Often referred to as the "top of Texas," Guadalupe Peak is the highest mountain in the state at 8,749 feet. While it may be the highest point among the trademark dusty grazing land and deserts of Texas, the eight mile roundtrip is a relatively easy trek for the frequent mountain hiker, but the roughly 3,000 feet ascent and descent can take its toll on those who are used to flatland and canyon hikes prevalent in the state. After rising from the desert and hiking to the summit, visitors are treated to sweeping views over the smaller surrounding Guadalupe Mountains as well as the surrounding desert brush land. As Guadalupe Peak is located only 10 miles from the New Mexico border, on especially clear days, visitors can peer over into the neighboring state.
|Trail Length:||8.4 miles||City/State:|| El Paso,
|Elevation:||2,929 feet gain
||County:||El Paso||Dogs Allowed:||No|
The trailhead for Guadalupe Peak is conveniently located nearby the Guadalupe Mountains Visitor's Center as well as the Pine Springs campground so hikers that can navigate themselves there can easily find the trailhead. With few substantial towns nearby, many potential hikers start in El Paso and make their way out of town east on Route 62. The highway leads a straight to Guadalupe Mountains National Park before heading north into New Mexico. Take Exit 24B and head into the park following Montana Avenue to the Pine Springs Campground and the visitor's center within.
Before setting out, be mindful of the weather. On windy days, dust tornadoes are possible and gusts on the summit can reach 80 miles per hour, but the biggest threat is the heat. There is little shade on the mountain and the sun gets intense up there. There is water available at the trailhead, so hikers should make sure to take more than they think they will need. The park recommends a full gallon per person. Providing Texas is not in the middle of a drought, summer thunderstorms are also a possibility in the area, and visitors should make a quick descent if storm clouds are building in the distance.
From its very first steps, the Guadalupe Peak Trail wastes no time gaining elevation. It is often said that the first section of the trail is the hardest. The path zig-zags upwards on a series of steep switchbacks as it winds through cacti and shrubbery. During one of the longer switchbacks as the trail travels along a mountain ridge, visitors get an excellent bird's eye view of the campground below. However, even though hikers are just heading out, these switchbacks are known for having a lot of loose rocks. Steep climbs and loose rocks make for the perfect recipe for a scraped knee if not a pretty bad fall. For a frame of reference, hikers can turn around and gauge how far they've traveled by looking for the campground behind them. Once the campground is no longer visible, the second leg of the trail officially starts.
The second section of the trail is roughly 1.7 miles in and starts when the trail rounds a narrow ledge of the mountain. While not exceedingly dangerous, there are no handholds or guard railings. Hikers will want to take their time and for those with a problem with heights they probably shouldn't peek over the edge, as the first section cleared roughly half of the climb's elevation. After clearing the ledge, the switchbacks are mercifully through, at least until hikers descend later. The trail now winds through a rocky desert grass meadow that hosts a few wildflowers and cacti blooms in the summer before winding around the western side of the mountain. During the morning and early afternoon hours, the trail will host some much appreciated shade on the western side, but if hikers got a late start it can be just as sunny and hot as the eastern side. While still at a slight incline, this leg of the trail evens out and becomes much easier to manage.
Circling around the mountain once more with a trip that is much shorter than the last, hikers will come to a wooden bridge as they trace yet another dusty, rocky ledge of the mountain. This bridge marks the beginning of the final ascent to the mountain. It is kind of an odd landmark as the bridge is essentially a few planks and a railing that looks far sturdier than the bridge itself. Regardless, as the trail traces around the mountain, it sharply inclines for the next quarter of a mile. There are no switchbacks, just an incline that is yet again made up of loose dirt and rocks. During a brief break in the sheer cliffside, hikers will notice a side trail that departs from the main trail. This side trail is steeper, but also gets to the summit quicker. While this side route requires some scrambling, it is a nice change of pace from the from the previous ridge hiking.
No matter which trail hikers choose to take, their arrival at the summit becomes apparent when the ground flattens out. To officially mark the summit, there is a stainless steel triangle memorial. This landmark was placed here in 1958 by American Airlines to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, a 2,800-mile stagecoach route that used to travel alongside the south side of the mountain. It's nothing particularly special; in fact it feels a bit like corporate America on top of the mountain with the logos of the American Airlines, U.S. Postal Service and the Boy Scouts of America on each side of the monument. However, it does reflect the sun fabulously.
After taking a break and enjoying the few bits of shade and the wind on the summit, it is time to head back down. There is one trail that heads the opposite way that hikers came, but it quickly connects with the main trail again with not much of anything new to see. There's no loop, hikers simply need to return the way they came. For those who thought the incline was difficult, the decline is worse, especially when hikers get near the switchbacks at the beginning.
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