Start of the Trail
McKittrick Canyon is separate from the main park area, and is reached by a short side road off US 62/180. The road ends at an unstaffed visitor center, parking area and picnic site. The creek bed runs past and continues westwards away from the mountains, eventually joining the Pecos River, but is usually dry at this point. The trail is initially along the streamway, then winds along the sandy banks at either side, crossing the creek several times. At first the plants are typical of the Chihuahuan Desert with yucca, agaves and opuntia cacti, but with some pine/juniper trees that become quickly more abundant in the moister, cooler environment up the canyon and are joined by ash, oak and bigtooth maple, leafs of which show beautiful red-orange leaf colors during fall. A more unusual tree is the Texas madrone, a distinctive species with red-colored bark and evergreen leaves.
Cabins and a Grotto
After 2.4 miles the path reaches the first of two historic cabins (Pratt Lodge
, built in the 1930s) - a group of wooden buildings beneath shady trees, a site which is still occupied by a lone resident most of the year. Drinking water is available. Upstream of this location the creek flows even in summer, rising above ground at several points between rock layers, then returning below ground a few hundred meters further. Shortly beyond the cabin, the path crosses into the official wilderness region, becomes a little more rocky and passes several features of interest such as various pools with medium-sized fish, a grotto in a cavity beneath a limestone cliff with stalagmite-like formations, and the second old dwelling (Hunter Line Cabin
, reached by a short spur trail). This is boarded up and not occupied, except by groups of bats that hang upside down from the ceiling during the day.
The Hunter cabin is the usual point visited on a day hike, and is 3.4 miles from the start of the trail. Ahead, the canyon becomes quite steep and the path climbs nearly 2,000 feet over the next 2 miles to McKittrick Ridge at 7,716 feet, then continues through the forest, eventually joining the long Tejas Trail
, four miles from the northern entrance to Guadalupe Mountains National Park at Dog Canyon.