I've been on half of GUMO trails. Here is what I can share:
1. The rangers at GUMO are very helpful and they know the trails - get their advice
2. once you get "on top" there is lots of forest (oak, maple, pine) and you won't believe you are in the middle of a desert or in Texas. there is much more forest than in Big Bend
3. you must pack water (8 pounds per gallon, one gallon per day)
4. no fires - i hate this but prefer that this rare and old forest not burn... (there is one exception that I will share later in the Permian Reef description)
5. the wind can be dangerous (my personal max is 35 mph). I’ve seen it shred a tent. It will also knock large branches out of trees, knock down large trees, and literally KNOCK YOU DOWN, WORSE PUSH YOU AROUND
6. The typical trail is about 3 feet wide made from tennis ball size rocks. I recommend trail running shoes with a shank. With plain running shoes you get some bruises and soreness. Boots are too heavy…
7. the only place with good wind protection is Tejas Camp Ground - i was there on a night with 50 mph winds and we were well protected (check above you for possible falling branches)
8. Guadalupe peak is a day hike (really not a reason to stay up there - the camp site is only ok - you hear traffic from nearby roads... not kidding). I’ve seen several white tail on this trail. you will see hikers here on most days. There is a short stretch 300’ feet from the top that crosses a semi-smooth rock surface (if there is ice or snow crampons are in needed). allow for 4 or 5 hour round trip (8 miles about 2,500')
9. Devil’s canyon is a fun day hike (no place to camp in the canyon). it has a "box" canyon, "staircase", and lots of maples (beautiful in fall). you will see many hikers here most days. allow 4 hours for a round trip (6 miles, no elevation change)
10. Pine Top is a pretty camp site with some protection from the wind. But when conditions are right you hear trucks on the nearby roads. It is a good base camp for several other hikes (the bowl, Bush Mountain, Tejas, and Blue Ridge). allow 3 hours up and 1.5 hours down. you will be in pine trees once on top, but there is NO SHADE on the way up. i've been here 5 nights and only seen 2 other people. (4 miles and 2,400’ elevation – several switchbacks)
11. Bush Mountain is a must see. From Pine Top to Bush Mountain is about 3 miles with no elevation change but A LOT OF UP AND DOWN. The trail here has sparse pine forest. I’ve been to the camp ground - under some nice pines - and it provides some wind protection under the right conditions. The rangers told us that this is a remote and special trail that few people have hiked. This trail is essentially a westward trail from Pine Top, but it will eventually turn north. After it turns north there is a minor side trail that goes due west off the main trail (before you get to the radio repeater). The side trail takes you to an AWESOME escarpment - you can see west all the way to El Paso - 110 miles away.
12. From Bush Mountain you can return to Pine Top, or go on to Blue Ridge camp ground. Going to Blue Ridge takes you through forest (thick at times) on a trail that is so rarely used that we had to clear trees and even lost the trail at times in brush and weeds. Again, there is a lot of up and down on the way. You will get into maple and pine forest here and it seemed to have good wind protection, but I have not been there under windy conditions. It is about 3 miles from Bush Mountain, 6 miles from Pine Top.
13. Tejas trail and campground. From Blue Ridge it is mostly downhill, from Pine Top it is all downhill. Either way, it’s almost all thick tall forest. Plenty of maples. Well protected from the wind. Pretty remote. I’ve seen sign of other backpackers, but not the people. This area feels much more like New Mexico Gila Mountains than Big Bend.
14. McKittrick Canyon to the grotto (usually dry) and back is a good day hike with little elevation change. YOU WILL SEE OTHER HIKERS. This trail follows a flowing creek as it takes you into a maple and pine forest. In the fall this place can be as crowed as a mall (until you go past the grotto). You still have to pack water because this water is verboten for people! This is an 8 mile round trip.
15. McKittrick Canyon from the grotto to McKittrick Ridge campground is ALMOST ALL UP. There are a few places where the switch backs are very steep and you will get to one short stretch where you go up “stairs” cut into the rock. Going up, the forest is pretty thick and I think the canyons are the prettiest in GUMO. Eventually you will come to a saddle about a mile from the campground with nice views to the east (desert) and the west (forested canyon). Once at the campground you find nice soft camp sites with lots of pine trees. There is some wind protection but I wouldn’t want to be up there with 30 mph winds… I saw many deer up here that aren’t spooked by hikers. In fact, they were downright nosey. You climb 2400’ over a long 2 miles (from the grotto). It’s another 4 miles to the ranger station with little elevation change.
16. Permian Reef trail to Wilderness Ridge Campground is a surprisingly interesting hike. The trail has numerous metal markers that point out significant rocks and or fossils (a guidebook is available). It is so interesting in fact that you are very likely to see college students on this trail doing field studies. There is almost NO SHADE until you top the ridge where there is near instant forest. Once on top, you have about one mile to a nice camp ground with some wind protection. From the campground you are about 400 yards from a ridge with a breathtaking view of McKittrick canyon. While taking in the canyon view, we spotted some Texas Big Horn Sheep running up and down the cliff walls like a white tail deer runs across an open field – INCREDIBLE! Extra - once at the campground you are very near the Texas and New Mexico border. If you continue on past the camp ground you will come to some fence and a turnstile that lets you enter New Mexico. When you cross the border you also go from GUMO National Park to Lincoln National Forest. You can have a fire in the national forest!! We found an okay camping spot (with a minimal search of about 10 minutes) with some firewood but opted to stay in Gumo and do without a fire. This is about a 4 mile one way hike with 2000’ of elevation gain. (On the way out my buddy made it back to the ranger station in just 55 minutes).
I’d love to field questions…