In a state of great plains, Gulf Coast barrier islands and tech-savvy metropolises, El Paso is a fresh-air, sun-drenched, desert escape.
No matter how you adventure - on your own two feet, on wheels or horseback, here’s where and how to best enjoy El Paso's arid outdoor playground.
Franklin Mountains State Park:
For hiking, biking and trail running
Flickr/Samat Jain (CC by 2.0)
The Franklin Mountains that loom above El Paso - distinctly shaping its cityscape – also mark a state park. At 37 square-miles (95 km²), it happens to be America’s largest state park in an urban setting. Why is that a big deal? Well, for travellers, it means prime access to nature and outdoor recreation. It’s made all the more accessible with an aerial cable car that whisks visitors to the top of Ranger Peak in four minutes flat.
What should you do there, you ask? Hiking, biking or picnicking in Franklin Mountains State Park is a day well-spent in El Paso. The park is laced with a network of multi-use trails; 125 miles to be exact. Desert trails are well maintained and scrub vegetation is low, which means navigating this desert wilderness is not intimidating - let your feet lead the way.
Visiting in April? The 2017 annual Poppies Fest is expected to be in bountiful bloom. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts above average rainfall will coax desert flowers into spectacular display. (So don't forget your camera!)
Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site:
For rock climbing, scrambling and hiking
We bet you’ve never seen a desert oasis quite like this.
To visit Hueco Tanks is to walk in ancient footsteps. For thousands of years, humans sought out refuge here. The pools of rainfall that collected in the natural rock basins were a water source in an otherwise arid desert. Now, people come for world-class rock climbing.
Those who hike Hueco Tanks's trails will admire heaps of history, quite literally painted on the rock walls: pictographs and petroglyphs are markers of the peoples who passed through some 1,500+ years ago.
Flickr/Dana Le (CC by 2.0)
Visiting Hueco Tanks State Park is not difficult, but it does require some simple advance planning.
Conservation measures to protect this State Archeological Landmark limit the number of visitors to 70 at a time. Moreover, parts of the park (West Mountain, East Mountain and East Spur) are not accessible without a guide.
To ensure availability, visitors should secure a reservation by calling (512) 389-8911 for hiking in the self-guided area or (915) 849-6684 to request a Wednesday through Sunday hiking tour.
Go for a trail ride
As they say...when in the cowboy-boot capital of the world, go horseback riding. Okay, we might have made that up, but the logic is sound. Here's a round-up of horseback riding outfitters to choose from. Saddle up, take the reins and drink in the desert landscape.
Paddle the Rio Grande:
Are you in the mood for mild or wild?
Float the Rio Grande - departing Leasburg Dam State Park - in rented tubes or a kayak, or dial up the fun factor and make a complete weekend of it on a whitewater rafting trip.
Southwest Expeditions is based 35 miles north of El Paso, in Mescilla, NM.
Day Trips From El Paso:
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
Driving time from El Paso, one-way: 2 hrs 15 mins
Why visit? 119 caves hide beneath the Chihuahuan Desert. Venture in on your own or delve deeper with a guided tour.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX
Driving time: 1 hr 45 mins
Why visit? The Guadalupe Mountains were once a reef sunk beneath an ancient inland sea. The park offers plenty of great day hikes and opportunities to get into the backcountry on a multi-night trek.
White Sands National Monument, NM
Driving time: 1 hr 30 mins
Why visit? For a little taste of the Sahara in America. Explore the dunes on five designated trails.
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