What to do in Franklin Mountains State Park

Franklin Mountains State Park, in El Paso County, was created by an Act of the Texas State Legislature in 1979. The Franklin Mountains form a striking backdrop to the City of El Paso and constitute an area of statewide ecological and aesthetic significance. Making the mountains a park for the protection of their natural features and enjoyment of the public has long been a dream of farsighted El Paso residents, as well as conservationists across the state and nation. When, in the late 1970s, developers began carving roads into these, until then, almost pristine mountains, House Bill 867 was passed in 1979 by the Texas Legislature authorizing Texas Parks and Wildlife to acquire Franklin Mountains as a state park, thus protecting the area from further urban development. The intent of the Legislature was to provide lasting protection to the outstanding scenic, ecological and historic features of the Franklin Mountains so that they could be enjoyed and appreciated by present and future generations. Parks and Wildlife acquired the property in 1981; it was opened to the public in 1987 for limited use. The park is the largest urban park in the nation at 24,247.56 acres, covering some 37 square miles, all within the city limits of El Paso.

Overlooking the Rio Grande, the Franklin Mountains are the northern ramparts of the Paso del Norte (Pass of the North), leading from Mexico into what is now the United States. For thousands of years, native Americans, and for the last four centuries, soldiers, priests, traders, adventurers, gold-seekers, entrepreneurs, and just plain folk have passed through the gap in both directions in an endless procession of expansion, settlement, raiding, and conquest. Native American groups made the area home, using the plant and animal resources of the Franklins for more than 12,000 years, until their forced removal during the late 19th century. These people left their marks upon the rocks of the Franklins - colorful pictographs on boulders and in rock shelters and deep mortar pits (used to grind seeds) in rock outcrops near scattered water sources. Beginning in the 1580s, less than a century after Columbus, Spanish conquistadors and priests passed beneath the peaks of the Franklins on their mission to conquer and colonize the Puebloan villages in present-day New Mexico.

Although located completely within the city limits of El Paso, the park abounds in birds, reptiles, and small mammals. The observant visitor may also catch a glimpse of mule deer, fox, and perhaps an occasional cougar. The skies above the Franklins are home to Golden Eagles, a variety of hawks, the occasional falcon, and come night, a variety of bats and owls. Wildlife, though secretive, is remarkably diverse. Existing vegetation typifies the northern Chihuahuan Desert, with lechuguilla, sotol, ocotillo, several yuccas, and numerous cacti. The Franklins are the only known location in Texas for a number of plant species, including the Southwest barrel cactus.

Facilities: A $1.7 million face lift shared by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Department of Transportation renovated old picnic sites, built additional ones, and built new rest rooms meeting ADA access standards. Each of the 44 picnic sites offers a shade roof, picnic table, and barbecue grill. Grills are for charcoal use only; guests may not use wood or dried native vegetation. The former gravel parking areas were paved to allow greater public access. With the help of volunteers from the park's user community and special activity groups, some 80 miles of new trails are being constructed. Mountain biking, camping, and rock climbing have been recently introduced in the park. Horseback riding trails should be complete by Fall of 2001. The park will feature 118 miles of multi-use trails.

The Tom Mays section of the park is the public day use area for the park. It has shaded picnic/barbecue sites, self-composting toilets, several miles of gentle hiking trails through the foothills of the Franklins, and primitive camping (tents only). Reservations for campsites are taken only at the park. Reminder: there are no ground fires allowed within park boundaries and there is no water or electricity in the park. There are two types of campsites; one type (walk-in developed) is traditional, in that tents are placed directly on the ground and have tables and grills. The park has recently established an area with 5 self-contained RV sites(no water or electric hookups)

In the El Paso area are two other state park facilities: Hueco Tanks State Historical Park (great rock art and rock climbing); and Magoffin Home State Historical Park (the only historic home site in El Paso). The Franklin Mountains State Park Wyler Aerial Tramway, the only public accessible tram in Texas, is having it's Grand Opening on March 10th, 2001. Also in the area are Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (great shopping); the Mission Trail (visit some of the oldest missions in the nation); and the Camino Real (the ancient Spanish road taking travelers from today's Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico). The City of El Paso offers "Viva El Paso" (a live musical presenting El Paso's History) each season from June through September; Diablo Baseball (voted the best stadium in minor league baseball); Wilderness Park Museum (offering a historical perspective of life in the El Paso area); Chamizal National Memorial (cultural events offered throughout the year); and other attractions such as the El Paso Speedway, the El Paso Museum of Art, and more.

Birding in the El Paso area will take one into and through the Franklin Mountains and the Hueco Tanks State Historical Park areas. The local Audubon Society has created an excellent birding area known as Feather Lakes. The natural flyway that is the El Paso area brings a large variety of bird species to the area. Local groups are taking advantage of this natural flyway by rehabilitating the remains of local bosques (wetlands) adding to the available bird habitat in the area.

Current conditions can vary from day to day. For more details, call the park; for information on other state parks, contact Park Information at 1-800-792-1112.

Recreation
Many hiking trails are currently accessible off of Loop 375/Trans-Mountain Road. Work is underway for a trail network that will ultimately offer a 118-mile network. All 118 miles will be open to hiking traffic, 51 miles will be open to hiking and mountain biking traffic, and 22 miles will be open for tri-use - hiking, mountain bikes, and horseback riding. In the future, the park will consider having a concessionaire who can rent horses, but for now, the horse trails that open in Fall of 2001 will be for individuals who have their own horses. Rock climbing and mountain bike riding are just two of the park's newest recreational activities.

A limited number of tent camping sites are available. Traditional sites allow for tents placed on the ground. 5 self-contained RV sites have also been added. All potential campers should be forewarned; there are no ground fires within park boundaries and no water or electricity in the park. Those desiring camping reservations may contact the park office.

Location
The park is located in El Paso in far west Texas. Take Interstate 10 West following the Rio Grande River to the Canutillo/Trans-Mountain exit, turn toward the mountains, and the park is located 3.8 miles east of Interstate 10; or take Loop 375/Trans-Mountain Road going west up and over the scenic Franklins and find the park entrance 3 miles down from the road's summit.

Climate
North Franklin Mountain sits at an elevation of 7,192 feet and the Trans-Mountain across the summit is 5,120 feet. The park has enjoyable weather even during Winter months with temperatures ranging from approximately 32 degrees to 60 degrees. Summer temperature ranges are from 68 degrees to 95 degrees. Spring and Fall are usually mild seasons with sunny days and cool nights. Annual precipitation ranges from 7 inches to 10 inches. Showers may occur anytime of the year, with thunderstorm activity peaking during July and August. Current weather conditions can vary from day to day. For more details, call the park or Park Information at 1-800-792-1112.

Address
1331 McKelligon Canyon Road
El Paso, TX 79930

Phone: 915/566-6441

  • Franklin Mountains State Park Travel Q&A

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