What to Expect Hiking the Guadalupe Mountains Peak Trail

Thinking about heading to west Texas to do some hiking? Here’s everything you can expect hiking the Guadalupe Mountains peak trail.

There’s a park recap post for Guadalupe Mountains National Park already. You can go back and read that then come back. This post is all about hiking the Guadalupe Mountains Peak trail and what to expect on the 8-mile trek.

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There are a few different visitor centers at the park, but you’ll want to head to the main Pine Springs visitor’s center. There is parking available here, but if you drive a bit farther then you’ll be closer to the trailhead. If not there’s a trail to get to the main section that’s barely a quarter of a mile.

You can pick up a day-use pass online, otherwise, there are kiosks to drop off your day-use fee. This is also where you’ll need to sign in before you start your hike.

If you’ve never used this before, it’s a way to know who’s on the trail just in case you get stuck in the wilderness. Rangers will use this to track all of the hikers just in case.

The trailhead starts right off the bat and gives you options for trails that start at the Pine Springs parking lot: Devil’s Hall, El Capitan, Tejas Trail, and finally Guadalupe Peak. This is where they all begin.

The Breakdown of the Trail

Hiking the Guadalupe Peak trail is an 8.5-mile trek round-trip. The website states that you should allow about 6-8 hours to complete, but this of course varies on conditioning, weather, how many breaks you take to admire the view, etc.

That being said, I have some hike recommendations that helped me and I’ll split them between the nutrition and the gear.

Nutrition

On the day that I arrived, I was feeling really confident about my abilities. But I had been in the car for almost 8 hours at that point, so I felt like I had enough gas in the tank. I changed my shoes, scarfed down a sandwich, and ‘cameled’ up with a bottle of water that I put my Liquid IV into. Calories and electrolytes should be enough, I thought. And note that I am not a certified nutritionist, this is just MY experience.

I immediately grabbed my pack as my sandwich was still being chewed and went on my way. I learned immediately that because of the sudden incline that I would be taking gasps of air, and the food that was traveling down to my stomach was being affected by that.

It was really hard to breathe because it was being blocked by an entire turkey sandwich. So tip number one is to be mindful of your calories before and during your hike. On the second attempt, I ate a smaller amount of oatmeal, that had additional protein, about an hour before I started hiking. I also made sure to start drinking my electrolyte water (and my coffee) much earlier.

So instead of a bigger pre-hike meal, I made sure I had a higher amount of carbohydrates, but with a smaller portion because I was going to eat smaller snacks more often on the way up. This didn’t include my actual lunch that I brought to enjoy at the halfway-ish mark.

I brought energy-packed snacks that consisted of multiple varieties of Kate’s Real Food bars. These are currently my absolute favorite bars if I’m going on an 8-10+ mile hike. They taste like actual food, and they have enough nutrition to last and absorb slowly. Each bar is actually two servings, so it’s great fuel for those more intensive hikes.

And in addition to that, I brought some caffeine chews from Skratch Labs. You have to eat a handful to feel the effects of the caffeine, so I was just using them for the smaller sugar boost you feel. If you’re sensitive to caffeine Haribo gummy bears work amazingly.

Water on the Peak

A quick note about water on the Guadalupe Peak Trail. There is none. Like, at all. No water spigots or streams in this section. Besides, the streams that you may find in this park are off-limits to humans.

I know it’s only 8 miles, but you’re going to lose a lot of moisture regardless if it’s hot or cold, so prepare to carry what you’ll need. I opted for 4 liters of water, with two water bottles premixed with my electrolytes. I finished the hike with about a liter of water, but despite the temps dipping to the mid 30’s, I was drenched.

Where to Stop

The amount of switchbacks on this trail is pretty insane. It just makes the trail feel like you never have any stopping points. I recommend just pulling to the side anytime you feel like you need to take a breather, or on the left-side curves on the switchbacks. The left curves seem to offer a bit more room to lean on one of the many rocks that will be just as tall as you.

I decided to have lunch at the false peak right before the camping area. It’s pretty flat, and there are plenty of rocks that are chair-size to take a break and fuel up before the last leg of your journey.

The peak itself has plenty of room to spread out, so take a seat and enjoy the view.

View from the ridge on Guadalupe peak trail

Gear List

I traditionally opt for performance gear when I’m hiking any time of the year. I live by the ‘cotton kills’ rule, and I hardly ever wear anything different. In the winter I just wear pants more often, but in the summer I’m pretty much hiking in running clothes.

These items are top-quality items that I can afford. You should use this list as a suggestion, but buy the best you can afford. Paying a little extra for a quality product will ensure that these things last a long time, and for this list, I’ll start with my backpack.

Osprey Skarab 32L

Right off the bat just know that Osprey bags and packs have a lifetime guarantee. That’s going to be a great way to ensure your gear lasts as long as you take care of it. The Skarab is a model that isn’t made anymore, but for my more intense day hikes, it’s just a step better than my day-to-day backpack.

SHOP Osprey Day Packs on REI

The reason I purchased this pack initially was for its hydration bladder feature. The Osprey bladders are durable and work well in this pack. I also enjoy how much stuff you can keep organized in this pack with all of the pockets and compartments.

The additional reason I wore this pack vs my other daypack is the waist strap just kept everything comfortable as I was hiking pretty slanted the entire way. Just didn’t want something bouncing around the entire time.

