Visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park with Kids this year? Uncover popular hikes, where to stay, and more of the best things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the most remote and least trafficked National Park. In 2021, it was the seventh least visited National Park in the continental United States.
Despite the statistics, this remote Texas desert park turned out to be a surprising favorite.
Personally, I love the isolation, lack of cell service (we’ll talk more about safety here though below), and towering mountains. It’s unexpected for the west Texas desert.
There’s more things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park than you might expect. Guadalupe Mountains is home to the highest peak in Texas – Guadalupe Peak – and dozens of other breathtaking and unique hikes.
Visit a limestone grotto, salt basin dunes, or the epic Devil’s Hall. If you’re visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids, they’ll love scrambling through the wash as you approach Devil’s Hall. For us, it was a bucket list hike that we were super proud to complete.
Then, there’s Frijole Ranch, the Pinery Station ruins, and canyon cabins that will transport you back in time. You’ll stand in awe of the isolation and ruggedness early travelers experiences in the 1800s, especially considering how remote GMNP still is today.
So let’s jump in to our guide to Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids.
Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links for products and services I recommend. When you make a purchase through an affiliate link, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full disclosure here.
Info About Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is, we think, one of the most underrated National Parks. Experience the desert, towering mountains, salt dunes, and breathtaking night skies, all in one visit. It is home to the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef and the four highest peaks in Texas.
It’s important to know that Texas – including the land of the Guadalupe Mountains – used to sit entirely underwater. GMNP is part of the world’s largest stretch of an exposed Permian fossil reef. Of the 40 miles of reef that stretches from West Texas to New Mexico, 12 miles are within park boundaries.
Culturally, there is rich history within the Guadalupe Mountains as well. The Mescalero Apaches called the Guadalupe Mountains home until about the mid 1800s when more explorers began passing through. In 1858 the Butterfield Overland Stage Line began carrying passengers and mail through the mountains. This caused conflict among settlers and indigenous peoples.
Lands and properties were bought up by businessmen and explorers, including J. C. Hunter and Wallace Pratt. Eventually, these lands were purchased by or given to the NPS; there’s quite a few things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park that reflect this early history, too.
In 1978 the backcountry was designated and in 1988 the park was enlarged to include gypsum and quartz dues.
Fees for Guadalupe Mountains National Park:
- GMNP is $10 per person for anyone 16 years and older. Passes are valid for 1-7 consecutive days.
- There is an option to purchase a $35 GMNP pass, valid one year from the date of purchase.
- An annual NPS pass is $80 and would cover entrance fees to GMNP.
Best time to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park with Kids
Fall is the most popular time to visit the park. Temperatures are more mild (especially for Texas) and the colors pop in popular McKittrick Canyon.
I clearly hate to take my own advice, though, because we traveled to Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids of our own in June… and it was HOT during the day. At night though, the temperature did drop enough to be comfortable camping.
If you do choose to head there during the summer, get an early start for hiking and pack enough water.
Also be prepared for summer closures. Because the park is part of the Chihuahua Desert, much of the region is subject to fire closures. This means a lot of the best hikes and things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park could be unavailable.
How Long do You Need to Explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park with Kids?
I personally think you need at least two days, preferably three, for all the things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
You can easily spend a day in the Pine Sprigs area and a day in McKittrick Canyon, which are a ways away from one another. If you want to head to the salt dunes, check out Frijole Ranch, or if you’re ambitious with your hikes, a third day could be be beneficial.
Keep in mind that if you’re visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids, certain hikes – like Devil’s Hall – will take longer than expected.
And, if Dog Canyon is on your radar, it’s two hours away from the rest of the park and very secluded, requiring an extra day and overnight at least.
Getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park
GMNP is remote. Really really remote.
Located on US 62/ US 180, the closest gas station is 26 minutes east of the park in White’s City, NM. To the west, you’re looking at 45 minutes to Dell City, TX.
So, when you’re planning your route, make sure you gas up and factor in those bathroom breaks, especially if heading to Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids who may need to stop frequently.
