Hike to McKittrick Ridge Campground
Texas › McKittrick Canyon Trailhead
Added by Andrew Miller
McKittrick Ridge is one of Texas' most diverse ecosystems and completely off the grid. This is a strenuous hike up an unmaintained ridge trail with breathtaking views high above the desert floor and unreal fall foliage display through the canyon if hiked in October.
This hike is not for the faint of heart or the out of shape. Bolstering 2000ft of elevation gain over 10 miles of rough terrain, this hike will challenge you but grant you an immense reward if you can persevere. Make sure you've packed plenty of water. There are NO backcountry water supply points so its best to do this hike in the fall or winter months. Plan on being berated by gusting winds of up to 60mph as this park is notorious for them. Id recommend doing this trek as an overnight, but it can be done in one day if you pack minimally and don't plan on hiking any more of the trail past the campground.
Start out by getting a backcountry permit at the Pine Springs Visitors Center. From there, drive north about 8 miles to the trailhead at the parking lot of the McKittrick Canyon Visitors Center. Take the McKittrick Canyon Trail, not the Nature Trail or the Permian Reef Geology Trail. All 3 have the same start point but quickly branch off from one another in the first quarter mile. Hike your way through the dry creek bed and into the mouth of the canyon for about a mile and a half. The trail will become shaded for the next few miles as you make your way through the canyon floor. Take some time to dip your feet in McKittrick Creek, which you will cross a few times before reaching the steep climb to the ridge section.
The trail will become vertical shortly after you pass the turn off for the Grotto and Hunter Line Shack. Get ready, here comes the majority of the 2000ft of elevation gain over the next 4 miles or so. The trail switch-backs countless times. Take a break when you reach The Notch, a very noticeable saddle high above the canyon floor (this is a great lunch or snack spot, depending on when you begin your hike). It provides a breathtaking view of the canyon to the west.
From here, you'll continue the steep climb, racking up the false summits along the way. Take your time on the switchbacks, most of which have minimal exposure, but are full of loose rock and overgrowth. You'll cross another saddle and begin a steep ascent at around the 8.5 mile mark. This trail is unmarked for the majority and provides no relief in the way of mile markers. You've reached the ridge when you come to a dense growth of Ponderosa Pines. The campground trail splits off form the Canyon trail and heads north for a few tenths of a mile. There are 3 established tent spaces at the campground and if you're lucky you'll have the whole place to yourself. Take a deep breath, drop your gear and crack open a brew. You've more than earned it.
- Backcountry Permit
- Tent (bugs will destroy you if you sleep on the ground exposed)
- 15 Degree or lower rated sleeping bag + Pad (for a winter/autumn trip)
- At least a gallon of water per person (no backcountry water sources)
- Well broken in high top hiking boots
- Trekking Poles
- 2 days worth of meals
- Bobo bag for waste
- Bag to pack out trash
- Celebration Beers
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Great Hike, Even In Spring Without Fall Colors
We hiked through the canyon during spring break. Unfortunately, the canyon boasts its colors in the fall when the leaves change. However, we were still rewarded with great views of the canyon around us. We hiked up to the Notch and back, which was around 9 miles. I would definitely recommend the extra distance past the Grotto if you know for sure you're not going all the way to McKittrick Ridge. The Notch provided a great view and a shaded rest area. Make sure to bring plenty of water ESPECIALLY if you are backpacking.
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