Climbing Destination Guide - Bouldering At Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas
Texas can often be quickly dismissed as "flat" and not having much to offer as far as outdoorsy" activities go. However, many people overlook that 30 minutes from the town of El Paso, Texas, lies the birthplace of modern bouldering, Hueco Tanks State Park. In fact, every year many of the top professional rock climbers gather here to compete at the Hueco Tanks Rock Rodeo Bouldering competition to test their limits on its famous roof climbs. Hueco Tanks is one of those climbing destinations that if you enjoy bouldering should be high on your list of places to climb at. It won't be easy climbing and it is guaranteed to challenge you and make you work for it, but if you're lucky you'll get a send in one of the most epic bouldering locations in the United States. There are some regulations for taking a trip there due to all the old rock art that can be found in the area, but I've detailed everything you need to know in our post.
Our below climbing destination guide will review the following:
A Brief History of Hueco Tanks - Just a little information about what makes the park so special and highly regulated.
How to Get There - Where is Hueco Tanks located and how can you get there?
When to Go - What is the best time of the year to visit and what is the weather typically like?
Where to Stay - From cheaper to more comfortable options, there are lots of places to stay on your visit to Hueco Tanks.
Red Tape and Regulations - All about the different mountains, their rules and regulations, and how to make reservations or hire a guide
The Climbing - What is the climbing like at Hueco? + lots of photos!
Rest Day Activities - Your skin and muscles will thank you for some rest, here are some ideas for your rest days.
What to Bring - What should you be sure to bring on your trip to Hueco Tanks?
A Brief History of Hueco Tanks
One of the things that makes Hueco Tanks such a special place is all the rock art and imagery that can be found throughout the park. It has been home to all kinds of travelers and various tribes throughout the past 10,000 years who have passed through and made their home among the rocks and near its water sources. The most famous images in Hueco Tanks are the mask paintings that can be found on different boulders and in caves. All this art and the historical artifacts are part of the reason there is strict regulation at the park, to ensure that this history is preserved and maintained for future generations to experience. Hueco Tanks became an official historic site open to the public in 1970 and it is considered a State Archeological Landmark. As always, it is important to respect the park regulations, leave no trace, and don't disturb any artifacts you may find while on your visit. Leave them as they were, part of history and part of Hueco Tanks charm. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty details about the history at Hueco Tanks, check out the state park's webpage on history.
Hueco Tanks State Park is located 30 to 45 minutes East of El Paso, Texas, depending on where you are staying. The town of El Paso is located in far West Texas, very close to the borders of New Mexico (United States) and the country of Mexico. It's not really "close" to any particular big city besides El Paso, so it will really depend on where you are coming from to determine how long it takes to get there. There is an international airport in El Paso, Texas (ELP), which is also another option if you are flying in to visit Hueco Tanks. See the map below for more details on the location.
We drove from central California and the entire drive took us about 14 hours. We left after work on a Thursday and drove half way through to Pheonix, Arizona and then completed the rest of our drive the following day.
When to go
The best times to visit are November through March, although you might be able to get by visiting in October and April if the weather cooperates with you. You will definitely want to try to visit though when the weather is cooler because this will provide you with the best "sending temperatures" and help you stick better to the rock when climbing. We want to avoid sweaty palms here, so endure the winter months we must. March and April can also get very windy which can be very annoying, so if it were me, I'd plan to visit November through February. See the chart below for more details on average highs and lows for Hueco Tanks.
Where to Stay:
Fortunately there are tons of options for camping, hotels and housing when visiting Hueco Tanks State Park since it is relatively close to El Paso, Texas. I've listed the below options in order from cheapest to most expensive.
Distance from park: Inside of the park
Type of lodging and Price: Campsites with electricity and water ($16 per night), campsites with water ($12 per night)
Perks: You are inside of the park and right near the climbing, You also get to be first in line for North Mountain walk-in passes
Cons: Can't leave the park after 6pm because the Park gates physically close
Distance from park: 1 mile
Type of lodging and Price: camping ($5-$10 per person per night), bunk rooms ($16-$40 per person per night), and private rooms ($35-$70 per person per night)
Perks: Supports the American Alpine Club, showers available, kitchen and open area available to guests, limited wifi available
Cons: No pets allowed
Personal Experience: We stayed here before and slept in our Jeep at one of the campsites. The campground is basically a really big dirt parking area, so nothing fancy. It was nice for the few days that we were visiting on this particular trip. It was really windy when we went that year, so having the common area to spend time at was also nice.
