|Parks: 4||Miles: 898||Days: 7||Hours: 12|
In this itinerary, we start out by flying into El Paso, TX. We then make stops at the only two National Parks in Texas as well as one that is right across the border in New Mexico.
We end the trip with two nights in San Antonio, TX allowing us to visit the famed Alamo Misson that is right in the heart of the city. We then fly home via San Antonio’s International Airport.
This trip takes about 12 hours of driving, covering just shy of 900 miles.
As with all of our trip itineraries, you can easily reverse this trip flying into San Antonio and out of El Paso. You can probably save a few bucks by checking to see which airport is cheapest to fly into from wherever you live.
No matter the airport you arrive in, make sure you get a rental car/SUV. You can probably find a car on the spur of the moment, but if you want an SUV or larger, you’ll probably have to reserve it ahead of time with one of the many rental companies.
El Paso, Texas
Spend the night in El Paso, TX and get a good night’s sleep. We are waking up early to visit two National Parks on the way to Carlsbad, NM where we will spend the next night.
The next location is 170 miles away (~2.5 hours).
The total trip to Carlsbad, NM only takes about 2.5 hours, but we will be making stops at Guadalupe Mountain and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks on the way, so this drive will likely take all day.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park straddles the Texas-new Mexico boarder, and is home to the highest peak in Texas.
With the proximity between this park and Carlsbad Caverns, most people stay a day or two and visit both in one stop. The best place to stay would be Carlsbad, NM, but if accommodations are sparse when you’re planning to visit, check out Roswell, NM instead. It will be a loner drive to the parks, but will have more options.
Upon entering the park, stop by the Pine Springs Visitors Center and grab a map and check out the history. Attached to the center is the Pinery Trail, a paved path with great views of the park.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail leads to views of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. It is a 4-mile, one-way trail that is moderately difficult due to its almost 3,000-foot ascent.
Devil’s Hall Trail begins easy, then leads to a more difficult climb/hike that puts you in a narrow, steep-walled slot canyon at its end. This trail is about 2 miles round trip.
Another popular trail at the park is the McKittrick Canyon Trail, which descends into the canyon, with either 2.4 or 7.6 mile stops. This trail is one-way, so you’ll need to remember that if you walk down 2.4 miles, you’ll need to walk that amount back up and out of the canyon next.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
The caverns within this national park are theorized to have formed more than 20 million years ago. Carlsbad Caverns sit beneath the surface, on which the Guadalupe Mountains sit.
Staying in Carlsbad, NM is your best option. There are a few hotels and Airbnb options around town, with a few more scattered throughout the rural area. If you continue to have trouble finding accommodations, consider driving a bit north to Roswell, NM instead.
You can easily spend a full day exploring the many caverns that make up this national park. The Big Room is the largest cave in the park, which is accessible via an elevator that descends over 750 feet. Along the 1.25 mile path, you’ll get views of the Hall of Giants and Bottomless Pit. Touring this room can be self-guided, and takes about 1.5 hours.
The Natural Entrance to the caves is another main attraction in the park. Walk into the caves via a 1.3 mile strenuous trail that drops 800 feet in elevation. A self-guided tour is available here as well, and takes about an hour to complete.
Carlsbad, New Mexico
We will spend a quick night in Carlsbad, NM before hitting the road early on our way to Big Bend. The purpose of spending the night here is, so we could spend all the previous day at the two national parks. Carlsbad is a wonderful city, and has numerous hotels, Airbnbs and restaurants to make your stay enjoyable.
The next location is 270 miles away (~4.5 hours).
From Carlsbad, the next stop is Terlingua, TX. This is a great place to stay when visiting Big Bend National Park and the state parks surrounding it. About three-quarters down the trip, you can stop at Alpine, TX, which is one of the larger cities along the way. Alpine is also home to the Museum of the Big Bend.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park gets its name from the bend in the Rio Grande river by the same name. This park has over 800,000 acres of canyons, deserts, mountains and forests to explore.
There is one lodging option inside the park, at Chisos Mountains Lodge. The lodging offers a no-fills experience, but has a view like no other option in the area. If you’d prefer to stay outside the park, the towns of Terlingua and Marathon offer a few Airbnb/VRBO options.
There are two scenic drives within the park that you must do. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive explores the western side of the park and ends at the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook. The other drive is the Chisos Basin Road that winds up the mountain side for 6 miles to the Chisos Mountain Lodge.
Numerous hikes are throughout the park, but the best is the Lost Mine Trail, stemming from Basin Road. The round trip is just under 5 miles and has moderate elevation climbs.
For an experience like no other, consider rafting down the Rio Grande. You’ll be treated with views like no other from inside the canyon on the river. While able to float down the river on your own, we suggest you hire a tour guide to take care of all the logistics for you. Big Bend River Tours and Desert Sports are two of the more popular companies offering them, but there are others in the area as well.
The next location is 458 miles away (~6.5 hours).
From Big Bend, it is a long day of driving to San Antonio, TX, where we recommend you spend a couple nights. The quickest way would be to spend most of your time on Interstate 10, however the more scenic route along US-90 will add about 30 minutes to your trip. US-90 snakes along the US-Mexico boarder for about half of the trip.
300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX
The Alamo is a National Historic Landmark in the heart of San Antonio, Texas. The Alamo is most remembered as a pivotal site of the Texas Revolution with Mexico. It was a mission founded in the 18th century by Roman Catholic missionaries.
Entrance into the Alamo is free, however you will need to schedule your visit. Walk-ups are not accepted.
Guided tours of the grounds are also available for a $30-$40 fee and take about an hour. They run daily five times a day.
All tickets and reservations can be made on thealamo.org.
San Antonio, Texas
Head back home out of the San Antonio International Airport.
However, before you leave, we recommend staying an extra day to full experience the city and especially the Alamo.