Updated: Jan 30
In the far western corner of Texas the brooding Guadalupe Mountains rise up from the surrounding desert plains and prairies. Oft overlooked by travelers on the interstate, within the canyons and ridges of the Guadalupes lies a veritable outdoor wonderland gushing with an impressive variety of plant an animal life.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 296 miles, 4-6 days
Season: Late April through November. Consider contacting Lincoln National Forest regarding conditions in the Guadalupe mountains if you plan to go early or late in the season.
Technical Rating: Green to blue.
Typical Terrain: A mixture of graded dirt roads and bumpy jeep tracks. There is some pavement at the beginning of the route.
Recommended Vehicle: 4x4 with all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Sprinter 4x4s can do most of the route including the Guadalupe Rim (Road 67). There are some trails that are impassable with a Sprinter, like 201 (Guadalupe Ridge) and we recommend avoiding roads 527 and 69.
Alternative Routes: Yes!! See the bottom of route details for more info. Permits & Fees: If you visit Carlsbad Caverns and/or Williams Ranch (Gaudalupe Mountains NP), you'll need to buy a day pass for each park.
In the far western corner of Texas and at the northern edge of the Chihuahua desert the Guadalupe Mountains rise up from the surrounding desert plains and prairies. Scattered mountain ranges like these can be found throughout the American Southwest and are typically referred to as sky islands. The Guadalupe's are a small but rugged mountain range with deep canyons, sheer cliffs, and desert landscapes that give way to pine forests at higher elevations. One of the most well preserved permian fossil reefs formed here over 250 million years ago, and scientists from across the globe travel to study the reef. The same seismic and geological activity that formed the mountains also caused the uplifting of the reef over the last 30 million years, which now towers over the desert landscape of the surrounding lowlands. Within the Guadalupe mountains, you'll find the 4 highest peaks within Texas, including the tallest of these mountains, the aptly named Guadalupe Peak (DP2, elev. 8,750'). Because the Guadalupe's encompass a variety of geographical and ecological environments, they sustain and an incredible variety of plants and animals. Over 68 types of mammals can be found here including bobcats, mountain lion, black bear, coyote, ringtails, racoon, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, javelina and 16 species of bats. More than 1,000 species of flora live within these mountains, including ocotillo, yucca, agave, and prickly pear in the desert lowlands, and sycamore and oak in the riparian ecological zones. Douglas fir, Pinyon and Ponderosa pine can all be found at higher elevations within the mountain peaks and ridges. The Guadalupe mountains are also the ancestral home of the Mescalero Apache, who were pushed from the plains into the mountains by the warring Commanche and the encroachment of European settlers. It wasn't until 1972 that Guadalupe Mountains National Park officially opened to the public. Oft overlooked by travelers on the interstate, an enchanted world of desert landscapes, canyons and mountains await those willing to take the path less travelled.
The main route begins at the visitor center of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. You'll need to check out a key to unlock the gate that leads to Williams Ranch (and pay the park's day usage fee). Keep an eye out for El Capitan (DP3) on your way to Williams Ranch. There's a great viewpoint on Highway 62. Despite the park's warning about this being a technical trail, it's more of a slow going jeep trail that can be driven by a stock AWD vehicle with all terrain tires. The track follows a portion of the old Butterfield Stage Route, which ran transported mail and cargo from St Louis to San Francisco in 25 days, quite the feat in the 1850s. The historic Williams ranch house awaits at the end of the trail along with numerous photo opportunities. If you wish to venture into the surrounding mountains, El Capitan Trail picks up where the road ends. The sheer cliffs of Guadalupe Mountains create a stunning backdrop, which make this out-and-back trek well worth the effort (keep in mind you'll need to return the gate key to the visitor center).
Once you've returned the gate key to the visitor center, backtrack on Highway 62 and make your way over to the Salt Basin Dunes. Before Texas joined the union, the local Mexican populations would come from New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua to fill their wagons with salt. When Texas joined the union, anglo-American businessmen lay claim to the salt flats, and a short-lived armed conflict arose out of the situation. While a key can be obtained to access the dunes, it's only about a .5 mile hike from the gate, not a bad trade off given the long drive back to the visitor center. Before you make your way north and into the mountains, considering fueling up in Dell City, a short drive from the Dunes. From Dell City, the pavement county roads eventually give way to graded dirt county roads. The route passes through a number of salt flats as you circumvent the Brokeoff Mountains Wilderness. Steadily gaining elevation, the graded dirt roads begin to give way to rockier trails and jeep tracks. Topping out at over 7,000 feet, there are numerous viewpoints of the expansive desert landscape from Camp Wilderness Ridge (DP9). Continue east along Guadalupe Ridge. The trail continues to become more primitive and rocky the further you travel with numerous viewpoints along the way, including the Dark Canyon Lookout Tower (DP10). While you may encounter numerous campsites, keep in mind that you'll likely be dealing with desert winds over the course of the night. Once you've explored the various trails and discovery points, backtrack to Dark Canyon Lookout and into the lower lying canyons and washes below. While the northern facing slopes of the Guadalupes aren't nearly as impressive as the craggy southerly slopes, it's always a bit of a treat to drive through the meandering canyons and washes of the desert. Here you'll travel through Dark Canyon and Turkey Canyon. Should you encounter summer monsoonal rains, you'd be advised to avoid driving these trails which can easily succumb to flash floods. As you make your way out of the canyons, a series of gently undulating hills takes hold and rugged and rocky jeep trails and washes soon give way to pavement and mild forest service roads. Here you'll find the quirky village of Queen, which happens to be home to Flying Paperboy Memorial (DP14). At the end of Forest Road 25 there are a series of trails. If you're feeling adventurous, follow the trail down into the canyon which leads to Sitting Bull Falls (DP15). For the final leg of the journey, head west over to Forest Road 67 that follows Guadalupe Ridge. Guadalupe ridge runs south to north featuring expansive views to the west. The dirt road along the ridge is regularly graded and well maintained and can be driven in a 2WD vehicle during dry conditions. The route reaches its terminus at Highway 24, not far from Cloudcroft. If you want to continue your adventure, considering exploring the dirt roads and trails in Lincoln National Forest that surround Cloudcroft.
Right next door to Guadalupe Mountains National park lies Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad Caverns features over 100 caves, including the massive "Big Room", which is nearly 4,000 feet long. Aside from the dirt road to Slaughter Canyon and Scenic Loop Drive, the route is all pavement (highway driving). Dispersed camping is permitted on BLM land and National Forest Land. Much of the land surrounding the Brokeoff Mountains wilderness is managed by BLM. While choosing a scenic campsite at a vista may seem enticing, we generally recommend picking a more sheltered location that provides protection against desert winds.
DP1 - Pinery Butterfield Station Ruins
DP2 - Guadalupe Peak
DP3 - El Capitan
DP5 - Williams Ranch
DP6 - Salt Basin Dunes
DP7 - Alkali Lakes / Salt Beds
DP8 - 5 Points Vista
DP9 - Camp Wilderness Viewpoint
DP10 - Dark Canyon Lookout Tower
DP11 - Guadalupe Ridge Trail
DP12 - Dark Canyon
DP13 - Turkey Canyon
DP14 - Flying Paperboy Memorial
DP15 - Sitting Bull Falls
DP16 - The Rim
Alternative Route Discovery Points
DP A - Carlsbad Cavern
DP B - Reef Top Circle Scenic Loop
DP C - Slaughter Canyon Cave
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (NatGeo Trails Illustrated, Gaia base layer)
Download GPX files
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Lincoln National Forest