Trail Descriptions

A hiker stands on a trail with a desert mountain summit rising in the distance
Hiking trails at Guadalupe Mountains provide access to a landscape that will challenge and inspire you.

NPS/Laurence Parent

The Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness has over 80 miles of trail to explore with a great range of elevation, ecological zones, and solitude. Whether you are day hiking or backpacking, your trip is a uniquely protected opportunity to provide maximum freedom to roam in Wilderness. So, in planning a trip, it is important to find the right experience for your interests, timeframe, and abilities. A good planning process will enhance your understanding of the park and your safety. Therefore, as part of the wilderness experience, park rangers can provide general guidance but will not plan a wilderness trip for you; you must plan your own trip.

When you have thought about or decided what you want from your trip, you can start planning and researching your hike. A detailed topographic map is a must for any hike. In addition, a good guidebook can help you choose a trip that is right for you. Remember that visiting the wilderness is an adventure: do not be afraid to explore a new area and discover what wonders it has to offer!

 

Trail Descriptions

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: Total distance from the Frijole Trail junction to the top of Bear Canyon is 1.8 miles (2.9 km).

The Bear Canyon Trail is a lesser used access point into the high country from the Pine Springs area. This short trail is among the steepest in the park, gaining two thousand feet in less than two miles. To reach the Bear Canyon Trail use the Frijole Trail from either the Pine Springs or Frijole Ranch Trailheads. While the climb is steep, rangers recommend that hikers ascend Bear Canyon, rather than hike down it. The trail is on the face of the eastern escarpment and received the full force of the mid-day sun, however, portions of the trail will have tree cover. At the top of the ridge, this trail connects with the Bowl Trail to asend to the summit of Hunter Peak, or descend into the Bowl. 

Trailhead(s): Connects the Tejas Trail to the Bush Mountain Trail
Duration: Total distance from the Tejas junction to the Bush Mountain junction is 2.0 miles (3.2 km).
From the Tejas junction to the Marcus junction is 0.3 miles (0.5 km);
From the Marcus junction to the Blue Ridge Wilderness Campground is 1.2 miles (1.9 km);
From the Blue Ridge Wilderness Campground to the Bush Mountain junction is 0.5 miles (0.8 km).

The Blue Ridge Trail connects the Tejas and Bush Mountain Trails, crossing east to west near the center of the park. Climbing slightly from the Tejas Trail junction, it passes the Marcus Trail junction at 0.3 mile and then climbs fairly steeply toward the crest of the Blue Ridge. The trail levels off and the Blue Ridge campground is passed at 1.5 miles. The Bush Mountain Trail is met in a grassy meadow near the edge of the western side of the Guadalupe escarpment. 

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs via the Tejas Trail, Dog Canyon
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Top junction to Dog Canyon is 12.3 miles (19.8 km).
From the Pine Top junction to the Bush Mountain Wilderness Campground is 2.7 miles (4.4 km);
From the Bush Mountain Wilderness Campground to Blue Ridge junction is 2.2 miles (3.5 km);
From the Blue Ridge junction to the Marcus Wilderness Campground is 3.7 miles (6.0 km);
From the Marcus Wilderness Campground to the Marcus junction is 0.2 miles (0.3 km);
From the Marcus junction to the Dog Canyon Trailhead is 3.5 miles (5.6 km).

The Bush Mountain Trail is a major artery of the trail system, leading from the Tejas Trail above Pine Springs Canyon all the way to Dog Canyon. The trail loops far to the west to wind above the cliffs on the western side of the escarpment, then descends through the isolated northern portion of the park before climbing back up to terminate at Dog Canyon. The Blue Ridge allows the Bush Mountain Trail to be done as northern or southern loops. 

The northern portion of the trail beyond the Blue Ridge junction is infrequently traveled and may be challenging to follow when overgrown with grass. Cairns mark the route. Hikers should have a compass and paper topographic map in this area of the park and be prepared for route-finding. 

