Friday, December 18, 2015

McKittrick Ridge in the Guadalupe Mountains

On our second trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas, Pathfinder and I explored McKittrick Canyon via two overnight trips—first to McKittrick Ridge and then to Wilderness Ridge on the Permian Reef Geology Trail.

The rugged Guadalupe Mountains provided the perfect place for wintertime exploration, with plenty of quiet and solitude.

When we picked up our (free) permits at the Pine Springs Visitor Center, the rangers told us we were only the 15th group to get a backcountry camping permit this entire month.  Why were there so few backpackers at this national park?
View down McKittrick Canyon
Part of it could have been that backpacking here is tough. The climb to McKittrick Ridge from the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead was 7.6 miles but it was a rough 2900 feet climb (most all in the last 3 miles).  You have to carry in all your own water.
Water was flowing in the bottom of the canyon, but don't expect water up on the ridge near the campsites.
The climb to McKittrick Ridge was “technical” meaning loose slippery rocks and dirt and steep dropoffs. You have to pay attention to every foot placement to avoid falling.  We kept joking that there was nothing horizontal about these trails--we made hardly any horizontal progress, and our feet were not even horizontal, the trail was so uneven and steeply inclined.  Don’t expect to cruse on these trails (especially the one to McKittrick Ridge)—plan fewer miles than you would on the AT or PCT. 
Steep rocky trail, loose rocks, and snow.
The reward was the scenery!  These mountains rise thousands of feet above the desert and are carved by deep canyons.
Beautiful rock formations along the climb up to McKittrick Ridge
Few footprints were apparent in backcountry.  Trails and backcountry campsites were overgrown.  I loved knowing that we were the only group in the backcountry while we were out— imagine—no one else around for miles!
McKittrick Ridge Backcountry Campsite was well sheltered from the strong winds (especially site #8).
If you are like most visitors to Guadalupe and don’t have the inclination to backpack, the Pratt Cabin and Grotto make great dayhiking destinations (but you will see other visitors on this portion of the trail).

Pratt Cabin also makes a relaxing lunch stop.
Dripping water forms stalagmites and stalagmites in the Grotto.
Overall, if you like rugged terrain and don't mind carrying all your own water, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas makes an excellent winter backpacking destination for its incredible beauty and quiet.

More information:
Stop at the Pine Springs Visitors Center- pick up your free permit and explore the exhibits
Guadalupe NPS website- has all the backpacking info, permit info, and regulations
McKittrick Canyon- gates close at night for this area, so check at the visitor center for hours
Pine Springs Campground- we camped at the quiet walk-in tent sites here after picking up our permit the afternoon before our trip


  1. Darn, The secret is out! But really the lack of water anywhere up there is the issue for most folks, I suspect. Years ago I did a 4 day trip up there and lugged a 45 lb pack from Pine Springs. 32 lbs of that was water and 4.5 of it was food. The Rangers almost didn't grant me a permit for the 4 days because they thought I couldn't carry enough water until they realized my base wt was under 10 lb. Then they were worried I was under prepared with such a light pack. That was a couple years before UL was popular.

    Anyway, I envy you and Pathfinder. Sounds like a wonderful journey.

    1. 32 pounds of water- wow! Still, I envy your 4 day trip, SlowBro. I'd hoped to explore more of the park, but didn't know if I could carry more than two day's of water. Maybe next time I'll try for another day or two. It's a spectacular place, as you know!

  2. So fun to read about your adventures in TX - your Big Bend pictures increase my itch to get back there, as our OML trip was marked by rain and fog. Beautiful in its own way, but I'd love to actually see the view from the Rim as opposed to a wall of cloud!

    And if you get back to the Guadalupes I highly recommend camping at Pine Top and then heading to Hunter Peak for sunrise. It's magnificent.

    1. Thanks so much for the sunrise tip, Lissa! I want to head back to Guadalupe next year, so I'll add this to my list. :)