National parks protect some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, and that can make them tourist magnets. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a refreshing exception. A 40-mile range southwest of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns—which is to say, in the middle of nowhere—it was established to protect a 260-million-year-old Permian-period reef full of fossils. But the park also has 5,000 vertical feet of spectacular alpine terrain and more than 80 miles of hiking trails. Our recommendation: give four days to the rugged 28.5-mile loop starting at Pine Springs Visitor Center, where you can pick up a backcountry use permit ($5 entrance fee per person per week). The route leads counterclockwise along the Bush Mountain and Tejas trails and through forests of ponderosa and Douglas fir, wildflower meadows, and vast grasslands. Water is scarce, so pack the extra weight, then keep your eyes peeled: the park has a significant amount of wildlife, including elk, gray foxes, javelinas, and nearly 300 species of birds. From the top of 8,631-foot Bush Mountain, the state’s second-tallest peak, hikers can view a massive sand-dune field and what’s rumored to be the best sunset in Texas.
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