Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Bowl
Climb an ancient reef and peek over its edge toward Texas’ highest peak on this 12.65-mile overnight in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. You'll climb more than 2,500 feet to a flower-filled meadow and drop through a jagged limestone canyon on this tough loop.
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Home to five of Texas’s six highest peaks, the Guadalupe Mountains are an oasis of diversity in the west Texas. You’ll skirt cholla in the Chiuauan desert, rest beneath shady pine on a rugged limestone hilltop, and cruise a flower-filled backcountry meadow—the Bowl—on this 12.65-mile overnight. From the Pine Springs Trailhead follow the Tejas Trail through a white-rock wash. Begin a gentle climb that ramps toward soaring switchbakcs en route to the top of Pine Valley’s north-side. This route dips from the edge of the valley toward a pine-covered forest to a protected campsite at mile 5.4.
On day two, backtrack 0.4 miles and turn up the Juniper Trail to wrap the south-facing hillside toward the back of The Bowl—a hilltop depression where you’ll see burn evidence—before turning south toward a side-trip to Hunter Peak. After a quick peek into the Pine Valley (and the entire west side of Texas), turn from Hunter Peak toward the rocky Bear Canyon Trail. It switchbacks down a narrow valley and eventually narrows into limestone slot, less than 30 feet wide in some places. The final stretch follows the Frijole Trail, around the base of the mountain and toward the visitors center.
There is no water in the Guadalupe Mountains high country, so plan to bring enough for all your drinking and cooking needs. You could also complete this loop as a long day trip.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland
- Distance: 20.4
Location: 31.896633, -104.828196
There is a restroom, water and lots of parking at the trailhead which is also the RV camping area. If the lot is full, you’ll have to park at the visitor center and add another 0.5 mile to your hike. About 50 feet from the trailhead kiosk, turn right onto the Tejas Trail and dip into a dry wash before turning left up ahead.
Location: 31.898287, -104.827558
After crossing the wash at the base of the valley, turn left on the Tejas Trail. You’ll follow it for the next 5.9 miles to the Tejas Campground. When you return to this point at loop-end you’ll backtrack to the left, back across the wash to the campground parking area.
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Most of the trail’s lower section is desert-like and lined with grasses and cacti, but as you dip into this wash you’ll see larger trees. Look ahead and you’ll see the trail climbing the hillside.
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As the trail crosses the ridge you’ll have dead center views of the valley and birds-eye views of Devils Hall. Look for aoudad–a type of big-game sheep–on the rugged hillsides across the canyon.
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You’ll climb into trees on the last few siwtchbacks. As you reach the top of the hill, you’ll cruise straight through this 4-way junction, bypassing the Bush Mountain, Pine Top Campsite, and Bowl trails.
Location: 31.932969, -104.84752
Continue straight at this 3-way junction to continue to one of the Tejas Trail’s six backcountry sites. On day two, you’ll backtrack to this junction and turn east on the Juniper Trail to continue towards the Bowl.
Location: 31.938324, -104.850426
Tejas Campground has six individual sites situated near the bottom of the canyon. This spot is a great alternative to Pine Top which is more crowded, and can be much more exposed to strong, west-Texas winds.
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It’s a mellow, shaded climb through pine and deciduous forests on the loop’s north side. As you gain altitude, the canopy opens to great views of the nearby peaks and valleys–Bush Mountain and Pine Top.
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There’s a water tank just east of this small saddle where the trail turns downhill into the Bowl.
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Turn right on the Bowl Trail at this 3-way intersection. At this point, you’re near the base of the Bowl’s depression–in a grassy, snag-studded meadow. Though this open space is a much-noted park feature, it can be a bit anticlimactic because of more dramatic views on the mountains’ edges. Enjoy the flat, quiet, wildlife-filled calm before heading south.
Location: 31.915746, -104.837056
Turn left, almost 180-degrees at this tricky intersection near mile 8.6. The Bowl Trail continues downhill (and turns west) toward Pine Top, but this route turns uphill (and east) toward Hunter Peak to make a loop.
Location: 31.914732, -104.831818
The 15-minute out-and-back to the top of Hunter Peak is worth the stair-stepping climb. Look for visible remnants of the one-time reef that is the basis for this range and get ready for a beautiful, windy, cross-valley view. After the peak, backtrack to this point and follow the ridge downhill toward Bear Canyon.
Location: 31.918305, -104.826598
Turn right at this signed, three-way junction. From this point, the trail drops sharple and you’ll wind through Bear Canyon on a steep, rocky trail. A hiking stick or trekking poles would make this section easier–loose, pea-sized pebbles make for loose footing, especially on the upper sections of the trail.
Location: 31.906716, -104.818523
At this junction with the Frijole Trail, turn right. The trail wraps around the base of the mountain and dips into a few washes before cruising back toward the Pine Springs campground.
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The singletrack path rolls through several washes before this junction with the Foothills Trail just below Pine Spring, about 0.5 miles from loop-end. After climbing out of the wash, the trail wraps to the right and you’ll see the visitors center on your left.
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Signs near the trailhead and visitor’s center point hikers toward the Tejas Trail which leads out of the canyon.
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The first 6 miles are mostly uphill. Expect to break at occasional switchbacks, but don’t expect any shade for most of the initial miles.
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Looking back toward Pine Valley, you’ll see the trail you’ve already conquered.
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Stay straight on the Tejas Trail. At this point, you’ve reached the hike’s initial high point. From here the trail mellows and even begins dropping.
Location: 31.927398, -104.843624
Even in the relative high country, regular players in the desert landscape make a showing.
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Common in the park, deer also frequent the little-traveled trails and damp areas alongside the wash twoard the beginning of the day-two loop.
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Hiking on the east side of the valley, just beofr ethe trail climbs a ridge into the Bowl.
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A rusty water tower marks the saddle just before the trail drops into the Bowl. There aren’t any natural water sources on the top of the hills, so early settlers to the area built these towers to allow for grazing.
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Looking down the steep, rocky trail into Bear Canyon. There’s a water pipe along part of the trail that you’ll have to step over once or twice.
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The bottom of the canyon is quite narrow and the trail winds through rocks and around boulders in some of the narrowest sections. It can be shady and cool in these valley pockets, enjoy.