Category Archives: New Mexico

Cibola National Forest

Cibola National Forest

New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

2,103,528 acres (1,633,783 federal/ 469,745 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cibola

Overview

Cibola National Forest is spread across many mountain ranges in central New Mexico, including the Bear, Datil, Magdalena, San Mateo, Gallinas, Manzano, and Zuni Mountains.  Due to their proximity to Albuquerque, the most visited are the Sandia Mountains, which have a ski resort that is only open during good snow years.  You can reach the top by riding the aerial tramway (admission fee), driving Sandia Crest Scenic Byway (fee), or hiking La Luz Trail that climbs 3,800 feet in elevation. 

Highlights

Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, Tajique Canyon, Continental Divide Loop Auto Tour, Mt. Taylor, Cienega Canyon Picnic Area, McGaffey Lake, Mt. Withington, Kelly ghost town, South Baldy Peak, Whitehorse Canyon, Paxton Cone, La Luz Trail, Kiwanis Trail

Must-Do Activity

Sandia Peak rises to 10,678 feet in elevation, dominating the skyline east of Albuquerque.  The mountain makes a great backdrop for photos during the International Balloon Fiesta held every October, but we can imagine it would also be fun to watch the balloons launch or do their night lighting from the summit.  Once atop the busy peak, the North Crest, 10K, and South Crest Trails are all good hiking options that do not lose too much elevation.  Some hikers choose to ride the aerial tramway up and then take a steep trail back down to the parking lot (trekking poles recommended).

Best Trail

In the Manzano Mountains, both the Red Canyon (3.5 miles one-way) and Fourth of July Trails (two miles) climb to the 22-mile-long Crest Trail, which offers stunning views along its length.  Further south, the Crest Trail also accesses 10,098-foot-tall Manzano Peak.  In the San Mateo Mountains north of Interstate 40, a trail (six miles roundtrip) summits 11,301-foot Mt. Taylor, an extinct stratovolcano that is one of four mountains sacred to the Navajo.

Watchable Wildlife

The “sky islands” of Cibola National Forest rise high above the surrounding landscape, providing habitat for numerous isolated and rare species.  Mule deer and pronghorn are the two main large ungulates found in Cibola National Forest, while its carnivores include black bears, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  Due to its proximity to the Rio Grande Valley, many migratory birds pass through the National Forest during the spring and fall.  If you take the Sandia Peak tramway, watch for birds of prey flying the updrafts along the steep mountain grades.

Instagram-worthy Photo

From either the point where the Sandia Peak aerial tramway unloads passengers or the end of the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, it is an easy one-hour roundtrip hike through the subalpine forest to the Kiwanis Cabin and its awesome views.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is a day-use fee to park along the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, although you can use the America the Beautiful Pass. Sandia Peak Tramway tickets are about $29 roundtrip.

Road Conditions

The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway is paved to the top, but Road 165 offers a rough dirt road alternative partway up.  Most of the roads in the Manzano Mountains are well-maintained gravel.

Camping

The Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque are a great place for dispersed camping, and there are also several campgrounds.

Wilderness Areas

Apache Kid Wilderness

Manzano Mountain Wilderness

Sandia Mountain Wilderness

Withington Wilderness

Related Sites

Carson National Forest (New Mexico)

El Morro National Monument (New Mexico)

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Nearest National Park

White Sands

Conifer Tree Species

Rocky Mountain juniper, alligator juniper, Engelmann spruce, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, subalpine fir

Flowering Tree Species

Gambel oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth maple, boxelder, New Mexico locust, Fremont cottonwood, netleaf hackberry

Explore More – How did the Manzano Mountains get their name?

Learn more about Cibola and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument

New Mexico

Managed by National Park Service

Established 1906

1,278 acres

Website: nps.gov/elmo

Overview

A small pool of reliable water at the base of a sandstone bluff has attracted humans and animals for centuries in this arid region.  Ancestral Puebloans built a village atop the 200-foot-tall mesa and Spanish explorers carved their names alongside petroglyphs at a place they dubbed “el morro” (the headland).  Today, El Morro National Monument is located about 125 miles west of Albuquerque, about 42 miles off Interstate 40.

