What I love about Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the size. As national parks go, it’s on the small side at 86,416 acres. It has 15 hiking trails totaling about 85 miles. According to the National Park Service, there were 192,210 visitors in 2010.
By comparison, Great Smoky Mountains National Park had 9.4 million visitors last year; Grand Canyon National Park had 4.4 million.
Looking closer to home, here are the numbers for the Guadalupe’s neighbor to the south: in 2010, 372,330 people visited the 801,163-acre Big Bend National Park. Many of them hiked the roughly 50 trails that comprise the park’s 203 miles of maintained trails.
I’m not sure there is a good reason to compare Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks, but it’s hard for me not to think of them as a set. I know their mountains are from entirely different geological eras, and they’re separated by about 250 miles. But Far West Texas’ two national parks both have rugged mountains set in the Chihuahuan Desert—and they both provide world-class scenery and marvelous seclusion.
Both of my visits to the Guadalupe Mountains have been brief, weekend trips. But because of the size, I’ve been able to see and do a lot. Both times, it was remarkably easy to get a camping site at the self-registration Pine Springs campground. Popular hiking trails such as McKittrick Canyon and Devil’s Hall were nearly deserted, and even the well-traveled Guadalupe Peak trail up to the state’s highest point (8,749 feet) had few hikers. During that trek, we got caught in a major hailstorm on the way down, which actually provided a welcome respite from the heat.
With Big Bend, you’re barely scratching the surface in two days. The same could surely be said for the Guadalupe Mountains, but it feels cozy being a much smaller and equally spectacular surface. Pick a couple days, scratch the surface, and sniff out adventure.
Rob Hodges is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in such diverse publications as the Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Austin Monthly, Edible Austin, South American Explorer, national meetings magazines, and Texas Historical Commission travel guides. Having traveled through about 30 countries on five continents, and about 40 states in the U.S., he can say with authority that Texas is a great place to live. His home is about a mile from the Capitol in Austin, where he lives with wife, Kate, and daughter, Zadie. His work can be seen at robhodges.com