Directions to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Salt Flat, TX 79847:
- From El Paso, TX: take US 62 east for about 1 hour 45 minutes to GMNP
- From Carlsbad, NM: take US 62 west for about 1 hour
- From Midland/Odessa, TX: take i20 west for about 75 miles. Take US 285 north for 38 miles, then RM 652 West for about 40 minutes until you hit US 62.
Where to stay in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The park has three developed campgrounds:
Pine Springs Campground
Pine Springs is the most popular campsite, off of US 62 near the Pine Springs visitor center. The campground is rugged but includes potable water, bathrooms, and a utility sink. Sites are walk in, but we intentionally chose site 2 since the “walk” was no longer than any other non walk in site.
RVs (under 55ft only) have 13 sites, or spots, to choose from. There is no dump station, no hook ups, and no water connection; you’ll be roughing it in an RV designated parking lot.
Dog Canyon Campground
Dog Canyon is more secluded on the northern side of the park – about two hours from Pine Springs. Dog Canyon stays cooler in the summer and protected from the wind in the winter, but it’s removed from many of the popular trails and things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
It’s a viable option for families with extensive backpacking options, but not our toddlers. There are 9 tent sites and 4 RV sites (23 ft max).
Frijole Horse Corral Campground
This is reserved for visitors with horses. Pine Springs and Dog Canyon Campgrounds are more popular. All three can be reserved six months out on recreation.gov.
Where to Stay Outside Guadalupe Mountains National Park
White’s City, NM
White’s City is about thirty minutes from the Pine Springs Visitor’s Center and the closest town to the National Park that offers some amenities. You’ll find accommodations at the White’s City Cavern Inn, a water park, gas, a gift shop, a restaurant, information center, and a post office.
Carlsbad is more of a city with larger and more abundant accommodations and hotels, restaurants, activities, shops, and parks. We had some of the best Mexican food of our lives in Carlsbad!
Van Horn, TX
Also about an hour away from Guadalupe Mountains National Parks, Van Horn is the closest city to the south of the park. You’ll find more hotels, motels, restaurants, and gas here as well.
El Paso, TX
At about two hours away, El Paso is about the furtherest we’d recommend for visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids. Basing yourself in a bigger city could be beneficial, but may not be ideal if you want to do more within the park. If GMNP is a stop on a bigger road trip, though, and you’re only visiting for a day, it’s a viable option.
What to pack for Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Since the park is so, so remote, it is imperative that you pack all of the essentials, including safety equipment, tracking devices, maps, and plenty of water and food.
This is what we recommend at the very minimum:
- We always carry the ten essentials: a basic first aid kit, navigation, a knife, fire starter, headlamps, sun protection, an emergency blanket, extra food, extra water, and extra clothes (especially socks!) in a day pack.
- GPS: we use AllTrails offline maps (subscription required) with a solar powered charger or power bank for our phones. If you’re hiking remotely, a GPS with an SOS like the Garmin In Reach Mini is key.
- Our Osprey Poco Plus child carrier – great for kid carrying six months and up.
- Trekking Poles – help with stability and weight distribution, especially if kid carrying.
- Quality hiking shoes for kids and hiking boots for adults.
- Tent: we have the REI coop 4 person backpacking tent and love it
- Sleeping pads: we have two of these queen size ultra light sleeping pads
- Sleeping bags: we use the 40 degree Kelty Mistral (it’s the budget one!) and our kids use these inexpensive Coleman 50 degree.
- Light: Black Diamond tent lantern light
- Cooking: Jet Boil Flash Cooking System
Best Things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park with Kids
Best Hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park with Kids
Being so remote, most of the things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park revolve around hiking, camping, and backpacking. This includes numerous backcountry trips without resources, peaks with high elevation, and lengthy hikes in the open desert.
That being said, we’ve rounded up 11 easy to moderate hikes for visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids. We’ve noted the length, if there is significant elevation, and any important highlights of the hike below.
