History and Stats
The area has been inhabited by humans for at least 10,000 years, as evidenced by archeological remains. The area would be largely ignored by Spanish explorers, though Mescalero Apaches would adapt the imported Spanish horses to their lifestyle. Relations with settlers pushing West were tense throughout the 19th century, and raids were a fact of life.
In 1869, a contingent of army cavalry destroyed two Mescalero camps, eventually driving them from the region and into reservations. Many early sorties with the Mescaleros as well as explorations of the mountains were undertaken by Buffalo Soldiers; Black soldiers who had remained in the US Army after the Civil War.
The area would be settled by ranchers, though many of them would fail. Years later, Judge J.C. Hunter would buy up much of the land and ranches in the area in the 1940s, and had dreams of the region becoming a National Park. After his passing, his son would sell the land at $22 an acre to the NPS. Wallace Pratt, a geologist living in the region, who had purchased McKittrick Canyon and the surrounding area, would donate some 6,000 acres, which would be added to the park as it was dedicated in 1972.
Date Founded: September 30, 1972
Size: 86,367 acres
Elevation: Highest: 8,749 Guadalupe Peak; Lowest: 4,000
Rainfall: 17in, snowfall will vary depending on elevation.
Visitors: 225,000 a year
Open: Year-round, though some facilities may be closed for holidays, and others are only staffed intermittently.
Fees: The entrance fee is $5 per adult (16 and up). *We will note that these fees are covered completely by the America The Beautiful Pass, which applies to over 2,000 different sites.
“To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
The emphasis of Guadalupe Mountains is on hiking and camping, though several of the facilities offer both naturalistic and historical perspectives on the area. With ten backcountry campgrounds, two primitive campgrounds, and miles of trail, this is the park for the hiker.
The Pine Springs Visitor Center is Ranger-staffed and features an extensive exhibit on the wildlife of the area and open at 8, and is closed December 25.
Frijole Ranch is a mile away from the Visitor Center and open year round. Visitors are welcome to tour the grounds and the museum.
McKittrick Canyon, 7 miles away from the Visitor Center, has a small contact station at the trailhead with phones, intermittent staff water, and bathrooms.
Dog Canyon has a small Ranger station where backcountry permits and information on the area can be found.
Williams Ranch and the Salt Basin Dunes have limited facilities at the day-use-only trailheads.
Dell City, with a population of around 400, is by no means an actual city, but supplies and gas can be found here. It’s about 40 minutes away from the Pine Springs Visitor Center.
Lodging: Pine Springs and Dog Canyon both offer primitive sites, but potable water is available. All sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis, and are $8/night. Both sites can accommodate RVs.
There are also 10 backcountry campgrounds to choose from, varying from mountainsides to dense forests to grassland. More information can be found here.
Novice to Advanced. As the park’s focus is on hiking and backpacking, come prepared, even if you’re not going into the backcountry. For those going into the backcountry, the level of difficulty will vary by the campground you choose. We’re planning on an Intermediate experience for early 2019. Camping in the mountains can sometimes be very unforgiving. Our Camping Gear Guides, featuring printable PDF gear lists, and other Traveler’s Tips, can be found here.
The park offers talks on a variety of subjects, covering wilderness, wildlife, geology, night skies, flora, and history. More information on the programming calendar can be found here.
We took a short hike around the Visitor’s Center after enjoying the wildlife exhibit, though the thick mist made it hard to see any live wildlife, we enjoyed the history of the area and the ruins of a stagecoach station. We took the brief drive over to McKittrick Canyon and hiked a length of the trail, but had to cut the walk short, as we had a schedule to keep. We enjoyed our brief time in Guadalupe, and definitely want to come back to give it its due.
Things we’d like to try next time
We would love to do more hiking in the area and stay overnight. There’s no shortage of hiking options, and the area is beautiful. A number of the backcountry campgrounds sound like an amazing weekend. The Salt Basin Dunes also look like a great time and are the same geologic phenomenon as White Sands. We’d love to check them out.
- Williams Ranch is only reachable by 4×4 vehicles with high suspension, as the roads are unforgiving.
- The road to the Salt Basin Dunes is one way.
- Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas.
- The mountains have a way of forming microclimates, as we discovered on our visit.
- There is a fire ban in the park, and all cooking must be done with camp stoves.
Where have you camped in the Guadalupe Mountains? What was your favorite hike? What wildlife did you spot? Have we missed anything?
Read more about our experience at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park here.