This easy 2.3-mile loop begins at Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s Frijole Ranch, which now houses a museum highlighting the human history of the area. Though you could hike the loop in either direction, this route takes a counterclockwise approach following the paved trail from the ranch, past an orchard and toward Manzanita Spring where it turns to dirt.
The rocky trail veers north and dips into a wash and climbs gradually—gaining almost 400 feet over the next half mile—as it climbs toward the base of the escarpment of the Guadalupe Mountains. After winding across a yucca- and cacti-covered hillside, the trail enters a lush riparian zone where the area’s only spring—Smith Spring—appears below layers of percolating limestone.
The shaded clearing below the spring is a great place to stop for a picnic or wait for signs of wildlife (the springs serves as a watering hole for many animals). The loop’s second half drops down a couple of rocky downhills and offers views of El Capitan as it heads south, bypassing the Frijole and Foothills trails before looping back to the Ranch.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland
- Distance: 3.7
Location: 31.907484, -104.801441
Spend a few minutes exploring the museum and grounds of the Frijole Ranch before hitting the trail. There is plenty of parking here and a water fountain, but the only restroom is a porta-potty style unit. The shaded picnic tables outside the ranch are a great place for a pre-hike picnic.
Location: 31.907709, -104.801491
The trail begins to the right of the map kiosk and heads northeast. It is paved for the first 0.3 mile, but turns to a natural surface after passing a bench and interpretive sign just before Manzanita Spring.
Location: 31.910417, -104.798873
Reeds and grasses choke the edges of Manzanita Spring but a bench marks it as you approach from the west. Even if you don’t stop for a rest, stop at the spring’s east side for a view looking back at El Capitan reflecting off its waters.
Location: 31.914248, -104.80014
Near mile 0.5, the trail dips into a dry wash and passes through a small grove of gray oaks stunted from the lack of water and the harsh desert ecosystem. You’ll stay in the wash for several hundred yards before climbing out on a rugged set of steps and tracing the hillside on its north side.
Location: 31.918439, -104.806594
Tuck into a shaded grove of trees (ponderosa, Texas madrone, big-toothed maple) just before reaching the spring. The spring itself sits in a lush, moss-covered hollow at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains. The permeable limestone of the ancient reef collects water that percolates through it to springs like these. The same water from this spring reappears further downhill as Manazita Spring. Stay on the “human side” of the spring and avoid contact with the water. This railing-protected spring is an important source of water for area wildlife and could be permanently contaminated by human contact. If you’re lucky, you might spot a deer or aoudad here drinking or bathing.
Location: 31.912664, -104.80377
Watch your step on this steep rocky section of trail. There are a couple of short loose sections as it cruises above the valley headed south and west. Take note of one rocky section with greenish rocks. The rocks are made from the ash of a volcanic explosion about 265 million years ago.
Location: 31.909385, -104.803831
After short climb, you’ll hit this junction with the Frijole Trail. Stay to the left to continue towards the ranch and close the loop. The right-hand trail leads toward Bear Canyon and eventually loops back toward the Pine Springs Campground.
Location: 31.907591, -104.802259
Bear left at the 3-way junction with the Foothills Trail. Look southwest for great views of El Capitan and Guadalupe Mountain before finishing up this loop with an easy stroll back to the ranch.
Location: 31.907431, -104.801272
A small collection of buildings make up the Frijole Hostoric Site which now houses a park museum. Before or after your hike, sit down for a few minutes in the shady picnic area outside the ranch house.
Location: 31.907495, -104.801373
This map kiosk marks the beginning of the trail on the north side of the parking area. Turn right here to follow the paved path heading east.
Location: 31.910288, -104.799727
This bench marks the end of the paved trail and provides a great resting spot.
Location: 31.910423, -104.798799
El Capitan’s monolithic bulk reflecting in the surface of Manzanita Spring.
Location: 31.918111, -104.803646
Washes and depressions in the desert collect water and allow for larger trees to grow.
Location: 31.918442, -104.806556
An oasis in the desert, Smith Spring’s mossy and shaded surrounds make for a cool resting spot.
Location: 31.914078, -104.80255
The loop’s second half is a rugged traverse of the escarpment’s lower reaches.