Trailhead(s): Connects the Tejas Trail at the Pine Top junction and Juniper junction, returning to the Bowl trail above the Pine Top junction. Connects to the top of the Bear Canyon Trail, north of Hunter Peak.
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Top junction on the loop is 3.6 miles (5.8 km).
From the Pine Top junction to Hunter Peak is 0.9 miles (1.4 km);
From Hunter Peak to the Bear Canyon junction is 0.5 miles (0.8 km);
From the Bear Canyon junction to Juniper junction is 0.8 miles (1.3 km);
From the Juniper junction to top of ridge near Pine Top is 1.4 miles (2.3 km).

The Bowl trail is an excellent loop through the Wilderness high country, providing fine views from the top of the escarpment above Pine Springs Canyon and Bear Canyon as well as a descent into the heart of the dense remnant forest area known as the Bowl. The view from the summit of Hunter Peak may be the best in the park. Deer and elk may be spotted in the Bowl area and remnants of a ranch era water system can be spotted along the trail.

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs Trailhead 
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Springs Trailhead to Devil's Hall is 2.1 miles (3.4 km).

Devil's Hall, a narrow slot formation within Pine Springs Canyon is located a little over two miles from the Pine Springs Trailhead. The first mile follows above the wash, the second miles is in the wash and requires route finding, rock scrambling, and caution as rock surfaces are slippery when dry. Do not attempt this trail in wet or rainy conditions. 

Learn more about the strenuous hike to Devil's Hall. 

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Williams Ranch
Duration: Total distance from Pine Springs to Williams Ranch is 9.4 miles (15.2 km).
From the Pine Springs Trailhead to Guadalupe Canyon and the east junction of the Salt Basin Loop is 3.4 miles (5.5 km);
From Gudalupe Canyon to the west junction of the Salt Basin Loop is 0.9 miles (1.5 km);
From the west junction of the Salt Basin Loop to the Shumard Canyon Wilderness Campground is 4.7 miles (7.6 km);
From the Shumard Canyon Wilderness Campground to Williams Ranch is 0.4 miles (0.6 km).
 

The El Capitan Trail begins at the Pine Springs Trailhead. The trail leads around the base of El Capitan and along the west side of the Guadalupe escarpment, ending at the historic Williams Ranch House. It is the only trail to provide access to the west side of the Guadalupes. As such, the trail provides excellent opportunities for solitude and sweeping views. This trail connects to the Salt Basin Overlook Trail. 

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: Total distance from the Foothills junction to Frijole Ranch is 2.6 miles (4.2 km).
Elevation Gain: 532 feet (162 meters)

The Frijole Trail crosses the lower slopes of the eastern escarpment connecting the Pine Springs Trailhead to the Frijole Ranch area. The Foothills Trail connects to this trail on the north and south and can make an excellent loop hike without significant elevation change. 

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: Total distance from the Frijole Trail junction to Frijole Ranch is 1.9 miles (3.1 km).
Elevation Gain: 351 feet (107 meters)

The Foothills Trail is a lower elevation trail that connects to the Frijole Trail in two places, forming a loop trail. The trail winds through juniper punctuated grassland below the mountains.

Learn more about hiking the Foothills loop using both the Foothills and Frijole trails

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs
Duration: From the Pine Springs Trailhead to the summit (one-way) is 4.2 miles (6.8 km).
Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet (914 meters)

The trail starts at the Pine Springs Trailhead (1/2 mile from the Pine Springs Visitor Center – check in at the visitor center, then turn right out of the visitor center parking lot). Follow the signs for the Guadalupe Peak Trail. Follow the hiker trail; the horse trail will add about 1 extra mile to the trip (although it is less steep).

You will encounter the steepest part of the hike in the first mile and a half, as the trail switchbacks up the first steep slope. Be sure not to cut across the switchbacks, as this causes accelerated erosion. The views will get better with every switchback you climb.

After about a mile and a half, the trail will become less steep as it passes a cliff and then turns around to the north-facing slope. Here, hikers will discover a small forest of pinion pine, south-western white pine, and Douglas fir. The forest exists here since on a north-facing slope there is not as much sunlight. The slightly cooler, shadier climate allows these pines to survive.

After nearly three miles the trail will top out at a false summit. It is still a little more than a mile to the actual summit. The trail will flatten out for a short distance as it passes through a sparse forest of ponderosa pine. The backcountry campsite for overnight backpackers is on this summit (backcountry permit required to camp).