Distance from park: 1 mile
Type of lodging and Price: bunk rooms ($30 per night), private rooms ($60 per night)
Perks: All house guests have access to the kitchen and living room area, wifi and cellphone service, dogs allowed in private room reservations, crash pad rentals, Showers available for non-guests
Distance from park: 3 miles
Type of lodging and Price: Private camping ($5 per person per night), RV camping ($15 per night), 2 yurts available ($40-$60 per night), and camper rentals ($20-$40 per night)
Perks: Crash pad rentals, dog kennels, located near Send Climbing, wifi available, showers available
Distance from park: 3 mile
Type of lodging and Price: car, tent and RV camping ($3-$7 per person per night)
Perks: Locker rooms, wifi, filtered water, showers, crash pad rentals available
There are also plenty of AirBnb options in El Paso. I suggest looking for one closer to the edge of town towards the park. You can probably get about 30 minutes away from the park at best with the AirBnb option. Pricing will vary depending on the AirBnb you choose.
Personal Experience: Our last trip to Hueco Tanks we booked an AirBnb that was on the edge of El Paso and about 30 minutes away from Hueco Tanks State Park. We split the place with two other friends and the rate was only about $60/per night. It ended up being really nice for our longer stay. We had warm showers, kitchen, living rooms, beds, and even though we were further from Hueco, we already had reservations so it didn't really matter. We were close to town too for when we wanted to get groceries or go out to eat.
There are also a lot of hotel options in El Paso. Similar to the AirBnbs, I suggest looking closer to the edge of town toward the park. Pricing will vary depending on the hotel you stay at.
Value Place Hotel on Joe Battle Blvd is the closets hotel to Hueco Tanks State Park.
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Red Tape and Reservations: The Different Mountains and Their Rules
There are 4 main Mountains and bouldering areas at Hueco Tanks State Park, and only North Mountain can be "self guided" meaning you can explore it without hiring a guide to take you around. However, you still have to have a reservation to visit North Mountain. As mentioned in the history section above, it is important to respect the rules here at Hueco Tanks so that it remains protected and open to climbers for many more years to come.
How To Make Reservations for North Mountain
North Mountain is the only self guided mountain. The rules are a little odd, so be sure to read all the details below:
Total number allowed on North Mountain: Only 70 people are allowed access to North Mountain at one time. It is possible that if people leave "mid-day" that they may let more groups into the mountain, as long as the total count is 70 people. This makes things fairly competitive though because this covers climbers, hikers, and all other visitors. There are 60 call-ahead reservation spots and 10 day-of walk-in spots.
How to get reservations in advance: Your best bet to ensure you get reservations is to call 90 days before the date you want to go climb. Call (512) 389-8911 in order to reserve permits. Make sure to call as soon as the lines open up for that day because the reservations fill up fast. If you get "in" you are also allowed to reserve up to 3 consecutive days on that same phone call. Then you are required to spend one day "off" of North Mountain before you are allowed to make more reservations.
How to get reservations last minute: There are 10 "walk in spots available. First priority goes to people who are staying at the campground inside of Hueco Tanks, but if those do not fill up then it goes by first car parked at the gate. So if you are staying outside the park, wake up really early to get to the gate to be first in line. Also, if people do not claim their reserved spots on North Mountain by 10 AM, then these reservations are released and people waiting in line at the park can get in.
Price: $7 per person per day, or free for everyone in your car if one of you has a Texas State Parks Pass which is $70 per year, so if you will be spending a lot of time on North Mountain it might be worth splitting the cost of a parks pass
Hiring Hueco Tank Guides for the Other Mountains
You will need to hire a guide in order to climb at and explore East Mountain, East Spur, and West Mountain.
When to Reserve a Tour: It is best to schedule your guides in advance as well, with at least a minimum of up to 1 week in advance.
Volunteer Tours: Volunteer tours tend to be a little less reliable and are "open to the public" meaning you will have to share your tour with other people and their climbing desires. Volunteer tours cost $2 plus the normal North Mountain entrance fee of $7 per person. However if you have the parks pass it will only cost each person $2. This fee is paid directly to the park. To schedule a volunteer tour you will call Hueco Tanks directly at 915-857-1135.
Commercial Tours: Commercial tours can be either open to the public or privately reserved, and are pretty much a guarantee that you will get to go out climbing. Commercial tours can vary anywhere from $25 per person to over $150 per group depending on the kind of tour you reserve in advance and who you reserve it from
While pets are technically allowed at the park, they are only allowed on "paved surfaces and the picinic area trails" so it is probably best to either arrange a place for your pet to stay while you climb or to leave them at home. They are not allowed to be left in your vehicle.
There is such great climbing in Hueco Tanks. The rock is a a granite-like, igneous material. You won't find a lot of slab climbing here, instead you will find more overhangs and roof climbing. Being proficient with toe hooks, heel hooks and kneebars will be useful when climbing out here. There are literally thousands of climbs at Hueco Tanks State Park. You could spend a lifetime trying to see everything. Occasionally areas are even shut down for a period of restoration and the reopened again later.
