Hueco Tanks State Historical Park, lying 30 miles east of El Paso, Texas, offers some of America’s finest bouldering and climbing opportunities on its towering walls and scattered boulders. The 860-acre park, with a warm dry climate, is one of America’s premier winter climbing areas.
Climbing Routes and Boulder Problems
Hueco Tanks has lots of great climbing routes up to three pitches long on its west-facing 250-foot-high Front Side cliff. The 50 or so established routes offer fun climbing including jug-hauls up hueco-studded walls, technical vertical faces, occasional cracks, long chimneys, and plenty of exposure. Most routes have bolts but are not bolted sport climbs. You need to be proficient at finding and placing gear as well as have a cool head for runout sections. If you’re comfortable with this type of climbing, then you’ll find many fun moderate routes here.
Most climbers, however, come to Hueco to sample the excellent boulders. John Sherman, long-time boulderer and author of the local guide book, calls Hueco “simply the best bouldering in America.” Hueco offers lots of boulder problems of all grades from V0 to V15, making it ideal for boulderers of all abilities. The big problem is that Hueco has a lack of freedom. Climbers cannot freely roam anywhere in the park but instead, to preserve the archeological areas, boulderers are restricted to North Mountain unless they are in a guided group. Check at the Visitor Center or at Hueco Rock Ranch to get on a guided bouldering tour.
The best time to visit Hueco Tanks is from October through April. Expect daily winter highs in the fifties and sixties, although it can be warmer or colder. Occasional quick snow showers, rain storms, and cooler temperatures can limit your climbing from December through February. It can also be windy and chilly at night. During the warmer late spring and early autumn months look for shaded cliffs and boulders if it's warm. The Front Side routes are great in the morning. Summer days are usually too hot and dry for comfortable climbing. If you come then expect daily high temps creeping up to 100 degrees, dry and sunny days, and no other climbers.
Camping & Accommodations
It’s best to either camp at the park and Hueco Rock Ranch or stay in a motel in El Paso. Wild camping is not recommended anywhere nearby since there’s lots of private land, military reservations, and loco locals--this is the wild West still.
Hueco Tanks park offers 20 good campsites, showers, and free wi-fi access. Maximum is eight people per site. Call the park for reservations at (915) 849-6684 from 8 am to 5 pm Monday-Friday.
Hueco Rock Ranch offers great camping away from the park. Spread over 10 acres, it has lots of sites for $5 a night or $4 a night if you stay more than two weeks. They also offer guided bouldering, climbing, and rock art trips into the park, including the park areas which can only be visited with a certified guide. For reservations and info contact: Hueco Rock Ranch, 17498 Bettina Ave.,El Paso, TX 79938; (915) 855-0143; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Restrictions and Access Issues
Climbing at Hueco Tanks is very restricted since the mandate of Hueco Tanks State Historical Park is to preserve its cultural and natural resources. Climbing, while once unrestricted, began to conflict with the preservation of archeological sites and rock art as more and more boulderers began visiting Hueco in the mid-1990s. Restrictions on climbing and bouldering were instituted in 1998.
Visitation for both climbers and other park uses is now limited. The park has both self-guided and guided-only areas. North Mountain, including The Front Side cliffs, is self-guided and limited to 70 people at a time. The total number of people allowed in the park at any one time is 230. If you can't get in the park, you might want to get on a guided trip. I recommend Hueco Rock Ranch, which offers affordable guided bouldering trips led by climbers.
Because of these limitations, it’s highly recommended that you get reservations before coming. Advance reservations must be made at least two days prior to your arrival. For day-use reservations for the next day only or for camping or tour reservations, please call the park at (915) 849-6684 from Monday to Friday. For all other day-use reservations, please call the Central Reservation Center at (512) 389-8900. If you don't have a reservation, never fear. The park usually allows the first 10 people at the gate to come in without reservations, so get there early.
For more info on Hueco Tanks, check out the park's website.