2016 marks the 100th birthday for the National Parks Service. My mother, Dana Brinkman, is a traveling enthusiast, and I asked her to share about visiting the colorful Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
I love fall! I love the cooler temperatures and the beautiful red, yellow, and gold colors that come with them. One of the best places to view the color changes in West Texas is at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and since it’s the centennial year for our National Park Service, it’s the perfect time to visit.
GMNP contains 4 ecosystems and is an excellent example of a fossil reef from the Permian Era. It contains 2 campgrounds and 86 miles of hiking trails. On my first hike in the park I went to the top of Texas. Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in the state at 8751 feet. The steep trail is graded as strenuous largely due to the 3000 feet of elevation gain. But once at the top, the view is phenomenal! On a clear day you can see for miles! Allow 6-8 hours to hike the 8.4 round-trip trail and carry plenty of water.
But my favorite fall hike is McKittrick Canyon Trail. The colors of the trees are astounding! There are examples of big tooth maple, oak, walnut, ash, Texas madrone, aspen, juniper, Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, white pine & other varieties of trees in the park and there is no better place to view the vivid fall colors than McKittrick Canyon. The trail begins at the McKittrick Canyon Visitor Center, approximately 3 ½ miles from Hwy 62/180. The trail is well maintained and only gains a moderate 300 feet in elevation on the 6.8 mile roundtrip hike to the Grotto. At the Grotto there are picnic tables beside a spring-fed stream for a beautiful spot to rest or have a snack. Just beyond the Grotto lies the historic Hunter Line Cabin. Allow 3-5 hours depending on how long you linger on the trail. If that is a bit far, it’s only 4.8 miles roundtrip to Wallace Pratt’s summer vacation cabin. Pratt donated 5632 acres of this land to the national park service around 1960. He once described it as the most beautiful spot in Texas. I just might have to agree.
For those who want more of a hike, continue beyond the Grotto to the Notch where the trail climbs another 800 feet in elevation. Those hardy individuals will be rewarded with fantastic views of the canyon.
McKittrick Canyon is a day use area. Gates open at 8:00 AM and close at 6:00 PM in summer and 4:30 PM in winter. And it’s in Mountain Standard Time, not Central Standard Time so clocks should be set back an hour for Texans! McKittrick Canyon picnic area is wheelchair accessible.
Color is usually at its peak sometime between the last 2 weeks of October and first week of November but before planning a visit, check out the fall color report.
Because trees turn colors at different rates within the park, it is also wise to stop at the visitor center and ask which hike is best for the time you are there. The Pine Springs Visitor Center is located at Pine Springs and can be accessed via U.S. Highway 62/180 between Carlsbad, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in far west Texas on U.S. Highway 62/180. It is approximately 330 miles or 5 hours from Abilene, TX.
Thank you Dana for sharing your travels and photography! You can find more of her GMNP adventures on Monday at The Butlers’ Quarters. Also if you have a 4th grader in your house, there is an opportunity through Every Kid in a Park to get a free pass. Yes a FREE pass which also includes free entrance to the entire family. How cool is that? Don’t miss out and start planning your trip today!
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