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Texas Secret: Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Texas Secret: Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park may not be at the top of your travel destination list. With fewer than 220,000 visitors recorded last year, it stands as one of the least-visited national parks in the United States. However, this lack of attention doesn’t diminish the park’s remarkable features. This hidden gem in West Texas encompasses over 86,000 acres of stunning scenery, including the state’s highest point, Guadalupe Peak.

Theresa Moore, the park’s acting superintendent, and Visitor Services manager, describes it as truly one-of-a-kind.

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What makes the Guadalupe Mountains special?

According to Moore, there are numerous reasons. The park is home to a 260 million-year-old fossilized sponge reef, making it an exceptionally unique geological site. Additionally, it holds historical significance as the ancestral homeland of 14 Indigenous nations. Moreover, the park’s landscape transitions from the Chihuahuan Desert at lower elevations to a lush ponderosa pine forest at higher altitudes, showcasing a remarkable biodiversity.

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How many days do you need for the Guadalupe Mountains? 

For those planning a visit, Moore recommends dedicating two to three days to fully explore the park. A roundtrip hike to Guadalupe Peak alone can consume an entire day. The park also boasts the distinction of being Texas’ largest and oldest designated wilderness, providing ample opportunities for wilderness exploration.

Over the course of two or three days, visitors can also explore the park’s cultural sites, including the ruins of the Butterfield stagecoach route, the Frijole History Ranch Museum, and hiking trails leading to historical cabins and scenic vistas.

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What shouldn’t visitors miss at Guadalupe Mountains?

Entrance passes for the park cost $10 and are valid for a seven-day period. When asked about unmissable attractions, Moore suggests visiting the Frijole Ranch area and taking a hike to Manzanita Spring, a rare desert oasis with flowing water. This area also provides an excellent opportunity for birdwatching. Dog Canyon and the Salt Basin Dunes are other recommended destinations within the park.

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Travelers wondering if they can visit both Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns in a single day should note that it’s technically possible, given their proximity. Carlsbad Caverns is just a 30-minute drive away, across the border in New Mexico. However, to fully appreciate both parks, it’s advisable to allocate more time.

What is the best time to visit the Guadalupe Mountains

Regarding the best time to visit the Guadalupe Mountains, Moore suggests that any time of the year is suitable. In spring, the desert blooms, creating a picturesque landscape. Summers can be hot but still offer stunning vistas. The fall season is particularly impressive, with colorful foliage in McKittrick Canyon. In winter, the park experiences unique weather patterns, including strong winds through the pass.

El Paso, Texas, is the nearest major city, located approximately one hour and 45 minutes away by car, with El Paso International Airport serving as the closest major airport.

When preparing for a visit, Moore advises travelers to ensure they have sufficient gas for their vehicles and to carry their own food and water, as there are no gas stations within the park. While the park’s store does sell snacks and water, being self-sufficient is essential. Cell phone service can be sporadic, but Wi-Fi is available in the visitor’s center. Visitors should also be aware that cell phones may connect to towers in Central Time, even though the park operates on Mountain Time, which can be confusing.

For those interested in camping in the wilderness, obtaining a permit is necessary. Permits can be reserved in advance at Recreation.gov or obtained in person through a walk-up process.

An unusual requirement for wilderness camping is that visitors must provide one human waste bag per person for each night spent in the wilderness, as digging holes is prohibited due to the park’s ancient geological features.”

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