ElevationAscent: 962' 293 m
Descent: -702' -214 m
High: 5,010' 1,527 m
Low: 4,473' 1,363 m
GradeAvg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 16% (9°)
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“This exciting and diverse trail features climbs, descents, cliffs, valleys, and breathtaking views.”— Brendan Ross
A ranger station, usually only staffed on weekends in the warmer months, is located a mile inside the entrance. Adult entrance fees are $5 per person, or $2 in groups; children 12 and under are free. When the station is not staffed, use the pay box next to the station.
El Paso is in the desert, so plan around the climate. Summers are regularly in the 90's or above; winters will drop to the 30's and 40's. Lightning storms are frequent in the late afternoons during the warmer months. Winds are frequent and gusts over 50 mph are not unusual. Dust storms in the late spring can be hazardous and reduce visibility to less than a quarter mile. Check the weather before you go, and let someone know where you will be.
Beginning from the south side, Lower Sunset departs a picnic area along a wide, flat doubletrack that once served as a dirt access road. A turnoff to the Beginner's Loop is found right at the beginning which can be taken to add mileage; it connects back with the main trail a quarter mile later. The path turns to the north, eventually narrowing to singletrack and beginning in earnest.
The trail hairpins down to an arroyo crossing and climbs back out to a fork in the trail, marked by a sign. An intermediate segment branches to the right, while a slightly more challenging shortcut (rated difficult by the sign, but for mountain bikers, not runners) goes to the left. After rejoining, the trail crosses another arroyo at the two-mile mark. A steady, mile and a half long climb follows, weaving up foothills.
At the top, a shortcut to the north parking area splits right. The path then doubles back west on a narrow cliffside track, with amazing views of the desert valley. This is the Lower Sunset's highlight and one of the nicest trail segments in West Texas. The trail circles the hill clockwise, passing turnoffs for the Bike Loops, and entering another long, steady climb as it widens again to doubletrack. The incline becomes much steeper passing the second crossing with Schaeffer Shuffle, making for a demanding, but rewarding finish. The trail tops out in the north parking area.
Animals are mostly limited to jackrabbits, lizards, and small birds. Roadrunners will dart across the trail at times, and hawks circle overhead, looking for prey. Coyotes are hard to spot and tend to only come out after dusk, though they leave runners alone.
Keep an eye out for snakes. They avoid the hot desert sun and are more common during the winter months. Most are harmless, but rattlers are a part of the local wildlife. Give them a wide berth, and if they're blocking the trail, tossing a few rocks in their direction tends to be enough incentive for them to leave.
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Land Manager: Texas Parks and Wildlife - Franklin Mountains State Park