Field Trips

Permian Reef Geology Trail

The Capitan Reef seen from the Permian Reef Trail
The Capitan Reef seen from the Permian Reef Trail

NPS Photo (Bieri)

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Geology groups may want to hike up the Permian Reef Geology Trail. This strenuous, 8.4 mile round-trip hike has 2,000' of elevation gain and generally takes 6-8 hours. The trail has outstanding views of McKittrick Canyon and is an interesting cross section of the Permian Reef. There are two reference sources available for sale about this trail in the park's bookstore. One is one is technical in nature, the other is a children’s geology guide (Listen to the Rocks). These books may also be available as loaner copies; talk with a ranger to obtain one before your hike.

McKittrick Canyon contains a unique biotic community that clings to an intermittent stream which flows over fragile, travertine formations. Hikes are especially dramatic in late fall (end of October or early November) when the canyon's maples, ash, walnut, and other deciduous trees turn brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange. A hike in McKittrick Canyon can provide an exciting opportunity to study geology or plants and animals in a natural setting. There is an informational brochure available at the trailhead. 

Safety and Resource Protection 
In order to minimize impact on the environment, and to insure the safety of you and your students, we ask that you observe the following guidelines while visiting the park: 
• Be aware of weather and ask that your students dress accordingly and bring necessary garments to accommodate sudden weather change. Hiking boots are recommended. 
• There should be at least one adult for every ten students. When on the trail, there must be an adult in front of the group and one in the back at all times. Students should never be allowed to hike ahead of an adult. 
• Each adult should carry a park map and be aware of the route.
• In order to minimize the potential for resource damage, large groups should split into several smaller groups. 
• Everyone in the group should carry water. Adults should carry extra if students have small containers. 
• All litter and uneaten food must be packed out by the group. Teachers should organize policing of areas after picnic and snack breaks. 
• Everyone must stay on the trail and out of the water when hiking McKittrick Canyon.
• Please remind students that collecting or disturbing plants, animals, rocks, or other natural or historic objects is prohibited. 

Other Logistics: 
Picnic tables are available at the Pine Springs Campground near the restrooms, Frijole Ranch, in the lower McKittrick Canyon parking lot, in McKittrick Canyon at Pratt Cabin and at the Grotto, and in Headquarters Visitor Center parking lot. Flush-toilet restrooms are available at the Headquarters Visitor Center, Pine Springs Campground, and the McKittrick Canyon Contact Station. There is a dry pit toilet at Frijole Ranch. Flush-toilet restrooms are not available at Frijole Ranch or in McKittrick Canyon at Pratt Cabin. 


Biodiversity, Climate Change, Earth Science, Geography, Geology, Marine Biology, Paleontology, Tectonics
geology, fossils, reef
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