It is said that everything is bigger in Texas. Jennifer and I have driven across the state several times and it has big-sky and big expanses. The landscape here seems to change slowly. The interior of Texas can be summed up as a lot of flat with a slight incline and very little water. The land stretches out and rises very slowly towards the west. Eventually, a mountain range known as the Guadalupe Mountains appears. It is here that the roof of Texas can be found. At 8,751’ high Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in the massive Lone Star state. A journey to the top of Texas via the Guadalupe Peak Trail is full of cowboy spirit and panoramic views.
Stats for the Guadalupe Peak Trail
- Trailhead: Pine Springs
- Rating: Strenuous
- Total Distance: 9-miles (Round-trip)
- Elevation: 5,734’ – 8,751’
- Total Elevation Gain: 3,036’
- Location: Western Texas
The Pine Springs Campground
A journey to Texas’ highest peak starts in Guadalupe Mountains National Park at the Pine Springs Campground. We stayed at the campground and it isn’t much to write about. The RV section is an unremarkable piece of asphalt that is found to be flat in only a few of the slots. The tent area is much nicer in comparison. All tent sites are walk-in and all the campsites in both areas are first-come, first-served.
We arrived at the RV section late in the afternoon and got the second to last spot. The last spot went to the van that followed us in. The slanted parking spot was oversized for our needs but hey it was a place to park our home and get some rest. Unfortunately, the massive RV parked next to us didn’t read the campsite rules or have common decency and ran their generator until late in the evening and then started it up again at two o’clock in the morning! It wasn’t a peaceful night’s rest.
Setting out on the Guadalupe Peak Trail
Due to our nearly restless night, we ended up getting a late start on the day. We hit the trail mid-morning along with the throngs of other hikers who flock to the area to conquer Texas’ highest peak. Hiking in mid-March for us meant that the weather was perfect. Clear skies, warm conditions at the base, and a little chilly at the peak. The only negative was the unrelenting wind which is apparently very common for the area.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail starts at the Pine Springs RV camping area/parking lot. Almost immediately it intersects with the Tejas Trail. The signage in the park is really good but can be a little hard to read in the bright desert sunlight. They are metal and shimmer with a blinding glare.
Guadalupe Peak, El Capitan, Devil’s Hall, & The Bowl Trails Intersection
The trail climbs quickly west up onto a small ridge. This is desert hiking with several varieties of cactus and tough evergreen trees blanketing the landscape. At the top of the ridge, another intersection is found. To the left is the El Capitan Trail which leads to the southernmost mountain top in the Guadalupe Mountains Range. To the right is a trail that leads into a wash and up to the Devil’s Hall. A unique slot gorge. We stayed straight and continued a steep climb up the mountainside.
The Guadalupe Switchbacks
Before long we found ourselves in a seemingly endless set of long switchbacks slowly ascending the mountain. The view at each turn getting higher and more picturesque. This set of switchbacks is easily seen from the campground and looks very intimidating. While this is the steepest section of the climb, the park has done a really good job with the layout. As a result, it is never overly steep and there is only one short section with limited exposure.
A False Summit
The switchbacks continue all the way up to the northern edge of the mountain behind the campground. Do not be fooled, this is not Guadalupe Peak. This ridge, sitting at about 7,200′ and just under 2-miles on the Guadalupe Peak Trail, could be considered the first of two false summits for those unaware of where exactly the Guadalupe Peak is located. At this point, we hadn’t yet laid our eyes on the roof of Texas.
As the trail rounds the northern corner of the first mountainside we were rewarded with stunning views of the desert valley far below. The mountains peaks across the valley rise higher than this point so we knew we still had some elevation yet to go.
Cold in the Shadows
The path turned into the shadows of the western edge of the initial mountainside. The temperature plummeted and we bundled up. Dress in layers, friends. This is also where the winds really started to pick up.
The trail doesn’t stay in the shadows for long. It does two more switchbacks and then turns west to climb along another mountainside towards the west and leads away from the backside of the original mountain. This stretch is slightly less steep than the previous section and has a lot more tree cover.