Clothing

Hat

When I was looking for a hat to find on the trail I couldn’t quite find what I wanted. It was either non-breathable, or too stylized for running, so I decided to create my own. I wore the TXTH Performance Hiking Hat to protect the top of my head from UV rays but also offer great quick-drying as I got sweaty.

Pants

I hiked in the Kuhl Konfidant Air pant. I’ll be doing a full product review over these pants, but here are some things to know: They are highly durable, they have stretch, and they have vents to allow for added breathability. Kuhl is at the time of this writing the only pant I’ll hike in. Each style offers amazing quality and comfort.

Shoes

I will always recommend hiking in trail runners, but everyone is different. That being said I took trail runners and hiking boots to do this hike.

On the first day of hiking the Guadalupe mountain peak trail, I wore my brand new Nike Pegasus Trail 2 and loved every minute of it. I’ll be doing a full review on these too.

The day that I completed the peak I opted to wear my Merrell Moab 2 Mid Hiker. These are waterproof shoes that have additional stability, a Vibram sole but don’t offer a ton of breathability. Because of the rain the day before, and not knowing how the weather would hold up, I wore them to complete the hike.

I learned quickly to not be confident in the Vibram sole. I was slipping on a lot of the smoother surfaces, but my feet stayed comfortable in the cooler temps.

Expectations on the trail

From the trailhead, the incline starts immediately. Large rectangular steps marked by wooden stumps are highlighted by the chips of green breaking away from years of travel. You are constantly surrounded by mountain views, but at the bottom, there’s excitement and cactus plants.

Turn around and see how far you’ve already gone, and admire the smaller cars in the parking lot behind you. The first switchback has begun, and the elevation gain continues.

Plants and rocks will jet out from the sides as the trail borders the rocky walls. Ranch-style plants are points, and sharp. Typical Texas landscape.

Eventually, you’ll start to see the landscape change in the distance to a forest. This side of the mountain gets less light, and these plants flourish. The cover increases and the opportunity to hike on flat ground is a great place to pick up your pace if you’re trying to hit a certain time. It also features a handful of places to step off the main trail and lean on a boulder to eat a snack.

The first mile and a half is the hardest part of this hike. Get through that distance and this will all start to feel slightly easier. The elevation gain isn’t so sudden after that mark, but watching your step on the rocks is still as important as ever.

The first mile and a half. You can do it.

The higher you get the trail feels a little more narrow, and the view below starts to feel a little more daunting. There are only a couple of places that feel like a sudden drop, but those places are great to walk a little slower. Staying on the trail is of the utmost importance at the top half because some sections have gravel borders that don’t offer a ton of stability.

The Bridge

Eventually, you’ll turn a corner and arrive at the bridge. You’ve seen this picture before, but it’s a really important marker. It signifies that you’re almost to the top, and just after is where you can journey off and camp at the Guadalupe Peak campsite, or take a seat just after in the rock garden. The rocks here are big enough on the ground to pull off and have a seat to rest and enjoy some more snacks. This is where I took off my backpack and had some lunch. The excitement was building, but my legs were burning.

The bridge on Guadalupe peak trail

Final Stretch

The last leg of hiking the Guadalupe peak trail was the hardest for me. I was dealing with an intense temperature drop, extreme winds, and sleet. There was limited visibility, so some parts of the trail were starting to become hard to see. For this section, and the entire hike I can only just recommend making small steps, and think about every direction you’re walking.

In the last quarter mile, I had lost the group that had been taking turns leading the way. At one point I was following, and after breaks, I was leading. But without anyone around I was on full self-motivation to get it done. I also began to realize that bringing my gloves would have probably helped.

The path here is very narrow, and you have to hop over some slippery rocks to continue on the path, but suddenly you’ll see the metal sign that points to the peak, and after one more curve in the switchback, you look up and see it. The jettison point installed by American Airlines that honors the stagecoach mail carriers.

I will let you fill in the details about your experience at the top. Mine is for me to remember always.

What goes up must go down, but not too quickly.

After spending all of that time getting to the top it suddenly hits that you’ll need to make your way back down. I will honestly say that parts of the way down felt more strenuous than the way up. This is because your walking down at an incline, but you cannot go fast. You cannot rush this, and you’re using a completely different set of muscles to stabilize your body.

I cannot recommend a pair of trekking poles for the way down enough. I didn’t use them on the way up on day 2 because I felt they were slowing me down, but for the way down I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. The pair I use is from Black Diamond. They have a foam grip and are telescopic. This makes it easy to put on the pack I was using.

Learn more about how to use trekking poles

The weather changed on the way down, and the feeling of accomplishment is overwhelming. What you’ve just achieved in hiking the Guadalupe Peak trail is no less remarkable. You’ll have a feeling of joy hiking back down, and as you pass others heading up, you’re going to have some interesting encounters.

There was a discussion I read recently about interacting on the trail. A lot of people hike to feel pure solitude, and that’s ok, but to share in the comradery of the peak trail is what makes this trail so fun.

I hiked with three different bunches of hikers that I chatted with sporadically throughout the hike. The simple exchanges helped keep me going when I wasn’t talking to myself in my head or out loud.

And eventually, you get back down to the parking lot.

I took off my shoes, pulled my chair from my Outback, and sat behind it looking up to the top of where I just hiked and smiled.

Hiking Guadalupe Mountain Peak Trail Info

Overview Maps

Additional Day Hikes

Guadalupe Peak Trail additional info

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