Photo Journal: Hiking Guadalupe Peak

Gualalupe Mountains National Park

When I think about my home state, hiking lofty mountain peaks doesn’t immediately jump in my mind. But Texas does have a few hikes that, while not necessarily Rocky Mountain standards, do offer some great views and some nice elevation gain. One such hike is Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ highest point, located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The trek to reach the summit is listed as 8.4 miles, but I usually log at least 9-10 miles in my exploring. I’ve seen the elevation gain listed at around 2,900’ to reach an elevation of around 8,751', and that seems pretty close to what I’ve found with my GPS, as well. That said, as someone who climbs 14ers in Colorado, this trail is not that difficult. However, if you’re not prepared, not in shape, or try to tackle this on a summer afternoon, it may end poorly.

I’ve had the opportunity to hike this mountain many times, both in the day and at night, and it never disappoints.

The trail begins near the visitor’s center at the Pine Springs Campground, just an hour’s drive north from Van Horn, off of Hwy 62. The path is well marked, but be sure to follow the hiking trail for Guadalupe Peak and not the horse trail!

Once you start putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll find the first portion of the trail as the steepest. For approximately a mile-and-a-half, switchbacks take you up and up and up, but you’ll notice the views become increasingly breathtaking as you work your way higher - and not just because of the altitude.

A Texas Madrone in the Guadalupe Mts

The Texas Madrone tree is common in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. On the hike up to Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, you might notice the red bark of this tree as it clings to the edge of a switchback. In the distance is the Chihuahuan Desert.

Eventually, the trail’s grade begins to taper off, and a forest of pinion pine and douglas fir fills the mountain side and offers a bit of shade.

After a brief respite from the sun, you’ll continue to follow the trail as it winds around the mountain, up and down, across a false summit (still a mile to go) crosses a small bridge, then up a few more switchbacks. To the left (south), the impressive view of El Capitan below will grab your attention.

Guadalupe Peak at Sunset 1

The hike to Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ highest point at 8,751, is not that difficult at around 8.5 miles round trip, but you do need to be in decent shape. The views at the top of El Capitan (seen in the foreground below) and the Chihuahuan Desert that stretches to the hazy horizon are unparalleled. This image taken from Guadalupe Peak comes from a cool fall evening - nearly perfect weather for a sunset from the top of Texas.

El Cap is the 10th highest peak in Texas at 8,085’ and has served as a waypoint for nomads and travelers for a thousand years. For the hiker, El Cap in view means the summit is near.

El Capitan from Guadalupe Peak 1030-1

From the top of Texas, the view of El Capitan and the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert is unrivaled in Texas (except for maybe some overlooks in Big Bend). I've made this hike many times, and the view across the rugged Texas landscape never becomes wearing. This image was taken on a cool October evening just after sunset.

At the top, you may notice a plethora of ladybugs. I know they’ve greeted me a few times.

Also, a stainless steel marker erected by American Airlines also awaits. Erected in 1958, the steel pyramid marks the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route.

One of my favorite times up at the summit was hanging around after sunset to photograph the Milky Way. It seemed the stars were so close you could reach up and grab the twinkling lights.

Milky Way over Guadalupe Mountains National Park 1

From the summit of Guadalupe Peak, this dark skies image shows the Milky Way as it rises over El Capitan. Facing south, this is the view you'll enjoy if you linger on this highest point in Texas well after dark. This image was taken on a night when the moon was not visible. The orange glow of the fading sun remains in the western sky, adding color to this night sky image.

Heading home in the dark was a different story. Even though I was well equipped with some strong flashlights, I always had a lingering feeling of being watched. I know mountain lions roam the area, and that made me a bit uneasy. I tried to make a lot of noise, which is out of character for me, but still…

Nevertheless, I made it safely, and it was a memorable experience.

If you have any questions about this hike, please ask and I'll try to help.

Happy Travels, Texas, and be kind out there.

Rob

Images from Texas

The hike to Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ highest point at 8,751, is not that difficult at around 8.5 miles round trip, but you do...

Guadalupe Peak at Sunset 1

The hike to Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ highest point at 8,751, is not that difficult at around 8.5 miles round trip, but you do need to be in decent shape. The views at the top of El Capitan (seen in the foreground below) and the Chihuahuan Desert that stretches to the hazy horizon are unparalleled. This image taken from Guadalupe Peak comes from a cool fall evening - nearly perfect weather for a sunset from the top of Texas.

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