the back stairway
Hunter Peak lies across the valley from it's more famous cousin, Guadalupe Peak (highest point in Texas), but it really offers the more difficult challenge of the two. Accessed up through Bear Canyon, most of the elevation gain is concentrated into 1.7 mile section of the 3.75 mile trail. I've heard numerous backpackers complain about the terrible climb up that canyon... and others complain about the slippery footing coming down. But, of the two main trails leading up the mountain, I find Bear Canyon far and away the more scenic, and the more pleasant to hike. At 8,368 feet, it is 381 feet lower than Guadalupe Peak, and lacks some of the drama, and all of the crowds.
The Bear canyon access trail also has the lessor use to Hunter; most hikers are backpacking up the Tejas trail, heading for the primitive and limited campsites in the large basin adjacent to Hunter Peak.
Starting from the main trailhead in the Pine Springs campground, in the paved RV parking section, you head off up the signed trails, first turning right at the junctures on to the Frijole Trail, winding back over and around to your right. Stay on the Frijole Trail when it intersects the Tejas trail bearing off to the left. You go to the right. The next intersection will be with the Foothills trail, bear to the left, remaining on the Frijole trail until it intersects with Bear Canyon Trail. Turn left onto Bear Canyon Trail and begin to enjoy the steep and scenic climb up the mountain. The beginning sections of this route were over the open and exposed foothills; now you enter the confines of the narrow canyon, enjoying broken bits of shade.
As you crest out of the canyon and enter the broad mountaintop basin, bear to your left once more on the circular Bowl trail. You will be walking towards Hunter's Peak, and to complete your climb look for the smaller path leading off to the left and up for the final .25 mile climb (150') to the Peak.
For your return trip you have the option of repeating your entry path, or continuing on around the Bowl Trail to intersect the Tejas trail, following it down and around to your beginning.
There is an entry/parking fee, payable at the trailhead. If you are camping, there is also an additional fee. The trailhead is very popular on the weekends and holidays, with the camping filling up early on Friday.
There is a very nice restroom at the trailhead, and drink machines to boot! The ranger station lies a mile down the road for more extension trail information. Weekends typically include a presentation by one of the rangers.
The alternate route: Tejas Trail, is longer with well cut, even, switchback grades. I do not care for it's open, exposed feel and much prefer the steeper, more scenic, and less used Bear Canyon.
If you do hike Hunter Peak, do not miss the opportunity to also take the easy additional walk up into Devil's Hall. If you are lucky enough to be there in the fall, prepare for some exceptional color!
If you are into the geological aspects, this is a most unique area, the Capitan Reef, formed from ancient fossils. Lots to discover and study.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.