At nearly 24,300 acres, Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban wilderness park in the United States and a favorite destination of El Pasoans looking to hike, bike, or climb. Rugged and speckled by cactuses and ocotillos, the mountains are populated by small mammals, birds, reptiles, deer, and the occasional mountain lion. At 7,192 feet, the summit of North Franklin Mountain is about 3,000 feet higher than the city below.
The mountains, the final southern ridge of the geological phenomenon that created the Rockies, are home to about 40 miles of developed hiking and mountain biking trails; floods in 2006 washed many trails out, so call for current information. The hikes are primarily moderate to difficult; try the 1.2-mile round-trip to the Aztec Caves or the more difficult 9.2-mile round-trip to the peak of North Franklin Mountain.
If you don't want to break a sweat, take the Wyler Aerial Tramway (tel. 915/566-6622) to the summit of Ranger Peak ($7 adults, $4 children 12 and under). Beyond the trails and the tram, the park is also a renowned rock-climbing spot and home to an outdoor amphitheater.
It takes about 20 minutes to reach the park by car from downtown El Paso. There are numerous primitive campsites, but no water or electricity in the park. Fees are $4 for day use (free to children 12 and under) and $8 for camping, and the park is open from 8am to 5pm year-round (campers receive a combination to the gate so they can come and go after day-use hours). For more information, contact Franklin Mountains State Park, 1331 McKelligon Canyon Rd., El Paso, TX 79930 (tel. 915/566-6441; www.tpwd.state.tx.us).
Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, located 30 miles northeast of El Paso via U.S. 62/180 and Ranch Road 2775, is another popular rock-climbing destination. It is a world-class bouldering site, among the best on the planet. Centered on three small, rocky outcroppings that loom above the surrounding desert, the park gets its name from the huecos (depressions) that catch rainwater and attract life. Many of the rocks are marked by lively pictographs, the work of native tribes over the past 10,000 years. Tours of these fragile sites are offered Wednesday through Saturday at 9am and 11am in the summer and 10:30am and 2pm in the winter; reservations are recommended. Birding, bouldering, and biking tours are also available.
Other than climbing, hiking and camping are popular activities at the park. There are 6.5 miles of trails and a campground with 20 back-in sites (3 with water only, 17 with water and electricity) and showers. Campsite availability is dependent on volunteers; call ahead to see if the campground is open. The park charges $4 for day use and $12 to $16 for campsites. Bikes are not permitted. For more information, contact Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, 6900 Hueco Tanks Rd. #1, El Paso, TX 79938 (tel. 915/857-1135; www.tpwd.state.tx.us).
Golf -- The 27-hole Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course, located 9 miles northeast of I-10 via U.S. 54 at 12000 McCombs St. (tel. 915/821-2122; www.painteddunes.com), is one of the top municipal courses in the entire country. Nonresident greens fees range from $37 to $45 with cart or $25 to $33 without. Twilight rates are also available. Lee Trevino began his illustrious professional golf career at Emerald Springs Golf and Conference Center, 20 miles east of town at 16000 Ashford St. (tel. 915/852-9110; www.emeraldspringsgolf.com). Greens fees are $29 to $34, cart included. Other options include Ascarate Golf Course in Ascarate Lake City Park (tel. 915/772-7381), with greens fees of $13 (carts: $12), and Cielo Vista Golf Course, 1510 Hawkins Blvd. (tel. 915/591-4927), with greens fees of $26 to $34 with a cart.
Hiking -- The top hiking areas in and around El Paso are at Franklin Mountains State Park and Hueco Tanks State Historic Site .
Mountain Biking -- Franklin Mountains State Park is by far the most popular mountain biking destination in the El Paso area. There are about 40 miles of bike-accessible trails.