Silvery gypsum sand dunes? Forested limestone canyons? The highest peaks in Texas? Guadalupe Mountains National Park has it all. And geological variety isn't even the whole story—here, you'll also find prehistoric fossils, rare endemic flowers, and 10,000 years of cultural history ranging from intense indigenous conflict to the storied Buffalo Soldiers of the Civil War. And with way lower visitation numbers than any America's marquee national parks, it remains one of the best hidden gems in Texas.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in far western Texas, about a 2-hour drive east of El Paso.
Within the park, there's no shuttle, and the park road system is somewhat limited, but that just means more room for trails. In fact, over 80 miles of trail criss-cross the park's backcountry, making it ideal for hikers and backpackers hunting for solitude.
For a lush, shaded hike, try the 4.7-mile out-and-back along McKittrick Canyon. Come fall, the oaks and maples lining the canyon floor turn red and orange, making it one of the best spots around for leaf-peeping.
If you've got a little more time, the 27.2-mile Lost Peak Loop comes highly recommended. It wanders through yucca, wildflowers, and open vistas across the corrugated hills of the high desert.
Camping is available in 10 designated backcountry sites as well as in two established campgrounds: Dog Canyon and Pine Springs. Dog Canyon is at a slightly higher elevation, and the resulting cooler temperatures make it a better option for summer. However, it's also much smaller than Pine Springs.
Both campgrounds offer pretty sparse amenities (just potable water and restrooms), and are first-come, first-served. A fee is required (self-pay at the kiosk.) Only group campsites currently allow reservations.
When to Go
The park and campgrounds are open year-round, and the park's low latitude and high elevation mean it's typically pretty pleasant. As in any mountain region, however, you should always be prepared for unexpected weather.
Expect higher temperatures in the spring and summer (up to 80°F), and milder daytime temperatures and colder nights during fall and winter.
To enter the park, you'll need either a day pass or an annual pass. You can read more about accepted passes on the national park website.