Winter camping in Texas' Guadalupe Mountains

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of October 19-26, 1995

Weekend hikes near Chicago
Hiking in Maui's Haleakala National Park
Mountain biking in the White Mountains
Winter camping in Texas' Guadalupe Mountains
Moving a family to North Carolina
Finding good snowboard instructors in the Rockies

Winter camping in Texas' Guadalupe Mountains
Q: I am planning a trip this December. I would like to camp and backpack at a national park. Is there a place where the temperature is warm this time of year? Thanks in advance.
Stephen Cohn
Philadelphia, PA
[email protected]

A: December brings chilly weather and snow to most national parks in the lower 48. Unless you can swing a trip to Hawaii's Haleakala National Park or opt to forego hiking for canoeing in Florida's Everglades, you may be hard-pressed to find do-able backpacking trips this late in the year. One not-so-cold option is Texas's Guadalupe Mountains National Park, about 110 miles south of El Paso. If you go, be prepared for daytime temperatures in the mid-fifties and nighttime lows in the mid-thirties. Located just off U.S. 62/180 at Guadalupe Pass in the Lone Star State's far western corner, the park is just far enough off the beaten path to escape the RV-driving masses--especially during December. Once there, you'll be greeted by lush, steep-walled canyons and dry pinon and Douglas fir woodlands, not to mention the rugged high country of El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak. With more than 80 miles of hiking trails throughout the park's mountainous backcountry, there's no shortage of good multiday trips. Opt for a challenging three-day, one-way trek from Pine Springs Campground to McKittrick Canyon. Unless you have extra time on your hands to retrace your steps, you'll need to leave a car at the other end or arrange for a shuttle pick-up. Start at the Tejas Trail and hike in five miles to a Douglas fir forest at the amenity-free Pine Top Campground, one of the park's ten backcountry camping areas (free permits are available at the Pine Springs visitor center). The next day, take the Bush Mountain Trail to the summit of 8,631-foot Bush Mountain and out onto Blue Ridge, where forests give way to panoramic views of the flatlands below. From here, pick up the McKittrick Canyon Trail to your tent site at McKittrick Ridge Campground; the next morning, you'll hike out 7.6 miles along a forested trail into McKittrick Canyon, a 3,000-foot, five-mile long cleft in the limestone full of maples, walnuts, oaks, and the occasional black bear or bobcat. For more information on hiking trails, backcountry permits, and weather in December, contact the park headquarters at 915-828-3251 or check out "Parkland Incognito" in the Destinations section of our August 1995 issue.

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