Distance 38.5 miles
Gain 7,444 feet
Why it’s grand You’ll feel as if you’re on the edge of the world as you trek along the spine of the Guadalupe Mountains. This exposed section of the 260-million-year-old Capitan Reef towers 2,500 feet above the desert floor, just begging you to cross it.
Do it Water caches and unforgiving high-desert terrain mean this four-day adventure is not for beginners. Got the chops? Cache water (a gallon per person per day) at the end of Klondike Road and at McCollum Ranch (high-clearance vehicle required). Leave a car at the McKittrick Canyon trailhead in Guadalupe Mountains NP, then start from the Guadalupe Ridge trailhead in Carlsbad Caverns NP. For the next 27 miles, follow the Guadalupe Ridge Trail (an old Jeep route) along the Capitan Reef crest, first climbing through scrublands and chaparral, then rolling through pine and juniper forest. You’ll score views into one steep, deep canyon after another before dropping 2,000 feet into one (McKittrick) via the Permian Reef Trail. Sheltered campsites are abundant, especially in Lincoln National Forest.
Carlsbad contains at least 118 limestone caves; plan time to explore some via self-guided or ranger-led tours.
Contact Carlsbad (575-785-2232; nps.gov/cave); Guadalupe (915-828-3251; nps.gov/gumo); Lincoln NF (575-885-4181; fs.usda.gov/lincoln)
Season October to May
Permits Free; required from both parks to leave cars at the trailheads.