Highlights

Inscription Rock Trail, Atsinna Pueblo ruins, Mesa Top Trail

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service visitor center offers a 15-minute film and the half-mile paved Inscription Rock Trail loop to view the carvings.  Pick up a free guidebook that provides details on the earliest European inscriptions that date back to 1605 and the petroglyphs that may be around 1,000 years old. 

Best Trail

The Mesa Top Trail loop climbs to the top of the bluff where there are Ancestral Puebloan ruins and great views of the volcanic El Malpais National Monument.  The hike is about two miles roundtrip, with interesting steps carved into the soft sandstone in places.  The trail may be closed during thunderstorms during the summer and after heavy snowfalls in the winter.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is worth the short but steep climb to check out the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo (built in the late-1200s) atop the sandstone bluff.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/elmo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The short entrance road is paved from Highway 53.

Camping

The small primitive campground at El Morro National Monument is open year round (except during snowstorms), plus there is a private RV park located near the entrance.

Related Sites

El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico)

Cibola National Forest (New Mexico)

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – Who were the first Anglo-Americans to inscribe their names at El Morro in 1849?

Carson National Forest

Carson National Forest

New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,490,468 acres (1,391,674 federal/ 98,794 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/carson

Overview

Carson National Forest is spread across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that run 200 miles from northern New Mexico into southern Colorado’s Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests.  In 1982, the Pennzoil Corporation donated the Valle Vidal Unit (about 100,000 acres) to the Forest Service.  A decade earlier, the Taos Pueblo successfully lobbied to return sacred Blue Lake to the tribe and remove it from Carson National Forest. 

Highlights

Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, Wheeler Peak, Clayton Pass, Vista Grande, Brazos Ridge Overlook, Canjilon Lakes, Lobo Peak, Echo Amphitheater, Cabresto Lake, Pot Creek Cultural Site, Amole Canyon, Devisadero Loop Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Columbine-Twining National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

The National Forest contains New Mexico’s highest point (13,161-foot Wheeler Peak) near Taos Ski Valley, one of several ski resorts found here.  The gravel parking lot fills up early on summer weekends, as those looking to summit want to finish before afternoon thunderstorms.  If a 14-mile roundtrip hike with 3,771 feet of elevation gain sounds too strenuous, there are plenty of other trails around Taos Ski Valley listed below.

Best Trail

There is an extensive trail system that spiders out from Taos Ski Valley, including several that follow canyon streams and access small mountain lakes.  We recommend the Bull of the Woods Trail if you want to avoid the crowds summiting Wheeler Peak.  Other hiking options in the area include Williams Lake, Long Canyon, Lobo Peak, and Goose Lake.

Watchable Wildlife

Mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep are large ungulates found in Carson National Forest.  Its carnivores include black bears, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  The National Forest’s lakes and 400 miles of rivers and streams are mostly stocked with native trout species.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Alpine views abound on the hike up to 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

State Highway 150 is paved to Taos Ski Valley except for the very end, which is a good gravel road (as is FR 597 north of Red River).

Camping

There are many great places to camp in Carson National Forest, with notable areas being Elephant Rock Campground, Hopewell Lake Campground, and several campgrounds around the Canjilon Lakes.  We set up a dispersed camp near a high mountain pass on FR 597 above the town of Red River in the summer.

Wilderness Areas

Chama River Canyon Wilderness (also in Santa Fe National Forest)

Cruces Basin Wilderness

Latir Peak Wilderness

Pecos Wilderness (also in Santa Fe National Forest)

Wheeler Peak Wilderness

Related Sites

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)

Fort Union National Monument (New Mexico)

Nearest National Park

Great Sand Dunes

Conifer Tree Species

Engelmann spruce, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, subalpine fir

Flowering Tree Species

Gambel oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth maple, boxelder, New Mexico locust, Fremont cottonwood, netleaf hackberry

Explore More – Who was the U.S. President that pushed through Congress the Taos Pueblo appeal to return Blue Lake?

Learn more about Carson and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Apache National Forest

Apache National Forest

Arizona, New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,876,891 acres (1,813,601 federal/ 63,290 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/asnf/home

Overview

Growing up in Arizona, we only ever heard this referred to as Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest since it was merged in 1974.  The more eastern Apache National Forest section represents about 69% of the combined forests total acreage and partly spills into New Mexico.  On its west side it borders the Fort Apache and the San Carlos Indian Reservations, only containing one side of Mt. Baldy (which is famous for its ski resort).  The National Forest contains the eastern portions of the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim, a forested escarpment that cuts 200 miles across much of the state of Arizona.