Pine Springs and Frijole Ranch Area:
- The Pinery Trail: The Pinery Trail is a quick, 0.75 miles round trip out and back paved trail beginning behind the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Take the trail out to The Pinery Butterfield Stage Station Ruins (a highlight of the park) and take in the mountain views around you.
- Devil’s Hall: Ahh, Devil’s Hall might be the hardest hike we have ever done with our young kids (they were 3 and 5). Still, I recommend it if you’re experienced, can kid carry younger ones, and have appropriate equipment as it’s really fun and unique. Departing from the Pine Springs Trailhead, the Devil’s Hall Trail is a 4.2 mile out and back. After the first mile, the trail opens into a wash that leads you to a hallway created by canyon walls. The wash is extremely challenging, yet fun for kids who like to climb. It took us almost six hours while kid carrying, but the payoff was worth it and our kids enjoyed the hike.
- Foothills Loop: For longer but still moderate hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids, The Frijole Trail and the Foothills Trail link up to create a loop of about 4.7 miles with under 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum is about halfway and is a great place to stop for a long lunch break. Alternatively, you can park at the Frijole Ranch parking area to access the loop, or combine part of the entire loop with the springs hikes listed below.
- Manzanita Springs: For super quick, paved hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids, it doesn’t get much easier than this. The Manzanita Spring Trail begins at the Frijole Ranch and is a 0.5 mile out and back trail with no elevation gain.
- Smith Spring Trail Loop: With a round trip distance of 2.4 miles, the Smith Spring Trail Loop continues past Manzanita Springs for those looking for a bit more. The trail has just under 400 feet of elevation gain, so it’s longer and slightly more challenging than Manzanita Springs, but still manageable for little ones who cannot go a long distance.
McKittrick Canyon Area:
- McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail: From the McKittrick Canyon Visitor’s Center, enjoy a short 1 mile nature loop. Slightly overgrown, it’s a perfect short hike that feels like an actual hike with gorgeous canyon views.
- Pratt Cabin: With a round trip of 4.8 miles along the McKittrick Canyon Trail, hiking to Pratt Cabin in the heart of the canyon, is one of the most popular things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It’s an easy to moderate hike with minimal elevation gain and a stream crossing. You can enjoy a break at the cabin, former home of park land donor Wallace Pratt, which is sometimes staffed by volunteers and has a great porch for relaxing.
- Hunter Line Shack and The Grotto: Continuing along the McKittrick Canyon Trail, those looking for a longer but still easier hike without elevation gain can go out to Hunter Line Shack and The Grotto. The Shack, which was once a frontier cabin, is a popular attraction in GMNP. Just before the Shack is The Grotto, a small cave alcove along the upper canyon with limestone stalactites and stalagmites. Overall, it’s a great long, but easy hike in Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids looking for some mileage!
Dog Canyon Area:
- Indian Meadow Nature Trail: Find a short, 0.6 mile loop with beautiful views of the landscape. The hike begins across from the Ranger Station and will likely take a mere thirty minutes. Keep in mind, though, that Dog Canyon is the most removed section of the park; the other hikes are lengthier and more difficult. I wouldn’t head over to Dog Canyon only for a half mile loop.
- Bush Mountain Trail to Marcus Overlook: while we’d say that the hike out to Marcus Overlook and back is far from easy, it displays commanding views of the Guadalupes and is a worthy day hike. Without much elevation change, the 5.2 mile hike could be great for moderate to experiences hikers with kids.
Hike to the Salt Basin Dunes
One of the most unique things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, hiking to the Salt Basin Dunes provides a stark contrast to the towering, grey mountains behind them. Adventurers will drive about an hour from the Pine Springs area to the Salt Basin Dunes Trailhead and hike about 3 to 4 miles (roundtrip) out and back to see the dunes.
This hike is most ideal in the fall, winter, spring. Summer storms can make the access road impassable, plus the heat reflected on the dunes can be unbearable. That said, it can make for an absolutely epic sunset hike over the summer months, bearing that the road is open.
More things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Into nature but not the hiking?
