Backpacking Preparation and Safety

Two hikers in warm clothes stop on a trail in a snowy forest
On the Tejas trail in the winter.


For Your Safety

Knowledge and preparation can increase your comfort level and reduce your chances of injury. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety.

  • The orientation map in the park brochure is not adequate for overnight Wilderness travel. It is recommended that you carry a topographical map and a compass, and know how to use them. Lesser used trails in the northern part of the park may be poorly-defined and can be difficult to follow.
  • Designate a trip leader and follow the schedule on your Wilderness permit. Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Give yourself enough time to reach your destination well before dark, and always have a flashlight and other light source in case of emergency.
  • Do not attempt cross-country travel without an experienced leader.

Water is an Issue!

There are no water sources in the backcountry. To insure you have enough water for drinking and cooking, please carry one gallon per person per day (water weighs approximately 8 lbs. per gallon). For multiple nights in the wilderness, water weight can be a considerable burden (three days and two nights at a gallon per person per day equates to about 24 pounds of water). Water is obtainable at the Pine Springs Visitor Center, Pine Springs Campground, McKittrick Visitor Center, or the Dog Canyon Ranger Station and Campground.

Callout box that cautions against relying on a cellphone as a primary tool for hiking

Equipment Considerations

  • Fires, including charcoal fires, are not permitted anywhere in the park. Bring a backpacking stove if you plan to cook.
  • Consider bringing a sturdy, lightweight tent for protection against the weather elements, particularly wind and precipitation. The use of hammocks, slacklines, tarps or similar devices tied to natural and/or manmade features is prohibited.
  • Sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support are highly recommended; trails are steep, rugged, and rocky. Hiking poles are a good addition, too.
  • Be aware of the current weather forecast and bring/wear appropriate clothing.
  • To protect yourself from glaring desert sun (year-round) bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Carry a first aid kit that includes tweezers for spines, band-aids and adhesive pads for blisters, compresses for severe cuts, and a triangle bandage which can be put to many uses.
  • For safe wilderness travel and planning, carry a detailed topographic map. The park orientation map should not be used for wilderness trip planning or hiking.

Steep Trails, Difficult Climbs

Most wilderness trips begin with an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet along exposed desert trails. This is strenuous; allow one hour per mile for ascent. Give yourself plenty of time for your hike; consider distance and elevation, your physical condition, the amount of weight you are carrying, the potential for sudden weather change, and the daylight hours remaining. Steep and rugged terrain, and lack of available water, can limit both the distance of your hike and the total number of days of your backcountry stay. Please plan your itinerary wisely.

Entry and Exit Locations

Given the variety of routes available for your hiking excursion, you might choose to enter and exit the backcountry through different trailheads. You are responsible for arranging your own transportation back to your vehicle. McKittrick Canyon is a day-use area. If your planned exit is through McKittrick Canyon, please allow enough time to be out of the canyon by the posted closing time of that location.

Dog Canyon

Many backpackers enjoy camping at Dog Canyon as a planned part of their itinerary. (Dog Canyon is an excellent location for acquiring additional water). If you want to overnight at the Dog Canyon Campground, the sites must be reserved through

Peak Visitation

During peak visitation times (holiday weekends, spring break, fall colors) Pine Springs and Dog Canyon campgrounds fill quickly and may be full by the time you return from your backcountry trip. The developed campgrounds may be reserved in advance seperate from your backpacking itinerary. A wilderness camping permit does not guarantee a parking space; the park strongly encourages backpacking visitors to carpool and plan vehicle shuttles ahead of time.

Protect Yourself from the Sun

Too much sun can be dangerous; take heat safety seriously.

Be Alert for Venomous Snakes and Insects

Watch where you place your hands and feet, carry a flashlight at night, and shake out your shoes and clothes before putting them on. Remember, snakes and insects are protected in the park. Please do not harm or harass them.

Wildlife Encounters

Mountain lions and black bears are a natural part of the environment; be prepared for the possibility of an encounter. Keep small children close at all times. Don't let them run ahead on trails. If you feel threatened by a lion or bear, do not run. Instead, look large and yell, scream, wave your arms, and throw rocks or sticks if necessary. Pick up small children. Report lion and bear sightings in detail to a ranger.

Image of a black bear
Black Bear safety

While rarely seen, black bears live throughout the high country of the Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness.

Drawing of a mountain lion
Mountain Lions

While they are rarely seen by visitors, the entirety of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is mountain lion habitat.

Park rangers and fire fighters carry a wheeled litter along a trail in a desert mountain landscape.
Search and Rescue Policy

Visitors are responsible for their own safety. Search and rescue actions are conducted on a discretionary basis.

Last updated: August 23, 2023

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400 Pine Canyon
Salt Flat, TX 79847


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