The Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, Texas encompass the four highest peaks in Texas, and protects a Permian fossil reef of calcified shells and corals hundreds of millions of years old. Guadalupe National Park offers over 80 miles of hiking through various terrains. The Guadalupe Peak Trail is an 8.5 mile loop which climbs over 3,000 feet to the highest peak in the park, at an elevation of 8,750 feet. The all-day hike offers expansive views to the west and south, taking visitors through a conifer forest towards Guadalupe peak.
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The Smith Spring Loop of just over 2 miles begins at the Frijole Ranch Trailhead and traverses through both desert and riparian vegetation to the beautiful Manzanita Spring. The McKittrick Canyon Trail is most popular in the fall when the foliage is changing color. This moderate hike follows the bottom of the canyon for 3 miles along the banks of a river, then begins to climb. The trail takes guests past the historic Pratt Cabin. The stone and wood cabin from the 1930’s was built by the Pratt family, who purchased the land in the 1920’s and subsequently donated it to the Parks Service. Although there is no lodging in the park, two campgrounds work on a first come, first served basis. The Pine Springs Campground, at an elevation of 5,800 feet, is located at the base of the mountain. The campground offers twenty RV sites in a paved parking area, one of which is wheelchair accessible. There are no hook ups or dumping stations provided. Twenty level, graveled tent sites are also available, each of which includes a picnic table. The campground offers access to drinkable water, restrooms and a utility sink. The Dog Canyon campground is at an elevation of 6,200 feet in a more secluded location at the north side of the park. The naturally protected area stays cooler year-round, and offers four RV sites (without hookups or dump station) and nine tent sites. Each campground has one group campsite for groups of between 10-20 guests. Ten backcountry campgrounds are located throughout the various trails. In addition to hiking and backpacking, the National Park is known for birding, and offers many unique habitats. Water sources offer riparian areas and shade, while Chihuahuan Desert species, and relic forests of pine and firs are found at higher elevations. 60 percent of the trails at the park are open to stock, offering diverse trails for horseback riding that range from easy to moderate to difficult. Stock corrals are available at three of the park’s campsites. Mule deer and elk are frequently seen at the water sources, while wildlife such as coyotes, fox and mountain lions are much more elusive. West Texas offers some of the darkest night skies in the United States, making the Guadalupe National Park a prime place for stargazing. Over 11,000 stars and planets can be seen on a clear evening.
History: In 1921, the geologist Wallace Pratt visited Pecos, Texas to purchase oil leases for his employer, Humble Oil and Refining Company. During his trip, a West Texas judge invited him to see the “most beautiful spot in Texas” during his down time. When Pratt first entered McKittrick Canyon, he was awestruck by what he saw. The floor of the canyon held a stream that flowed freely through several waterfalls, lined by maples, oak and walnut trees as well as the desert flora of cactus and agave. Pratt purchased a small portion of the land, along with his partners, whom he bought out in 1930. The Pratt family spent summers in the Guadalupe Mountains in a stone and wood cabin they built through the 1950’s. By the 1960’s they had donated over 5,000 acres to the National Parks Service, including their stone cabin.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Events at the park include Patio Talks at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. The 30-minute talks are presented by park rangers on subjects ranging from park history, to geology and wildlife. Pioneer Prosperity is an ongoing program at the Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum that takes guests back in time to the early 1900’s and the homestead of the John Thomas Smith family, who settled the area in 1906, making a living for themselves and their ten children with a 15-acre farm. The Frijole Ranch House belonging to the Smith’s was opened to the public as a museum in 1992. Organized ranger-led hikes include the Hike to the Hall, which explores the Devil’s Hall canyon, and a McKittrick Canyon Day Hike.
400 Pine Canyon Dr, Salt Flat, TX 79847, Phone: 915-828-3251