Approximately 260 million years ago, a 350-mile reef formed along the edge of the great sea that covered this area. With time, the sea receded and the reef died, only to be buried by sediment. Eons later an uplift created the arid Guadalupe Mountains and erosion wore down the sediment, eventually revealing what is now the most extensive exposed fossil reef on the earth. The most outstanding stretch of exposed reef is within Guadalupe Mountains National Park, 55 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. More than half of the park is Wilderness, the largest and oldest in the state and the only one in western Texas.
Rugged mountainous terrain here reaches 8,749 feet on Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. More than 80 miles of trail, some in the Wilderness, give access to the mountains. You can hike the Guadalupe Peak Trail to the "Top of Texas" (a strenuous 8.4-mile round-trip), where on a clear day the view will be magnificent. Whatever the time of year, you'll want sturdy boots for rough hiking all over the Guadalupes, plus a tent, rain gear, and a strong back to haul water as you'll find no sure water in the area. Flora and fauna don't seem to mind the water shortage. Resident species tally up at more than 900 plants (watch out for those with needle-tipped spines), 60 mammals, 310 birds, and 55 reptiles (some poisonous) and amphibians. The Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness protects habitat for spotted owls, peregrine falcons, black bears, mountain lions, and endemic species such as the Guadalupe Mountains violet. Here, one can find outstanding opportunities for solitude, with many of the trails and campsites receiving less visitation in one year than popular trails in busy parks receive in one day.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness.
The Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness is located 55 miles southwest of Carlsbad, NM and 110 miles east of El Paso, TX. There are no facilities or camping supply stores near the park, so visitors should arrive fully-prepared for camping/backpacking.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
There are no facilities or camping supply stores near the park, so visitors should arrive fully-prepared for camping and backpacking. Fires are not allowed anywhere in the park. Use of containerized fuel in stoves is permitted. The nearest towns that sell propane, white gas, etc. are Carlsbad, NM (55 miles) and El Paso, TX (110 miles).
Hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, birdwatching, photography, and nature study are popular activities.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The Guadalupe Mountains are famous for high winds. Winds are strongest in winter and spring and can exceed 80 mph on occasion. Typically clear nights result in large temperature drops. The average high/low temperatures for the middle elevations (5,000 - 7,000 feet) are: Jan. 53/30, Apr. 71/46, Jul. 87/63, Oct. 71/49. The high country is typically 10-15 degrees cooler. Factor in windchill for winter and spring. Precipitation is highest in the summer months.
Safety and Current Conditions
There are no water sources, so plan on carrying 1 gallon per person per day. On hot days, it is possible to use a quart an hour during strenuous activity so more than a gallon may be necessary during late spring and summer.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.