The best place to get an idea of the "classic climbs" at Hueco is to either look around online at videos and photos, or check out the guidebooks, or talk to friends. We've put together a slideshow below of some of our favorite photos from the area. If you have interest in one of the climbs names in this photos just reach out to me in the comment section below. Michael and I will be putting together our top 10 favorite climbs at Hueco Tanks here shortly, so stay tuned. Until then... hope these photos wet your appetite to visit!
Rest Day Activities
Your skin and muscles will thank you for some rest, here are some ideas for your rest days.
1) Go check out Send Climbing's workshop, and possibly buy one of their Kneebar Pads.
2) Go visit White Sands National Monument. White Sands National Monument is only about an hour and a half from Hueco Tanks State Park. The white sand dunes are like nothing I've ever seen before, comprised predominantly of the mineral called gypsum. We drove out there one early afternoon during our trip and spent our time hiking around, taking photos, and and watching the sunset, and I'm so glad we made the trip out there, even if it was only for the afternoon.
3) Explore El Paso. Its actually a much bigger place than you might think and there are a lot of good restaurants and brewery options in the town.
4) Spend some time at coffee shops. There are plenty of coffee shops with free wifi to hang out at in El Paso.
5) If you'll be spending some more time in Texas, also consider checking out these other fascinating places in West Texas.
What to Bring
Besides the basic food, water, sunscreen items, here are a few things you should make sure to pack on your trip to Hueco Tanks State Park:
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1. Crash Pad: If you are driving, it is easy enough to bring your own crash pad, but there are also crash pad rentals available. See the "where to stay" section for some locations that offer pad rentals.
2. Chalk: Don't forget to fill up on chalk before you come. Friction Labs Gorilla Grip Chunky Chalk is my favorite brand of chalk. In my opinion, it just feels better than any other chalk that I've used. I feel like spider-woman with this chalk (unless I'm in Bishop and have no skin left on my hands)... I'm converted. Gorilla Grip is my favorite combo too, "Chunky" but not "Overly Chunky". However, they do have different kinds as well if that suits you (or your friend) better, Fine Textured and Super Chunky.
3. Kneebar Pad: With all that cave climbing comes lots of opportunities to place kneebars. Your knees will thank you for owning one of these. Fortunately for you, there is a place only 3 miles from Hueco Tanks State Park that sells them! Send Climbing makes super awesome and durable kneebar pads and they have several different options available.
4. Bouldering Brush: To brush holds and crimps! The Sublime Climbing Brush is a great little brush for cleaning holds and as an added bonus, there is a secret compartment... a good place to stash some lip balm.
5. Climbing Tape: Climbing tape is useful to have to help patch up flappers and cuts on your hands and fingers or to help stabilize or prevent common injuries you may be prone to getting.
6. Super Glue: When you can't keep flappers down and you want to keep climbing, sometimes super glue is your best option. We always have some Krazy glue in our hand repair kit while we are out bouldering.
7. Hand Skin File: Keeping your skin filed down when it gets torn up is a good way to help prevent flappers and further damage. It is also nice for filing down giant calluses on your hand. ClimbSkin Double-sided Hand and Finger File is the best product I've found so far for this. I keep it in my bouldering chalk bag.
8. Nail Clippers: Nail clippers to keep finger nails short and to trip flappers... are you seeing a trend here yet with flapper maintenance? With all that roof climbing, you will be lucky to leave without one.
9. Hand Repair Balm: In order to maximize your climbing time it is equally important to take care of your skin with some sort of hand repair balm. ClimbSkin Hand Repair Cream is probably the best stuff I've found so far for that. It's fine to have a thicker hand cream on when you go to sleep, but sometimes when you just want some hand repair during the day, this is the go-to stuff. I love it!
11. Good Sticky Rubber Hiking Shoes: You will have to do quite a bit of walking in certain parts of the park at Hueco Tanks and a lot of the hiking is done on slabby rock. I recommend bringing some "approach shoe" style shoes so that you don't have to worry about slipping on the rock while you are hiking to boulders. We love the Evolv Cruzer Shoes and Five Tens Guide Tennis for this.
12. Guidebook: There are two main guidebooks in the area, but only one is affordable and "in-print". The John Sherman Hueco Tanks Bouldering Guide is still in print, but is an older guidebook. It won't have all the climbs and it doesn't have the best pictures or descriptions either. Matt Wilder's guidebook is out of print, but you can still find some used copies on amazon. However, it still doens't contain all the climbs or climbing areas. In our group we had both guidebooks, but if you are going out with a "guide" they will also know a lot about the climbs.
13. Warm Clothes: Lastly, don't forget to pack warm clothes because in the winter it can get very cold out there, and even in March when it is a bit warmer, the wind can make it very cold as well. Check the weather and bring appropriate clothing.
Let us know if you have been before and have any favorite climbs at Hueco below in the comments! Also if you have any questions on the information we detailed above, don't hesistate to reach out.
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