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.
Read more: El Paso Mission Trail: A 9-Mile Reason to Visit The Sun City! | Lucchese Boot Factory Tour – El Paso, TX
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.
For more information, visit the Texas State Parks & Wildlife website and visitelpaso.com/. Be sure to check out my post on the El Paso Mission Trail as well.
Have you visited Franklin Mountains State Park or the Chihuahuan Desert? What are your favorite desert species?
Comments & Reviews
Kristina Paché Ferency says
The pictures are beautiful. I’ve never been but this would be awesome to see. I want to take yearly vacations with the kids so I’m adding this on our list for a place to see!
Robin Rue says
We do a yearly vacation with the kids and I am always looking for new places to add to our list of fun places to go.
Robin Rue says
That is so cool! I Have never been to a desert before, but would love to explore one someday!
We actually passed through this (well….kinda brushed up on it?!) on our drive over to Tennessee. I wish we had stopped but we were on a time crunch. Maybe when we move back to California, this will be on our list of places to visit!
Saidah Washington says
I love seeing all of the cacti and succulents, but I would so scared a big cat was lurking somewhere.
Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says
What a gorgeous place! I’ve always loved deserts. They have a unique beauty all their own.
Where I live there is similar terrain and there’s so much beauty in the dessert. Until I moved to the desert I did not know that cacti flower.
Jen Rattie says
When people think vacations, they usually think of beaches, but I really love deserts. Cacti and the rock formations you find there are gorgeous.
Wow, so gorgeous! Would love to visit and explore something like this. Such gorgeous photos and sights to see. i love the dessert but havent ever seen one myself.
What amazing pictures, such a gorgeous place to visit. I would love to visit there one day, would you believe I have never visited anything like this…. I am sure it is amazing in person!
I love the heart shaped cactus! I live in Southern Ontario so I’ve never seen an area like this up close. I would love to visit but I have to admit the scorpions scare me!
Catherine Sargent says
What a beautiful place to visit. I would love to hike up the Upper Sunset Trail if I am ever in the area.
Tonya Wilhelm says
That looks like so much fun. I’m not sure my body would be able to take that hike. I certainly can see myself just sitting and soaking up the landscape.
Amy Desrosiers says
What a magnificent view of the desert. I have never seen anything like it in real life but would love to!
Pam Wattenbarger says
I haven’t visited the desert in years. The barrel cactus is so pretty! I love the scenery in deserts.
Ooooo never heard of Franklin Mountains State Park but it sounds like one awesome place to explore! I need to check it out.
Some of these are really beautiful. I would love to have some of them in my yard.
Jeni Hawkins says
I would love to go and explore here! I have always wanted to go to this part of the US.
Claudia Krusch says
I would love to explore Franklin Mountains State Park. I have always wanted to go to a dessert.
Franklin Mountains State Park looks lie a beautiful place to go on an adventure. I am hoping to be in the area next Winter. I will have to see if we can go.
Ora Lee Gurr says
You’ve given some incredible pictures for the Franklin Mountains State Park. How wonderful to get a good guide to help you see so many things that would have been easy to miss.
Dawn McAlexander says
These are some wonderful photos. I really like the dessert flowers. We don’t get to see anything like that around here, so that is really unique.
Reesa Lewandowski says
I had no idea the desert could be so beautiful! I would love to explore it one day!
This looks like a wonderful place for a vacation. I love the views. I’ve never even been to a desert before.
So many great places to see in this wonderful country of ours. I’m never for crowded spaces and this looks just perfect!
I’ve always been intrigued by cactus, probably because we don’t have any where I live. That Barrel cactus is sure interesting.
Amanda @Mommity says
What a beautiful park! I’ve never been to that part of the US. Looks like an adventure I need to have
Lisa Collins says
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Franklin Mountains State Park! I need to plan a trip there to take in all the sights!
Toni | Boulder Locavore says
What a great place to visit! This looks so much fun to visit with the family! Adding this to my must-see list!
This view is absolutely stunning! Love your photos too! Wish I could visit this place one day!
What a gorgeous place to visit. I have never been to the desert before. It would be quite the experience.
I haven’t had a chance to visit Franklin Mountains State Park. I would love to visit and take in all the beautiful scenery.
Candy O says
Wow Liz you got some amazing shots there! The cacti are so beautiful, I’m so glad you got to see them in bloom!!
Jennifer G says
Looks like such a cool place to visit! Love the view and cactus. I may have to make a point to go visit now. Would be such an interesting trip.
Kelly Hutchinson says
I have never been to a desert before. I love all the flora along the trail you were on. So pretty.
Amanda Love says
This is awesome. I have no idea that there were plenty to do here. I wouldn’t mind spending time here.
Our Family World says
I would love to go hiking at Upper Sunset Trail. I can just imagine sitting there basking in the beauty of the sunset over the desert. Such a wonderful experience that would be. Wish I could visit the Chihuahuan desert!
Louise Bishop says
I love visiting desert environments. They’re so fascinating!
Sheena Tatum says
What a pretty spot to visit! I’m jealous! I love the flowering cacti the most.
Wendy Polisi says
I’ve always wanted to visit here! Now I’m wanting to even more.
Great review of the park. You always take beautiful photos and so scenic and serene.
What in the world would eat cacti? Are they nutso? 🙂 The pictures are great, and I’d def. get a tour in the desert, or else it wouldn’t be so meaningful to me (I’d have no idea what I was looking at more than half the time if I did it on my own, I’m sure!).
Amy Desrosiers says
I would love to experience the dry heat of the desert. I need to add this to my bucket list if to-see places.
Tiffany VanSickle says
I would LOVE to go somewhere like this with my husband! It looks beautiful…but a bit scary with the snakes and scorpions…ha
Alissa Apel says
This is where I should live. I’d have a lot less allergy problems in a desert. Plus I love the heat.