The boyfriend and I spent three days day-hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park while spending the evening in nearby Carlsbad, NM.
Advice for Carlsbad: The lodges there looked grim, so pick a chain hotel (the Super 8 wasn’t bad but use priceline). Trinity Hotel’s restaurant is overpriced and the food isn’t great, but still the best place in town. I wish that we had gone to Yellowbrix for dinner the second night, but it looked overpriced. However, their gelato was quite good. The best thing in Carlsbad was Blue House Bakery and Cafe — great local vibe, good food, and surprisingly good coffee. Make sure that you get there super-early before a line forms or you’ll start your hike very late in the day.
This was a scenic, technical, 9 mile hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas (8,479′). There is a horse trail option to avoid the steep climbing in the first mile and a half: We made a great decision to take the horse trail on the return trip, which added about .6 miles to the hike, but also a great little trek along an arroyo. I’m also not a huge fan of steep descents.
In the first 4.25 miles, you’ll climb 3,000 feet — a great climb along cliffs with fantastic, ever-changing scenery. The trail was well-used (and more crowded than I expected) and very easy to follow, but there are trail directions available at nps.gov and there is a Trails Illustrated map of the park available online and at the visitor’s center. Speaking of which, there is a utility sink there to fill up your water bladder, clean bathrooms to wash up in, and a small store to buy postcards!
This is a five-star hike that immediately went on my list of favorites. It was a 15.5 mile out-and-back with a technical, challenging trail, a good climb, sweeping canyon views and variety. The incredible, dramatic views and cliffs made up for the fact that it was an out-and-back (my least favorite type of hike), crowded for the first three miles and nearly straight up, straight down (as opposed to undulating).
The canyon is in a “day use area,” meaning that the gates open at 8:00 a.m. and close at 4:30 p.m. in winter at 6:00 p.m. in summer. We made the 6:00 p.m. close by 10 minutes, so keep that in mind when you decide where to turn around. The descent is so technical that it’s actually quite slow — do not plan on making up a lot of time on the descent.
The first three and a half miles of this hike are flat but unfortunately somewhat slow due to NPS’s trail maintenance — apparently they thought small, round rocks would make for a good trail. Instead, your ankles will get quite the workout while you try to take this section quickly to make up time. You start immediately with dramatic canyon views — I have yet in all my internet-searching found a photo that does this hike justice. It’s also crowded for the first three miles, but once we passed the Grotto picnic area, we didn’t see a soul.
The climb to the ridge is long, slow and technical. This is a well-maintained, easy to follow trail, but very technical. The rock formations, cliffs, shark fins and narrow saddles are all dramatic and breathtaking. (Sorry if I’m laying this on too thick but I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere so beautiful!)
We also never had any idea where we were going. I kept thinking we were at the top until we turned another corner. Once we got near the top of one mountain, we circled it, crossed a narrow saddle, and kept climbing up its neighbor. We passed our destined turn-around spot, a camp ground about 7 miles in, but decided to keep going in hopes of getting a new view. We decided to turn around at 7.7 miles.
As I mentioned, it was a slow descent that tested my IT-band and physical therapy, which I had been doing three times a week for two months at this point. I had to really focus on keeping my knees stable as I stepped off of rocks regularly for two hours. I highly recommend hiking poles for this part.
We had to rush through the last four miles to make it to the Jeep in time, but I wish I had more time to admire the scenery here. From the arroyo, the canyon is somehow more daunting and dramatic. Here again are the instructions from NPS, but will only take you to the Grotto. The TI map will take you further, but the trail is very easy to follow.
Talk about variety! Here, you go from the desert up to a coniferous forest. Starting at the visitor’s center, where you should fill up your pack, follow the Frijole trail to the Bear Canyon trail. There starts a 2500 foot climb up a canyon facing the dessert — it’s hot and steep but a good trail and not too technical. Once you reach the top, you can decide where to go.
We went around the “bowl,” turning right on the Bowl trail and curling left. And then we turned right to get the the Tejas trial to descend and get back to to the visitors trail. We only saw two other people on this hike and there were great views of the desert and of Guadalupe Peak. A solid hike!
This was my first real desert hiking experience and I loved all the new flora: cacti, wildflowers, Madrones, and Juniper trees. (I made “my drones” jokes the entire trip: “What do you think make those indentations in the rock?” “Must have been mah drones.” I’m hilarious.)
I’m so glad we decided to do a hiking trip to Guadalupe — it’s a gorgeous, underrated park that I’m pretty sure includes the most beautiful part of Texas. McKittrick canyon ought to be as famous as Yosemite, but I’m glad it isn’t! The solitude made it all the more wonderful!