Though not the most secluded hike in Guadalupe National Park, this one has a lot to offer. Not only does it start at the Frijole Ranch
History Museum, which provides some excellent educational opportunities, it winds through the Chihuahuan Desert, passing two springs which can offer some excellent wildlife viewing. Smith Spring, in particular, is also a fantastic place to take a break and enjoy some shade; a rarity in the desert.
The trail is only paved and wheelchair accessible up to Manzanita Spring.
Start this hike from the Frijole Ranch
History Museum and head north on the road to reach the trailhead of the Smith Spring Trail
. At the trailhead take a right to follow a short paved trail. This leads you to Manzanita Spring which is a nice oasis in the middle of the desert. Water is a scarcity here so this spring draws wildlife of all kinds. This is a great birding spot.
Beyond Manzanita Spring, the trail becomes more rugged turning to dirt and sandy singletrack. It begins to climb a shallow to moderate grade as it parallels a small wash. The Smith Spring Trail
winds through the Chihuahuan Desert environment and you'll be able to see a variety of cactus, yucca, agave, snipers and the occasional small oak and scrub as you hike along this trail. The trail is generally easy with mostly flat to small hills being the only obstacles that you'll need to navigate around. Take a moment to practice your navigation skills at the top of any of the small hills along the way!
As you cross the seasonal wash, the grade steepens, just for a moment and you'll find yourself in a clump of trees; this stark contrast to the rest of the trail provides an interesting visual break. At the high point of the trail (about 1.3 miles in), you will reach Smith Spring. This is a true oasis in the desert as the flowing spring creates a large pool in the shade of the trees. This is a fantastic spot to sit and wait for opportunities to witness wildlife such as birds and other mammals.
As you leave the spring you venture back into the desert environment, leaving the shade behind. Though there is no more shade to cool your brow, at least the rest of the hike is generally downhill. At about 2.2 miles you'll pass the junction with Frijole Trail
, followed shortly by Foothills Trail
. Before you know it, you're back at the trailhead. Take a right on the road back to the museum. If you haven't already, spend some time wandering the museum learning about the history of the area.
Birds, mule deer, elk, as well as other desert critters.
There is a variety of cactus, yucca, agave, snipers and the occasional small oak and scrub.