Franklin Mountains State Park is such a treasure for the El Paso area. It’s right on the city’s edge, so it’s mere minutes from everything, but you feel like you are out in the wilderness – a total escape.
With over 100 miles of trails, it’s a popular destination for mountain biking, hiking and even running, and the park itself runs from downtown El Paso to the New Mexico state line with four entrances, so there’s plenty to explore.
Franklin Mountains State Park
We entered the park through the Tom Mays Unit for a driving/hiking tour with our guide, Don from GeoBetty Tours, and if you’re unfamiliar with the desert environment, I’d highly recommend it! Not only will having a guide ensure you see the most picturesque areas, but your guide knows the flora and fauna very well, so he can spot things you might never notice on your own, and share lots of interesting facts about everything!
There are two blooming seasons in this desert area, and we were just on the cusp of one of them, so we got lucky and caught a few blooms and blooms-to-be!
Even before fully blooming, yucca are quite stunning to see.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Finding a heart-shaped pad was a treat! We also noticed that “something” has been munching on the cactus… perhaps javelinas?
The barrel cactus enjoys two blooming seasons: spring and mid-late summer during the rainy season.
Ephedra is a non-caffeine stimulant, and has been used for both tea and other “medicinal” purposes.
When these fully bloom, the mountain hillsides are awash in yellow!
When you spot this indicator species, you know you’re in the Chihuahuan Desert, as that’s pretty much the only place you’ll find it. This shin-dagger has super sharp leaf tips which can penetrate clothing, even leather. If you get stuck, it can take a couple of months for the spine to dissolve or work its way out. Perhaps it’s justice, since it flowers only once in its lifetime, then dies.
It’s the highest point in the Franklin Mountains at just over 7100 feet, and if you’d like to hike or bike to the top, there’s a 4-mile trail you can follow.
Upper Sunset Trail
This popular trail begins at the Tom Mays Unit park entrance pay station, so you can start hiking towards a beautiful view shortly after entering.
The best birding in Franklin Mountains State Park is during the winter, but there’s something to spot year round. Relax for a little while in the bird blind; you never know what you’ll discover.
Enjoy the view
What’s not to love?
Tips for visiting Franklin Mountains State park:
Admission $5 or with annual state park pass
Camping is allowed, but water and hook-ups aren’t available. Gates are locked at 5pm.
Terrain is rocky and can be steep in areas, so sturdy shoes or boots are a must. Bikers are required to wear helmets.
Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a first aid kit and a hat for shade.
Temperatures can vary by 30 degrees from day to night, so dress appropriately, and bring layers. June and July are the hottest months, and late July to mid-September is the rainy season. The most moderate temperatures can be found from September to early May.
Be aware that rattlesnakes are in the area. You may also encounter scorpions and biting insects.
Respect the plants and wildlife by leaving things in their natural state and location. Please don’t collect souvenirs.
Guided tours available with GeoBetty Tours. We did a version of a walking/driving tour which allowed us to see more in a shorter period of time without having to hike too much.
Have you visited Franklin Mountains State Park or the Chihuahuan Desert? What are your favorite desert species?