Hiking McKittrick Canyon In Guadalupe Mountains National Park
When we were visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park our favorite hike was definitely in McKittrick Canyon.
The canyon is a day use only area of the park and offers multiple hiking opportunities. Visiting hours for the area is 8 AM-6 PM April through October (Mountain Daylight Time) and 8 AM-4:30 PM November through March (Mountain Standard Time).
They actually lock the gates each evening so make sure you give yourself enough time to hike and exit before you’re locked in. The entrance road for McKittrick canyon can be found 7 miles east of Pine Springs Visitor Center on U.S. Highway 62/180.
At the McKittrick Canyon trailhead there is a small visitor center that is staffed intermittently throughout the year.
It has restrooms, seating, brochures and outdoor exhibits. There is also a short video on the history, geology and other natural resources of the canyon you can watch. There are some trashcans and a water spigot to fill up some jugs if you need as well. No pets are allowed on the trails.
The shortest hike in the canyon is the McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail.
Trailside exhibits will teach you about the natural history of the Chihuahuan desert. The trail is only 0.9 miles round trip, but you will be going uphill for half of it so be prepared for a little workout. The views are pretty spectacular from the top though. Even with the climb it didn’t take us that long to hike.
We did the McKittrick Canyon Trail hike from the trailhead that ended at the Hunter Line Cabin.
This trail takes you past Pratt Cabin and the Grotto picnic area which are cool stops along the way. The trail is 6.8 miles round-trip and took us a little over 3 hours. The hike is pretty easy and flat and you get to cross a stream a couple times.
Pratt Cabin was the home of Wallace Pratt who donated the land of McKittrick Canyon to the National Park Service around 1960.
Volunteers staff the cabin, but no one was there when we visited. You could still look inside the windows though and sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch and enjoy some spectacular views. There are also picnic tables to enjoy a little lunch at.
After the cabin the trail continues to a little Grotto area.
A tiny “cave” has the cutest little stalagmites and stalagtites in it. Though this grotto isn’t very big it’s still a cool feature in the canyon. Past the stone picnic tables is a short path to the Hunter line Cabin that was once part of a hunting retreat.
We did multiple hikes in the park and this area was one of our favorites for sure. If you only have the afternoon to spend at Guadalupe Mountains National Park I think McKittrick Canyon should be at the top of your list to see. Frijole Ranch is pretty neat as well.
Below are a couple more trails you can try out in the canyon that we didn’t get to:
Permian Reef Trail
This trail is 8.4 miles round-trip and has 2,000 feet of elevation gain so it is rated strenuous. Along the trail there are numbered stops that correspond to a comprehensive geology guide which you can pick up at Pine Springs Visitor Center. From the top of Wilderness Ridge you will get some amazing views down into McKittrick Canyon.
This trail is 14.8 miles round-trip and has 2,000 feet of elevation gain so it is another one that is rated strenuous. It is the steepest trail in the park and ends at McKittrick Ridge Campground. To spend the night at the top obtain a permit at either the Pine Springs Visitor Center or Dog Canyon Ranger Station.
One part of the trail passes through an area known as The Notch where rumor is spectacular views of the canyon can be seen in both directions. If you decided to backpack in and spend the night make sure you have plenty of water, because there is none available on the trail.