“A steep, technical, and challenging climb to Texas's only aerial tramway.”
— Brendan Ross
The trails in the southwest section of Franklin Mountains State Park are among the most rugged and technical in the area. Expect rocky sections requiring skill and experience to navigate. Trail shoes are strongly recommended. Also be mindful of mountain bikers using the trail. It can be difficult to give way to runners while finding a good line, so the best option may be to make room for them to pass.
El Paso is in the desert, so be mindful of 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 40 mph are not unusual. Dust storms, strongest 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'll be.
The Thousand Steps Trail is the western access route to Ranger Peak and the Wyler Aerial Tramway. As the name suggests, it involves a steep climb that will require some power hiking. Parking is found past the end of Stanton Street. Pass an apartment complex on the right to find a short dirt road leading to the trailhead.
The starting section of the trail is the steep, rocky climb to the right of the sign. Ignore the promising-looking singletrack to the left; it dead ends after a few hundred feet. After struggling up the initial trail portion, the grade and rocks even out some as it turns east towards the base of the mountains. Wide and with plenty of debris to trip runners up, the trail will stay like this until it begins to climb the mountain. Look for the turnoff to the scenic Vertigo Ridge
around the quarter mile point. As the path reaches the base of the mountain and turns south, it flattens out, passing various spurs and turnoffs as it proceeds. The view of the western valley here is unique to the area and one which few residents or visitors see.
The tough climb begins at the intersection with Monk's Trail
and Vertigo Ridge
. Turn left to follow the power lines up the hill. The path becomes indistinct for parts of the first section of the climb; keep heading towards the second trio of utility poles. The GPS track available here can help keep you on course. Watch for loose rock and sharp desert plants on the way up.
Some brief respite can be had at the poles, as the trail flattens out for a tenth of a mile. A few rough wash out crossings follow. Look for small rock cairns marking the way through. After the second one, the path makes a sharp turn south and climbs to a small rock shelter built by the local power company in the 1930's. A spur descends down to the bottom from here, while the main trail continues upward. Again, the singletrack becomes indistinct for a while before picking up a few hundred feet later. Steps made out of stones help with some of the steepest parts here and are recommended for the descent, as the footing can be very slippery.
The trail ends a short distance below the tram building at the Ranger Peak Loop
. Signs mark both trails. The B-36 Crash Overlook is a just down the trail to the left, while heading right is the quickest way to the tram.
Use caution if beginning Thousand Steps from the top. While the path is an easier descent than some of the other area summit trails, it's still easy to lose one's footing.