El Pasoans do not have to travel far to get to the great outdoors: their city is filled with parks that provide plenty of opportunities to soak up the warm weather while enjoying time in mother nature.
For some, the sprawling view from the Franklin Mountains of two counties and three states is the peak outdoor experience, while others might prefer rock climbing in a state park with thousands of years of human history. From biking to birding to bouldering, these are the best parks in El Paso.
Rio Grande Riverpark Trail welcomes hikers, joggers and cyclists alike
The Rio Grande Riverpark Trail stretches along the Rio Grande from the New Mexico border to Country Club Rd. On nice days, the 10.5-mile paved trail is full of hikers, bikers and joggers training for their next race or simply getting some afternoon exercise. The majestic peaks of the Franklin Mountains and vistas of the New Mexico desert provide a stunning backdrop to help joggers get their minds off the pain and push through. Those wanting a leisurely stroll should bring binoculars: the riverside pathway is a great spot for bird-watching.
Expect Texas-size adventure at Franklin Mountains State Park
The Franklin Mountains epitomize the saying that everything is bigger in Texas. The mountains form the largest state park in an urban setting in the United States; standing at 7192 feet above sea level, they are visible from any vantage point in the city. Not only do the sandy, jagged mountains make a scenic backdrop, they are also considered the area’s backyard playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
Hikers love the 37 square miles of rugged terrain through desert landscapes, while bikers love the 125 miles of multi-use trails. True adventurers love the North Franklin Mountain Peak Trail, which leads you up to the summit’s 360-degree panorama of El Paso, New Mexico and Mexico. (The view is spectacular, but the 13-mile round-trip trail is not for the faint of heart.) For those who want to stick around, the state park offers 15 tent camping sites and five RV sites.
Bold bouldering awaits at Hueco Tanks State Park
Pronounced “WHEY-co,” hueco is the Spanish word for hole. And the innumerable, naturally formed holes in the granite monoliths at Hueco Tanks State Park have long acted as natural pools to hold water. These pools, along with nearby caverns and caves that provide shelter, have been attracting travelers to the area for more than 10,000 years. The prehistoric people who passed through the area left rock paintings throughout the park, and more than 3000 images depicting religious masses, caricatures, dancing figures, men on horses, snakes, birds and jaguars are sketched or painted among the rocky outcrops here.
In addition to its historical significance, Hueco Tanks is internationally known for its world-class rock climbing. The same recesses that can store water also make excellent hand holds for climbers – so the 860-acre state park is a mountaineer’s playground. Every year thousands of rock climbers from around the world descend onto the red rocks to free climb the large, pocketed boulders.
Note that the park is only accessible with a guided tour or a permit, and to protect the fragile desert ecosystem, daily admittance is capped at 70 visitors. It is best to reserve your spot as soon as possible to guarantee entry.
Spot fine feathered friends at Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
Birders, this is the spot for you. This 372-acre city park contains riparian wetlands of the sort that once flourished all along the Rio Grande; today, the preserve attracts more than 240 species of birds each year. Meandering through the nearly 5 miles of trails, it is not unusual to spot non-feathered creatures, too, including monarch butterflies, rabbits, bobcats, turtles and more. While each season brings its own unique display of animals and colors, the spring wildflowers cannot be beaten. The bright yellow blooms are most notable during March and April.
Enjoy a variety of outdoor options at Keystone Heritage Park
If you only have a short amount of time and want to visit an archeological site, wetlands, and a botanical garden, plan on spending the afternoon at the Keystone Heritage Park, which has all three within its boundaries.
Visitors can explore the 52-acre park on foot, with walking paths providing views of wetlands where a number of migrating birds can be spotted. A stroll through the botanical gardens lets visitors learn about how the desert’s native plant species have applications in medicine, cuisine and textiles, while the butterfly garden is always a big hit with kids.
The park is also home to one of the oldest archeological sites in the Southwestern United States, dating back some 4500 years. Thatched huts, post holes, fire pits and other elements of ancient settlements give archeologists insight into how humans lived during the time of transition from the Ice Age to the modern climate. Guided tours of the archeological site are available to those who want to learn more.
Watch the skyline twinkle from Scenic Dr
This winding road cuts into the east side of the Franklin Mountains, providing spectacular views all the way up. Two well-maintained parks along the way make it convenient to stop, park and enjoy the panoramic views of El Paso, the Rio Grande, and the city of Juárez across the border.
The views are breathtaking at any time of day, though the ideal time to visit is at dusk when the sky fills with colors as the sun sets and the lights of the city begin to twinkle. Don’t forget quarters so you can use the telescope perched on top of the hill for an even better view.
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