trails.
The exception is autumn weekends, when folks come to see the impressive fall foliage. Parking lots can fill up at that time.
The sand dunes.
Yes, Guadalupe Mountains NP has a section of sand dunes. The Salt Basin Dunes offer a chance to walk around on fine gypsum sand while enjoying views of all of the park’s highest peaks.
Reasons You May Not Want to Visit
Let’s look at the counter argument. Here are some reasons that folks may think that visiting this national park is not worth it.
Guadalupe Mountains NP is tough to get to. The closest airport is El Paso International, and then it’s a 2-hour drive into the park. There are no big cities in the immediate vicinity of the park, and limited hotel options.
The difficult hikes.
Guadalupe Mountains NP has some epic hiking trails, but most are long and require lots of elevation gain (at least 2000 feet in most cases.) Those who are unable or uninterested in completing such long treks won’t get to see the true beauty of the park at its best.
The extreme weather.
Summer is not an ideal time to visit, as temperatures can exceed 100 F. Winter can bring extreme winds 80 mph or more, and periodic snowstorms. The park’s extreme weather means that spring and fall are the best times to visit comfortably.
Lack of a scenic drive.
Many national parks have scenic drives, but Guadalupe Mountains NP does not. In fact, there’s only one primary road in the park, and it serves to connect the visitor centers and other points of interest.
Lack of appeal to small kids under 6.
People certainly can and do visit here with small children all the time. It’s just not necessarily the best place to take toddlers, as the coolest things about the park (ancient fossils, lengthy hikes) tend to appeal to a more mature crowd.
Dogs are only permitted on the short Pinery Trail. Otherwise, pets are not welcome on any park trails. If you’re traveling with a pet, this is not the best park to visit.
The Best Way to Visit: Pair With Carlsbad Caverns
Is it worth booking a flight to El Paso and coming all the way to Texas just to see Guadalupe Mountains NP? Well, some of us have done that (raises hand!) But the average person probably wouldn’t want to make the long journey solely for this park.
However, if you have enough time to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park as well, that changes everything. Carlsbad Caverns features more than 100 caves, and it’s a very popular park. And it’s only a one-hour drive from Guadalupe Mountains NP!
Getting to see two national parks in such close proximity greatly increases the value of the trip. Suddenly, the journey becomes worth it.
You could even do a tidy little road trip from El Paso to Guadalupe Mountains NP to Carlsbad Caverns NP to the UFO-crazed town of Roswell, New Mexico, then over to White Sands National Park, and back to El Paso.
A road trip with three national parks? Now that’s how you maximize your travel time!
The Verdict: Is Guadalupe Mountains NP Worth Visiting?
To recap, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is worth visiting if any of the following are true:
1. You are already visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and have an extra half-day or full day to spare for Guadalupe Mountains NP.
2. You are a national park junkie determined to see as many parks as possible.
3. You are an experienced hiker comfortable with 2000+ of elevation gain on hikes.
4. You have a strong interest in geology or American history.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is probably not worth visiting if:
1. You don’t enjoy the hot desert environment.
2. You are not a big fan of hiking.
3. You are traveling with small kids (under age 6.)
Despite a few flaws, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is definitely underrated. The great natural and historic sites make it worth a visit for most folks. Hope to see you there!