After passing the backcountry campsite, the trail descends slightly and crosses a wooden bridge. After the bridge, the trail begins the final climb to the summit. After only a few switchbacks, the top of El Capitan will dominate the view to the south. Eventually you will pass the horse hitching posts and arrive at the summit, where on a clear day you will be rewarded with a tremendous view of the surrounding mountains and desert. 

Learn more about the hike to Guadalupe Peak

Trailhead(s): Dog Canyon, across from the ranger station
Duration: This short loop trail is 0.6 miles (0.9 km) in length.
Elevation Gain: 106 feet (32 meters)

A short loop trail begins across the road from the ranger station and next to the group campsite, offering good views of the landscape. At a leisurely pace it takes 30-45 minutes. The trail is rated easy as it remains almost level after crossing an arroyo.

Trailhead(s): Connects the Bowl Trail to the Tejas Trail. 
Duration: Total distance from the Bowl junction to the Tejas junction is 2.0 miles (3.3 km).

The Juniper Trail connects the Bowl Trail and the Tejas Trail, via a route that leads from the Bowl before climbing a ridge and descending through forest to meet the Tejas Trail. Excellent views of the bowl, ranch remnants, and a forested environment await the hiker along this trail. 

Trailhead(s): Connects the Bush Mountain Trail to the Blue Ridge Trail. Generally accessed via Dog Canyon. 
Duration: Total distance from the Bush Mountain junction to the Blue Ridge junction is 3.8 miles (6.1 km).

Good views of the Lost Peak area and north into New Mexico are available along this trail as it follows an old road that ascends steadily along West Dog Canyon (not to be confused with Dog Canyon), rising to meet the Blue Ridge Trail from the floor of the canyon. 

The northern portion of the trail in the lower portion of West Dog Canyon is infrequently traveled and may be challenging to follow when overgrown with grass. Cairns mark the route. Hikers should have a compass and paper topographic map in this area of the park and be prepared for route-finding. 

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Frijole Ranch
Duration: Total distance from the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the Tejas Trail junction is 10.9 miles (17.6 km).
From the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the Pratt Cabin is 2.3 miles (3.7 km);
From Pratt Cabin to the Grotto is 1.1 miles (1.8 km);
From the Grotto to the McKittrick Canyon Wilderness Campground is 4.0 miles (6.5 km);
From the McKittrick Canyon Wilderness Campground to the Tejas junction is 3.5 miles (5.6 km).

The McKittrick Canyon Trail follows the floor of South McKittrick Canyon for four miles before climbing steeply to gain the ridge on the north side of the canyon. This is an arduous climb of 2,380 feet in about two miles, and provides spectacular views into the canyon and to the ridges that border it. The trail continues along the ridge above South McKittrick Canyon, ascending to a high point of 7,916 feet and gradually descending to a junction with the Tejas trail. 

This is an extremely rewarding trail, offering both the variety of McKittrick Canyon and the grandeur of the high ridges that surround it. The floor of McKittrick Canyon provides a panoramic experience through the unique environments of the canyon; to protect this special habitat, visitors are asked to stay on the trail and stay out of the water. 

Learn more about the hike to the Pratt Cabin
Learn more about the hike to the Grotto and the Hunter Line Shack
Learn more about the hike to the Notch
Learn more about the overnight hike to McKittrick Ridge

Trailhead(s): McKittrick Canyon
Duration: This short loop is 0.9 miles (1.4 km) in length.
Elevation Gain: 216 feet (66 meters)

This short nature trail climbs and descend a ridge and along the way encounters an intermittent seep hidden within junipers, shrubs, and grasses that cling to this tiny ecosystem. Trailside exhibits describe common plants, reference wildland fire, and explain Permian Reef geology. The trail is 0.9 miles round trip, is rated moderate, but takes less than one hour to complete.

Learn more about hiking the McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail.

Trailhead(s): Salt Basin Dunes Trailhead
Duration: One way from the trailhead to the dunes is 1.5 miles (2.9 km).

This short trail takes visitors to the gypsum sand dune field on the west side of the Guadalupe Mountains. These amazing bright-white dunes cover nearly 2,000 acres and range from 3 feet high at the southern end of the area to 60 feet high at the northern end. 

