Like most families, we’re beholden to the normal non-school times for family vacation — ski week, spring break, summer break, Thanksgiving week, and Christmas break. Most of the time it’s pretty easy, but over Thanksgiving break there’s one thing we have to consider that makes planning a little more difficult: Thanksgiving Day.
We’re on a mission to see all 59 US National Parks. In 2018, we visited Grand Canyon National Park and Petrified Forest National Park over spring break, Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer, and Saguaro, Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns, and Guadalupe Mountains national parks over Thanksgiving Break. And, because Guadalupe Mountains was the only one open on Thanksgiving Day, we structured our road trip around being in that park on that day.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in western Texas protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef, dating back 260 million years, and the four highest peaks in Texas, including 8,749 foot Guadalupe Peak — the highest point in Texas.
Located in the vast Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas, this 86,367 acre national park is a remote, rugged wilderness park known for its bright-white Salt Basin Dunes, wildlife-rich grassland, rocky canyons, mountain forests, and fossilized reef mountains. Here you’ll find more than 400 species of animals and 1,000 species of trees and other plants can be found.
The majestic Guadalupe Mountains for which this park is named, are the same mountains that house Carlsbad Caverns National Park, just 25 miles north in New Mexico.
Established in 1972, Guadalupe Mountains National Park has five distinct sections:
- Pine Springs: Here you’ll find the park headquarters and visitor center, a campground, and a major trailhead.
- Frijole Ranch: This historic ranch site has a cultural museum, picnic area, and trailhead for a few easy hikes to natural springs.
- McKittrick Canyon: This canyon is famous for it’s gorgeous fall colors and a trail that leads to a stone cabin built in the early 1930s as the vacation home of Wallace Pratt, a petroleum geologist who donated land to establish the park.
- Dog Canyon: Sitting on the northern park boundary at the Texas-New Mexico state line, this canyon has a campground and a public corral for livestock that is available by reservation.
- Salt Basin Dunes: These gypsum sand dunes lie on the west side of the park near Dell City. A rough four-wheel drive road leads to the Williams Ranch.
If you want to visit all five areas of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, you need more than one day because they’re so far apart and there isn’t a scenic drive (or any roads) through the park! Instead, each section of the park has it’s own entrance and while Pine Springs and Frijole Ranch are really close together, McKittrick Canyon is a little father away, and Dog Canyon and the Salt Basin Dunes are really far away.
Here are 4 fun things to do for families at Guadalupe Mountains National Park:
01. Headquarters Visitor Center At Pine Springs
At 5,730 feet elevation, the Pine Springs Visitor Center is the headquarters for Guadalupe Mountains National Park and the best place to start your visit. At the Visitor Center, you can pick up park maps, trail, and brochures, enjoy interpretive museum exhibits on park wildlife and history, browse the bookstore, talk with rangers, and more.
02. The Pinery Trail
The Pinery Trail is a 0.75 mile, round trip, paved path that provides scenic vistas, an introduction to the Chihuahuan desert native plants, and views of the historic Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach station ruins, also called Old Pinery Station.
03. Devil’s Hall Trail
Devil’s Hall Trail is a moderate, 2.1 mile out and back hike into Pine Spring Canyon that totals 4.2 miles. It leads to the Hiker’s Staircase and Devil’s Hall.
- Hiker’s Staircase at Devil’s Gate is a 50 foot, multi-tier, pour-off that has created a natural rock staircase made from thin layers of eroding limestone.
- Devil’s Hall is a 150 foot long, narrow slot canyon with 100 foot tall, parallel, vertical limestone walls that are just 15 feet apart.
04. Frijole Ranch
Frijole Ranch, also known as Guadalupe Ranch, Spring Hill Ranch, and the Rader-Smith Ranch, is a historic ranching complex and an oasis on the edge of the dry, lower slopes of the Guadalupe escarpment that was a homestead, a ranch, a farm, and eventually, the national park headquarters.
Today, Frijole House and it’s outbuildings are part of the Frijole Ranch History Museum and trailhead for several family-friendly hikes.
Know Before You Go
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in the vast Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas in both Culberson County and Hudspeth County on US Highway 62/180. It is 110 miles east of El Paso, Texas and 56 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico.
- The Headquarters Visitor Center at Pine Springs is located at 400 Pine Canyon Drive, Salt Flat, Texas 79847.
- The entrance fee is $5.00 per person for adults 16 years of age and older. This fee is good for seven days. The park also offers free admission days on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a wilderness park and one of the least visited of the country’s 59 national parks, with just 225,257 visitors in 2017.
- There are no scenic drives through Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Park roads only provide access to the Headquarters Visitor Center and Pine Springs Campground, the McKittrick Canyon Contact Station, Frijole Ranch, Williams Ranch (4X4 only), Dog Canyon, and trailheads.
- Download the Guadalupe Mountains Park map.
- There are 80 miles of hiking trails in the park and many day hikes to choose from.
- Facilities and services within and near Guadalupe Mountains National Park are extremely limited. The nearest gas stations are 43 miles west in Dell City, 35 miles east in White’s City, or 65 miles south in Van Horn. There is no campstore and no food available in the park. There is also no public transportation or shuttle service or cell service available. Bring everything you need with you, including plenty of water.
- Pets are permitted in the park, but not on most trails or in the backcountry. They are allowed only in areas accessed by vehicles, including roadsides, parking areas, picnic areas and campgrounds and must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet. You must always clean up after your pet.
- All park features are protected. Do not deface or remove any natural or historical objects. Do not pick wildflowers or other plants or feed or molest wildlife.