Ascend to one of the highest peaks in Texas, step inside ancient caves, admire amazing rock formations and cruise the desert in your own off-road vehicle. With nearly 300 days of sunshine a year, more than 100 miles of hiking trails and all the stark mountainous beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert, El Paso is a fantastic place to revel in the outdoors. Located in far West Texas in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, the “Sun City” is a vibrant place full of exciting things to see and do. Discover a few of the many ways you can get outdoors in El Paso below.
Enjoy the View from the Aztec Caves
Nestled on the rugged western slope of the Franklin Mountains, the Aztec Caves are both a living piece of history and a spectacular reward at the end of a short hike. Start your journey at the trailhead of the Aztec Cave Trail in Franklin Mountains State Park, a less than 3/4-mile hike that ascends more than 400 feet past lechuguillas, ocotillos, yuccas and prickly pear cactuses. If you have hiking poles, they’ll be a big help here. Reach the end of the path and step inside the caves and you’ll notice walls stained by smoke, marks of those who came before. Savor some time in the shade as you take in the spectacular view of miles of Chihuahuan Desert terrain, a view that has delighted countless generations through the ages.
Climb to the Peak of the Franklin Mountains
Standing at 7,192 feet above sea level, the imposing North Franklin Mountain is almost always in view no matter where you are in El Paso. Not only can you look upon it in admiration, you can also climb to the very top. To get there, travel up the Mundy’s Gap Trail on the eastern slopes of the mountain until you reach the North Franklin Mountain Peak Trail. Follow the path along the mountain’s eastern slope, twisting and turning over red volcanic rocks along the way. Follow the trail all the way to the summit that affords a nearly 360-degree view of El Paso, as well as New Mexico and the Mexican border. On a clear day, you may even see New Mexico’s Organ Mountains.
All told, this hike is nearly 13 miles round trip, so make sure to bring plenty of water and a sturdy pair of shoes.
Take Some Truly Stunning Photos
Towering mountains and cactus-filled valleys bathed in abundant sunlight. Desert cottontail rabbits, collared lizards, and more than 100 species of birds. Blooming poppies that blanket the landscape in vibrant yellow hues. El Paso is a wonderland for photographers, whether you’re the type who always travels with your DSLR camera or you want some eye-catching shots you can share on social media. Explore the varied terrain of the Franklin Mountains on the Mundy’s Gap Trail, which starts in the rolling eastern foothills and climbs nearly 1,700 feet to Mundy’s Gap. Snap a few shots of the mountains along the way, then take a nice panoramic photo of Mexico, New Mexico, and El Paso from the peak of Mundy’s Gap.
For photos of the previously mentioned poppies, come to El Paso in the spring. Although you can see them throughout the Franklin Mountains, the eastern slopes have the highest concentration of blooms. No matter where you go in El Paso, always bring your camera.
Discover Ancient Native American Pictographs
Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site is perhaps best known as one of the best bouldering destinations in the country. Yet this area, less than 40 miles outside of El Paso, has always been a popular place to be. People of all kinds have lived and taken shelter in Hueco Tanks for more than 10,000 years, and evidence of their presence persists to this very day. Hundreds of intriguing pictographs depicting animals, deities, masks and more are easily seen, particularly if you’re on a guided tour led by a knowledgeable park ranger. Yet you can find some of them on your own as you wander through the park’s self-guided area. Walk in the footsteps of the native peoples that once called this place home and you’ll find it easy to imagine what life was like here in a different era.
Go Off Road
Looking for your next off-road adventure? Get behind the wheel of a Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) with Rent a UTV Off-Road Adventures and explore El Paso’s Red Sands, an area that was once under an ancient sea 34 million years ago. Rent a UTV has 1.5- and 2.5-hour guided excursions through an array of scenic desert landscapes. Choose a one-, two- or four-seat UTV and learn how to handle your vehicle in the staging area before setting out on your adventure. Revel in the feeling of pure exhilaration as you bound over sand dunes and along rugged trails, all while taking in the sheer beauty of the Red Sands. Lose track of time and your ride will be over before you know it. After all, time flies when you’re having fun.
Hike, Bike & Jog Along the Rio Grande
When you need to go for a nice, long run or stroll, El Paso’s Rio Grande Riverpark Trail System is the place to be. Spanning a total of 21 miles, 13 of which are in El Paso, this continuous, paved trail follows the Rio Grande River all the way to the New Mexico-Texas state line in Anthony. Not only is the trail just as ideal for easygoing afternoon strolls as it is for marathon training, it also provides a retreat to a different part of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Trade in hardscrabble trails for some time among lush grasses and trees that border the river, a distinct environment that you can enjoy along with views of the Franklin Mountains and the mesas of New Mexico. The trail also provides some of the best birdwatching in the area, as well as abundant peace and quiet that you can savor at your own pace.
Explore Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
Settled along the Texas-Mexico border just southeast of El Paso, Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a 372-acre park home to riparian wetlands that once flourished along the Rio Grande. As you explore the 4.5 miles of trails that meander through the verdant park, you may encounter swallowtail and monarch butterflies, hares and rabbits, bobcats, turtles and more.
If you like to go bird watching, this is the spot for you. More than 240 species have been recorded here, with common nesters including burrowing owls, greater roadrunners, blue grosbeaks and painted buntings. Each season has something of its own to offer, with winter seeing an abundance of raptors and all the majestic yellow blooms of the annual Forb Bittersweet in the spring. Visit at any time and you’ll always see something new.
Located in the foothills of mountains and in the heart of a desert, El Paso is a land of natural beauty. There are far more ways than what’s mentioned here to enjoy the outdoors in the “Sun City.”