While GMNP is definitely geared towards those who dig the backcountry, there are a couple things to do in the park, especially with kids, if you’d like to limit your hiking.
Become a Junior Ranger
All National Park sites offer the Junior Ranger Program, in which kids complete outdoor activities and a booklet to learn about the park and earn a badge. Pick up a packet at the Pine Springs Visitor Center and learn all about how the towering Guadalupes used to be an ocean reef! It’s definitely one one of the most educational and eyeopening things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids.
Visit The Pinery Butterfield Stage Station Ruins
The Pinery Station was one of about 200 stations along the 2,800 mile Butterfield Overland Mail Route, which made runs from Saint Louis to San Francisco. It was the highest station along the route and visitors today can see the walled ruins.
Visiting it today gives a sense of what early travelers and settlers would experience along long, rugged journeys through the Guadalupes. We’ve highlighted it as one of our top things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, in addition to the trails section, because it is truly awe inspiring.
From the Pine Springs Visitor’s Center, it is only a .75 paved walk to the station. Keep in mind that the station is old and fragile and climbing on it is prohibited. Or, drive slightly east on US 62 and park at the entrance, avoiding the hike altogether.
Frijole Ranch Museum
For history lovers looking for more things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Frijole Ranch is a must.
The museum today occupies the old ranch headquarters and showcases the history of the Guadalupes, its indigenous people, early ranchers, and how the area became a national park. Often, there is a park ranger or staff member/volunteer present to share more with visitors.
Frijole Ranch Road, off US 62, provides direct access to the Ranch and the the Frijole Ranch Trail and Smith Springs Trailhead. Alternatively, as we mentioned in our trail section, it’s accessible from the Pine Springs area via the Foothills Loop.
Take a Scenic Drive
The depths of the park are not accessible via car; there are no roads that go through the park. That being said, there are a number of roads with beautiful scenic drives around the park with accessible vantage points.
US 62/180 provides main access to the park, contains a number of spur roads into areas of the park, and goes across the Salt Flats as you drive a bit further west. Much closer to the park on the same road are the Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan Viewpoints.
Continuing, a loop can also be made with FM 1437 and 1576 to access Dell City or to connect to Williams Road to access to the Salt Basin Dunes.
Drive to Williams Ranch
An old dirt road provides access to a lone cabin in the mountains! If you enjoy unique and abandoned places, the ranch will give you an eerie look into early settling in the remote Guadalupes.
A sturdy, 4X4 vehicle is absolutely essential, as is a jack, spare tire, plenty of water, and safety equipment. The road is not often patrolled.
Before heading that way, stop at the Pine Springs Visitor Center for a permit and gate key.
As of summer 2021, Williams Ranch Road is closed for public access due to flooding. Check the NPS website for updates.
What’s nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains is one of the most remote and least visited National Parks. That said, if you’re looking for more to tack onto a road trip, we’d recommend the following:
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Cavern contain’s the single largest cave chamber in North America. Most visitors come for the self guided cave tour, but there’s some pretty epic desert hiking, as well as a super informative and unique opportunity to see bat flights.
Distance from GMNP: about 30 minutes
White Sands National Park
The largest gypsum dune field in the world sits in the New Mexico desert at this national park! Sledding down the desert dunes or hiking around the gypsum makes this one of the country’s most unique national parks.
Distance from GMNP: three hours
Las Cruces, NM
Another great road trip stop to the west, Las Cruces is a hidden gem. A bit of a college town, you’ll also find the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, the Museum of Nature and Science, Dripping Springs Natural Area, and plenty of desert hiking. Las Cruces is also a popular base for visitors of White Sands National Park.
Distance from GMNP: two and a half hours
Midland and Odessa, TX
If you’re driving through Texas, especially if you’re road tripping to Guadalupe Mountains National Park with kids, Midland and/or Odessa could be a great stopping point at just under three hours away. You’ll find plenty of accommodations, as well as The Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, Museum of the Southwest, Sibley Nature Center, and Big Sky Drive In.
Distance from GMNP: two hours, 45 minutes