Two hikers riding up a path in the woods
Off the Beaten Path

How to Get the Most Out of a Trip to Franklin Mountains State Park

Taking a Trip to El Paso? Frankly, You Need to See These Mountains

The mountains of El Paso, TexasEl Paso is a beautiful, bustling city with plenty to do and even more to see. But despite its rich urban setting, The Sun City isn’t as disconnected from the wilderness as it may seem. Bordering the city is a range of mountains, along with a state park. Though certainly not the biggest mountain range in the country, the Franklin Mountains are a natural wonder that anyone visiting El Paso would be remiss to skip. 

The only state park to live entirely within city lines, Franklin Mountains State Park is a mere 30-minute drive from El Paso. And whether you snag a bus or rent a car to get there, the Franklins are worth the short trip. 

Are you looking to learn more about Franklin Mountains State Park? If so, grab your metaphorical compass and figurative hiking boots, and allow us to be your mountain guide. Trail markers on this trek include . . . 

  • More about the park 
  • What there is to do there
  • How to get there

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About Franklin Mountains State Park

A field of Poppies at Franklin Mountains State Park

Source: Adobe Stock

Spanning 23 miles from Texas to New Mexico, the Franklins are named after Benjamin Franklin Coots, a notable Texas rancher whose settlement grew into a town called Franklin, which in turn evolved into a city named El Paso. The Franklins are a part of the Chihuahuan Desert and are thought to have been formed by crustal extension across the Rio Grande rift

Despite its desert terrain, the Franklins are home to many species of wildlife including plants, mammals, and birds. The Wilderness Park Coalition lobbied on behalf of the Franklins for many years before the Texas government finally agreed to protect them under state law in 1979, and Franklin Mountains State Park was not opened until nearly 10 years later in 1987. 

The Franklin Mountains were once host to prehistoric peoples who lived in the area, long before the Spanish claimed the territory for themselves in the 1500s. With plenty of stone to make tools and weapons and a steady supply of plants and animals, the Franklins provided many resources to native tribes, some of which left their mark with cave paintings and scattered bedrock mortar pits. 

Post-colonization, the mountains and their surrounding area were used for mining and ranching, and the El Paso Tin Mine and Smelting Company—the country’s only tin mine—operated within what are now park boundaries from 1910 to 1911. 

Franklin Mountain State Park Activities 

The mountains might be surrounded by desert, but there’s no drought when it comes to things to do at Franklin Mountains State Park. With its rugged landscape, a multitude of trails, and over 20 thousand acres of space, there are more than enough park activities to keep your schedule full while you’re here.

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Hiking and Biking

Two hikers riding up a path in the woods

Source: Adobe Stock

Franklins Mountains State Park has over 100 miles of trails for hiking and biking. The trails range in level of difficulty, so if you want to avoid getting caught on one that’s too much, make sure you do your research first.

Easy Trails

Moderate Trails 

Hard Trails 

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Rock Climbing

A female rock climber at work over the mountains

Source: Adobe Stock

The park has designated climbing areas in McKellington Canyon and at Sneed’s Cory in the Tom Mays Unit. You must bring your own equipment (helmets, rope, tape, cams, etc.). 

Some of the most popular climbs include: 

Thunderbird Mountain (5,432 ft.)

Sneed’s Cory (4,963 ft.) 

McKellington Canyon (4,928 ft.)

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Camping

A tent in Texas at sunset

Source: Adobe Stock

The Tom Mays Unit of the park is equipped with campsites with options for RVs, tents, group camps of 16 people, and group camps of 24 people. You can make reservations at the park office or online. The sites have different amenities, some of which include picnic tables, outdoor grills, shade shelter, and fire rings. However, most do not have water, so make sure to bring your own. Likewise, prices vary from site to site but are in the range of $10 to $30 (plus the daily entrance fee for the park).

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Bird Watching
 

A roadrunner in texas

Source: Adobe Stock

Bird-watchers flock to Franklin Mountains State Park, which has more than 100 species of birds to see. Golden eagles, ash-throated flycatchers, calliope hummingbirds, and desert cardinals all dwell in the area, and you can catch a glimpse of many of them by visiting the park’s bird blind in the Tom Mays Unit.

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Photography

The beauty of Franklin Mountains State Park will bring out anyone’s inner photographer, even if you only have the camera on your phone. There’s no shortage of photo ops in the sprawling wilderness, and the elevated views of El Paso are unrivaled. Photograph various species of cacti, along with wildlife, mountain scenery, and, of course, the fun that you’re having. 

While sunrise and sunset are undoubtedly spectacular, you’ll leave Franklin Mountains State Park with breathtaking photos, no matter what time of day you visit.

How to Get to Franklin Mountains State Park

Located in the northern corner of El Paso, Franklin Mountains State Park is relatively easy to get to from the city. 

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By Car

Whether you take your own car or rent one, the easiest way to get to the park from the city is by car. There are four main access points to the park:

  • Tom Mays Unit (2900 Tom Mays Access Road): From Interstate 10, take the Canutillo/Trans Mountain Road exit and turn toward the mountains. Enter the park 3.5 miles from the interstate.
  • McKelligon Canyon (1331 McKelligon Canyon Road): From Highway 54, exit on Fred Wilson Road and turn west toward the mountains. 
  • Smugglers Pass (Ron Coleman Trail): Near the summit of the Trans Mountain Road (Loop 375). Look for a parking lot with a trailhead (McKellingon Canyon Road). 
  • Northeast section of the park: End of Jon Cunningham Boulevard, near Chuck Heinrich Memorial Park. 

an icon of a busBy Bus

Don’t have a car, and don’t want to rent one? You can still get to the park by bus! Line 36 has the closest stops to the park. 

Franklin Mountain State Park FAQs

The following are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about the park. For more information, you can visit the park’s website or call (915) 566-6441. 

When is the park open?
The park is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. 

How much is the park’s entrance fee?
For adults, admission to the park is $5, but it’s free for kids 12 and under. 

When do the gates to the Tom Mays Unit open and close?
Gates to the park’s Tom Mays Unit open at 8 am and close at 5 pm. The gate hours are extended on the weekends from April to September, and during this period, they open at 6:30 am and close at 8 pm. 

When is the best time of year to visit the park?
The busiest seasons for the park are spring, summer, and fall. As you can probably imagine, summers get pretty hot (with temperature highs of nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit!), so if you’re looking for more mild weather, spring and fall are the best times to visit.  

Can I bring my dog?
Yes! Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are on a leash (and you clean up after them!). 

Experience El Paso in All of Its Natural Glory

With attractions like the El Paso Zoo, the El Paso Museum of Art, and Western Playland, El Paso is a city that won’t leave you wanting for things to do. That being said, if you want to truly experience the area, you need to make time to schedule a visit to Franklin Mountains State Park. Even if you don’t consider yourself the outdoorsy type, you’re sure to be charmed by the desert wildflowers and the radiant Texas sun. Whether you spend a few hours or a couple of days exploring the park, a trip to the Franklin Mountains is one you won’t soon forget. 

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