Know Before You Go: Guadalupe Peak and Carlsbad Caverns
This past weekend, three friends and I took a road trip to West Texas. While we had originally planned to visit the caverns on Friday, we got there too late and decided to go on Sunday instead! We trucked on to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where we hoped to find an open campsite for the night. But alas, we were out of luck once again. Fortunately for us, a nice park ranger suggested a spot of public land just across the New Mexico border, where we ended up staying for the night.
We got up around 6:30 on Saturday morning, packed up, and traveled back south to the Guadalupe Peak trail head! Once we had all used the bathrooms there to brush our teeth and pee one last time (no port-o-potties on the mountain?? Whaaat?? …kidding.), we made our way up the mountain.
3 hours later…
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but that might just be because I’m out of shape. 😉 We made it to the peak, though, and it was exhilarating! The exhilaration diminished once we got about an eighth of the way down the mountain, though. The soreness really started to kick in, especially on our ankles and knees. But we got back down to the Pine Springs campground in almost half the time it took us to climb to the peak!
On the way down, our motivation was the hope of an open campsite. I kid you not, my best friend trucked it over to the campgrounds while I peed (I managed to hold it for the entire 8.5 mile hike!!!) just in case someone else was also trying to get the last available spot. Miraculously enough, she secured us a site! I will say it was a little harder to go to sleep simply because there were so many people camping nearby that it was quite a bit louder than it had been the night before. BUT well worth it to feel safe and have access to actual bathrooms and running water!
The next day…
Sunday morning we were so incredibly sore and exhausted from the hike (and sleeping on the hard ground) that we didn’t end up leaving the park until a little after 9:30. We were kind of in a time crunch to get the rental SUV back to Dallas, so we sacrificed our dinner at Cracker Barrel for a trip to the Carlsbad caverns! And boy, was it worth it.
Most of the time I’m content with my iPhone photos, but down there I found myself wishing for a sophisticated camera to capture my experience. Even then, I don’t think pictures could do it justice. It took us a little over an hour and a half to get all the way through the longest route. We were speed walking about half the way but canceling out our extra time by taking a ton of pictures. We couldn’t help it!
After a quick stop at the cavern gift shop, we hit the road and stopped as little as possible on the way back. We got the rental back in time – but just barely! Below you’ll find some helpful tips that I wish we’d known going into this trip. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Get there early.
The park has two main campgrounds that can be reached by vehicle – Pine Springs and Dog Canyon. The Pine Springs campground is located right at the trailhead for Guadalupe Peak, which is where we were hiking on Saturday. It also has 20 camp sites – over twice as many as Dog Canyon (it only has 9). I can’t tell you what the best time to get there would be, but I can tell you this: the earlier, the better.
We pulled into Pine Springs around 5:30 Friday evening and it was completely full. As I mentioned before, a helpful Park Ranger told us about some public land right over the New Mexico side of the state line. He said that’s usually where people go when the PS campground is full. We ended up taking his advice and it was perfectly fine, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of squatting out in the open (seriously, zero trees) for everyone to see.
Check the park website for closures.
Always a good idea to check the Guadalupe Mountains National Park official website for current park conditions. The last thing you want is to get there only to find out the trail you wanted to hike is closed!
Pay attention to the roads.
If you look at the map, there really aren’t many in this area. When Pine Springs was full, I thought, “Well maybe we can just run up and check out Dog Canyon real quick.” No. I entered Dog Canyon into my GPS and it was ALMOST THREE HOURS AWAY. All because of the lack of roads. We would’ve had to go way up to Carlsbad and go this crazy convoluted way just to check and see if they had any open campsites. Not to mention it would’ve been after dark by the time we got there!
Bring a hat and gloves.
If you’re planning on hiking to the peak, I cannot tell you how important this is. Being the idiot that I am, I trekked to the top with nothing but a sweatshirt to keep me warm. No one told me how cold or CRAZY WINDY it would be at the highest point in Texas!! I thought my ears and fingers were going to fall off. It was awful.
Pack plenty of food and water.
The hike to the peak is 8.4 miles round trip and takes 6-8 hours to complete. I don’t know about you, but even if I’m just sitting on the couch, I’m going to get hungry in way less than 6 hours. Heaven knows I was starving an hour into this hike. My friends and I packed stuff for sandwiches and ate them right before we reached the peak, since we knew how windy it would be at the top. In addition to that, we each had our own choice of snacks in our backpacks. I had some Lara Bars, individual packets of almond butter, and a couple of Belvita cracker sandwiches in mine.
Everywhere I read about the hike said you’d need at least a gallon of water. Hannah and I each bought a case of bottled water for the weekend and packed 7 bottles in our backpacks for the hike. I only drank about two and a half, but that was largely due to my not wanting to have to pee on the mountainside! Since we went during a cooler month, I also didn’t sweat as much, so I didn’t feel very thirsty most of the time.
If you’re planning on staying at one of the campgrounds onsite, be sure to take cash with you! You register/pay yourself, so that’s why it’s necessary. You can read all about what else I took in my camping/hiking packing list post!
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
This may sound obvious, but important nonetheless. My friends and I were going to be arriving at the caverns around 4:00 pm on Friday. About an hour away, I discovered that they stop selling tickets at 3:15. Fortunately we had a little wiggle room in our schedule and were able to go Sunday, but other people might not be so lucky.
Dress in layers.
It’s rather chilly in the caverns, but about halfway the pathway has some steep climbing that’ll warm you up a little! I wore a thin long sleeve top and a sweatshirt over it. My sweatshirt came off about 30 minutes in.
Enjoy the drive into the park.
You have to take this two lane road that winds through the mountains, and it’s wonderful. There are several spots where you can pull off and take pictures! We went on a clear day when the sky was a gorgeous blue, so it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Please let me know if you have any questions about my trip that I didn’t answer here! I’m always happy to help. 🙂
Great article! Thank you. It definitely helps me plan my upcoming trip.
On to be young and adventurous! You’re doing exactly what I had thought I would do when I finished college!