Head out west to hike one of Texas’ most scenic trails

McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is rich with both history and ecological diversity.

By Rhonda Fanning & Alexandra HartMay 9, 2024 2:50 pm,

When you think about some of the most iconic vistas in Texas, maybe locales like the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend or Palo Duro Canyon up in the Panhandle come to mind.

But inside Guadalupe Mountains National Park at the far west corner of Texas is a hike that’s been dubbed the “the most beautiful spot in Texas.” McKittrick Canyon is home to diverse flora and fauna, and geological formations.

Bobby Alemán wrote about his journey through the the canyon for Texas Highways magazine. He joined the Standard to share. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Before we get to your experience, what is it that makes this area in the Guadalupe Mountains so special to you? Why did you choose to write about it for Texas Highways?

Bobby Alemán: Well, there’s a 5-mile trail from the McKittrick Canyon trailhead to a scenic overlook that overlooks South McKittrick Canyon that is absolutely breathtaking.

And I understand you had a little bit of personal experience here. You proposed to your wife there?

I did. In 2019, in the heat of August. I proposed to my wife at that scenic view in the cleft of rock on the ridge line. And she said ‘yes’!

And that’s great news. Great to hear, Bobby. So as you look out, what do you see? What’s out there?

You basically see mountains split in half, covered with pine trees from your left and to your right. And down below you see this beautiful, meandering creek. And, it just takes your breath away.

You know, when I think of West Texas, I often think of flat, dry brown. Not a whole lot else, you know? And of course, the mountains do add a lot of texture there. I’ve been to the Davis Mountains, have not been to Guadalupe Mountains, but you have described this as a kind of oasis. In fact, an oasis for real, right?

I agree, and that’s the beauty of this.

Most people who go to the Guadalupe Mountains, they talk about Guadalupe Peak, which gives you a view of the Chihuahuan Desert. But hidden northwest of the peak is McKittrick Canyon, which is a completely different environment full of pine trees and split canyons and McKittrick Creek.

You write in your story that there’s a really interesting history behind how this became a state park and two oilmen who were involved, Wallace E. Pratt and J.C. Hunter, Sr., both ended up acquiring the land. And you would think that they would perhaps keep it in perpetuity for their businesses, being pretty close to the Permian and all of that. What happened?

I think during their time there, they just grew in love with McKittrick Canyon and the surrounding area. It was too beautiful to sell or to let fall into private hands, privately-owned hands.

So what did they decide to do?

So Pratt ended up donating about 6,000 acres of land. And Hunter Jr. ended up selling his holdings, which was about 72,000 acres. And together, that’s what comprises almost all of what we see today.

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Now we should put folks on a map, if you’re not familiar with this region. I understand the quickest, most direct way, perhaps, if you’re traveling by car, you head out to Van Horn and then you head north. Right?

That’s right. About 50 miles north of Van Horn and about 50 miles southeast of Carlsbad.

And then once you arrive at the park, let’s talk about the hike. What’s it like? What kind of terrain? The elevation. Do you have to be a pro to get to this most beautiful spot in Texas?

Well, it definitely can be an arduous hike. It’s a ten-mile hike out and back. It starts off very flat for about three and a half miles, and then the remaining mile and a half to the scenic overlook, which does become difficult and does require some physical fitness.

But we’re talking about an area that is pretty much along the border of Texas and New Mexico, right?

That’s right.

And from your description, you’re looking out sort of in a westerly direction, or no?

Absolutely, absolutely. About a mile and a half south of the New Mexico state line and you’re looking due west, and then you make your way and into the canyon in a southerly direction.

You know, you mentioned that you proposed in August. How hot does it get there?

It can get into the 90s, which can become quite dangerous if you’re not hydrated or accustomed to hiking out under the sun.

So everything you describe does sound like that prototypical oasis of the imagination. I mean, is it really that good? I mean, do people owe it to themselves to head out and see this for themselves?

Absolutely. And a great time to go is late October and early November to see the leaves of maple trees change color.

Maple trees?

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s part of the paradox of this environment, that there are maple trees there – there are pine trees surrounded by desert. And that’s part of the charm of visiting McKittrick Canyon and Guadalupe Mountains.

Well, before we let you go, any pro tips for travelers who want to visit this spot for themselves?

Yeah, absolutely. Just, you know, we prepared on our neighborhood streets. Just make sure you can match the distance, make sure you’re accustomed to walking or hiking under the sun. And, of course, make sure you’re hydrated at least a gallon a day.

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