The hike to the dunes follows along the northern edge of the dune fields with excellent views of the western escarpment and the largest dunes of the area. The trail is flat and relatively easy, but there is no shade, so carry plenty of water and avoid hiking during the hottest parts of the day. 

Learn more about hiking to the Salt Basin Dunes. 

Trailhead(s): This trail connects in two places to the El Capitan Trail
Duration: Total distance from the east junction to west junction is 3.6 miles (5.8 km).

This trail leads from the point at which the El Capitan Trail reaches Guadalupe Canyon and loops south down the canyon and around the tops of some mesa-like cliffs before climbing steeply to rejoin the El Capitan Trail after 3.6 miles. The total distance of this loop trip from the Pine Springs Trailhead and back is 11.3 miles (18.2 km). The trail provides close views of El Capitan and views to the south and west to the salt flats. 

Trailhead(s): McKittrick Canyon
Duration: Total distance from the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the park boundary is 4.8 miles (7.7 km).
From the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead to the Wilderness Ridge Campground is 4.5 miles (7.2 km);
From the Wilderness Ridge Campground to the park boundary is 0.3 miles (0.5 km).

The Permian Reef Trail begins at the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead and in three miles climbs 2,000 feet to the top of the escarpment. The ascent provides good views to the east and into McKittrick Canyon. Once the ridge is gained, the trail levels out and is often forested. 

There is a short loop available near the start of the trail that adds 0.3 miles (0.5 km) to the route. 

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs Visitor Center
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Springs Visitor Center to the pinery ruins is 0.38 miles (609 m); roud trip distance is 0.75 miles (1.2 km).


Travel the short mile path to the ruins of the old Pinery Station, once a favored stop on the original 2,800 mile Butterfield Overland Mail Route. The trail is paved, rated easy, and wheelchair accessible. Pets are allowed on leash, making this the only pet friendly trail in the park. 

Learn more about hiking to the Pinery.

Trailhead(s): Frijole Ranch
Duration: Total loop distance is 2.3 miles (3.8 km).
From the Frijole Ranch Trailhead to Manzanita Spring is 0.2 miles (0.3 km);
From Manzanita Spring to Smith Spring is 0.9 miles (1.4 km);
From Smith Spring to the Frijole Trail junction is 0.9 miles (1.4 km);
From the Frijole Trail junction to Frijole Ranch Trailhead is 0.3 miles (0.5 km).


This loop trail begins at the Frijole Ranch Trailhead and leads to Smith Spring, a lovely forested oasis up agaisnt the lower slope of the mountains. This short hike passes by two additional springs (Frijole Spring, at the ranch, and Manzanita Spring, a quarter mile up the trail from the ranch).

This short hike does not gain significant elevation, and is an excellent choice for visitors with limited time. 

Learn more about the hike to Smith Spring
Learn more about the shorter hike to Manzanita Spring

Trailhead(s): Pine Springs, Dog Canyon
Duration: Total distance from the Pine Springs Trailhead to the Dog Canyon Trailhead is 11.8 miles (19.0 km).
From the Pine Springs Trailhead to the Pine Top junction is 3.7 miles (6.0 km);
From the Pine Top junction to the Juniper junction is 1.5 miles (2.4 km);
From the Juniper junction to the Tejas Wilderness Campground is 0.3 miles (0.5 km);
From the Tejas Wilderness Campground to the Blue Ridge junction is 0.8 miles (1.3 km);
From the Blue Ridge junction to the Mescalero Wilderness Campground is 0.7 miles (1.1 km);
From the Mescalero Wilderness Campground to the McKittrick Canyon junction is 0.8 miles (1.3 km);
From the McKittrick Canyon Junction to the Dog Canyon Trailhead is 4.0 miles (6.4 km).


The Tejas Trail is the primary north/south through trail within the park, connecting the Pine Springs Trailhead with the Dog Canyon Trailhead at the park's northern boundary. This major artery can be used to connect to numerous other trails to make a variety of loops. 

Headed north the trail climbs out of Pine Springs Canyon into the Wilderness high country. The central portion of the trail from Pine Top until the McKittrick Canyon Trail junction is forested, passing through the Bowl and numerous drainages. Descending from the area of Lost Peak the trail passes through the grassy areas that define the northern portion of the park. 

Last updated: January 23, 2023

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