After being on a mostly straight path for about half a mile the trail will enter into another section of more moderate switchbacks as it climbs into a saddle between two mountain peaks.
The Second False Summit
The trail travels southwest through the saddle between the peaks. The wind rocketed through the saddle and it felt like we were in a wind tunnel. It also became clear that the mountain on the left (south) that we had thought might be the summit, wasn’t. This is the second false summit. On the south side of the saddle is where we caught our first glimpse of the real Guadalupe Peak still some distance to the west.
The Guadalupe Peak Backcountry Campsite Intersection
The trail turns to the northwest and climbs up a small ridgeline before it intersects with the spur trail to the Guadalupe Peak Backcountry Campsite. The intersection sits at an elevation of 8,120′ and is just under 3.5-miles in on the Guadalupe Peak Trail. The path to the peak is straight ahead.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail Bridge
Shortly after passing the campsite spur the Guadalupe Peak Trail will once again turn sharply towards the southwest. This time the path descends slightly with some slight exposure. A bridge has been built here to accommodate hikers and horses alike. It is a picturesque construction.
Even More Switchbacks
After the bridge and the short-lived descent, the trail returns to a climb in a westerly direction. It rounds quickly to the southwest where it will once again enter into steep switchbacks on a climb up the eastern side of Guadalupe Peak. The switchbacks start relatively gentle with little exposure. As we neared the top the switchbacks became steeper and more exposed.
The Worst of the Exposure
Once at the top of the switchbacks we found that the peak was nearly within our grasp. The trail crosses over a nook in the ridge coming down from the peak above. Here the exposure is at its most extreme and if you have vertigo it might be a challenge but we have faced down far worse so we crossed over with little concern. From here it is a short ascent to the top.
American Airlines & Guadalupe Peak
After 3,036’ of desert climbing we arrived at the roof of Texas and that shiny American Airlines marker. The memorial was placed on Guadalupe Peak in 1958 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail carrier which was a precursor to the Pony Express. It is also a monument dedicated to the pioneer pilots who did mail service flights across this desert landscape.
The Guadalupe Landscape
Guadalupe Peak is truly stunning. It stretches out in a mostly east/west direction. To the north is the majority of the Guadalupe Mountain Range. The east holds the landscape that we had just conquered and the west is a stunning precipice that plummets to the desert floor. However, the view to the south is the most venerated and is worth a climb twice as tough. The peak of El Capitan stretches out to the south with a green top and a sheer jagged cliff on its western face. It is stunning and a perfect end to the rugged Guadalupe Range.
The Winds on the Roof of Texas
We signed the register in the ammo canister and sat down behind a bush on the peak, taking refuge from the brutal gusty winds found at the roof of Texas. Here huddled behind the stubby bush we had a very scenic lunch before heading back down the mountain.
Conclusion for Hiking the Guadalupe Peak Trail
Guadalupe Peak isn’t the highest peak we have climbed but due to its desert location, it shouldn’t be underestimated by anyone wishing to venture up it. It takes lots of water and determination to summit this peak. The trail up is well constructed. The elevation is steep but tame for a mountain path. The hiking experience and the mountainous desert scenery are thoroughly enjoyable. I would recommend the Guadalupe Peak Trail to anyone who is in decent shape and understands the perils that come with hiking in the desert.
Tips for the Guadalupe Peak Trail
- Best Time to Go: Early-Mid Spring/Mid-Late Fall.
- Little to no snow so winter would be okay as well.
- Summers are brutally hot and not recommended.
- Carry Lots of Water: 2-3 liters/person based on temperature
- Use Hiking Sticks: Your knees with thank you.
- Arrive Early: The Pine Springs Campground is the only form of accommodation around.
- Hike Early: This is a popular trail so an early start means you will have a better chance of getting the summit to yourself.
- Come Prepared: The nearest gas station and grocery store are over 35 miles away.
- Go: It is a great adventure!