Highlights

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, Mt. Baldy, Butler Canyon, Escudilla National Recreation Trail, Hannagan Meadow, Chitty Canyon, Big Tree Trail, Eagle National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) is a narrow, winding paved road that runs 120 miles north-south through Apache National Forest and is the best way to explore.  Near the northern end of the highway, a steep unpaved road leads east up to the trailhead for Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  A fire burned the 10,912-foot mountain that the trail summits and on our hike in May 2020 we counted 75 downed trees that we had to step over, both on the three miles in and the three miles out.  To the east, the remote Blue Range Primitive Area was created in 1933, but has yet to receive Wilderness designation.  About 18 miles south of Alpine make a stop at the historic Hannagan Meadow lodge, the only place to get gas along the route (or air if like us you have to put on your spare tire).  The highway continues south dropping down from the Mogollon Rim into a more desert-like environment.

Best Trail

A short, but worthwhile hike descends west from Sardine Saddle near the southern end of the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.  At the end of the 0.4-mile trail is the largest Arizona cypress tree growing in the United States (97 feet tall with a 181-inch trunk circumference).  There are also some big alligator juniper trees growing near the bottom of the canyon, and if you see their bark you will realize why they got their name.

Watchable Wildlife

We were excited to find horned lizards (a.k.a. frogs or toads) along the Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  The cliffs of the Mogollon Rim provide good thermal updrafts so are a good place to looks for turkey vultures and a variety of raptors.  The ranges of mule deer and Coues whitetail deer overlap in this part of the country.  We saw turkeys on the road back to Rose Spring Trail (Forest Road 54).

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are great views from atop the Mogollon Rim at Blue Point Overlook on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Highway 191 is paved, but is a slow drive due to its many curves.  Many of the side roads are very rough and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.  We got a flat tire on the rocky Forest Road 54.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds, including one at Luna Lake and several along the East Fork of the Black River.  Dispersed camping options abound, including on the road to Escudilla National Recreation Trail and we found a nice campsite near the entrance to Forest Road 54.

Wilderness Areas

Bear Wallow Wilderness

Escudilla Wilderness

Mount Baldy Wilderness

[Blue Range Primitive Area]

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest (Arizona)

Conifer Tree Species

Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Emory oak, Arizona white oak, turbinella oak, New Mexico locust, Rocky Mountain maple, pointleaf manzanita

Explore More – The Apache arrived in this area from the north in the 1300s and their name comes from a Zuni word translated as what?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

El Malpais National Monument

Overview

Navajo legend states that during a battle on Mount Taylor, the Twin Gods struck off a giant’s head which became Cabezon Peak, its blood flowing southward, coagulating into the Malpais.  Meaning “the badland” in Spanish, this National Monument contains lava tubes and ice caves among its 114,000 rugged acres.  Easily accessible from Interstate 40, it does not take long before you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere watching beautiful patterns of cloud shadows drift slowly across the landscape.

Highlights

El Calderon lava tubes, Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, Zuni-Acoma Trail, La Ventana Natural Arch

Must-Do Activity

Be sure to take a hike to truly appreciate these lava flows, the most recent of which inundated agricultural fields of the Acoma people as recently as the 1400s.  Carefully stepping across the jagged rocks, we wondered if another cinder cone may be forthcoming to the region.  Geologists suggest that the volcanic activity in this area has ceased indefinitely, yet some of the eruptions here go back over a million years, making us wonder if it is only a temporary lull.  Be careful during the monsoon season, when giant cumulostratus clouds form in the wide-open blue sky foretelling afternoon thunderstorms. 

Best Trail

Lava tube caves are a major attraction to the park (and are sometimes closed), but before entering you must pick up a free permit to ensure you do not spread white-nosed bat syndrome.  El Calderon Area is easier to access than the rough road to Big Tubes Area, and in a 3.8-mile loop passes a cinder cone and bat cave, then enters a lava tube.  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and difficult 7.5-mile Zuni-Acoma Trail also traverse this mostly shadeless environment.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Take the short hike back to stand below towering La Ventana Natural Arch and enjoy the aroma of juniper wafting through the desert air.  It is technically in the Bureau of Land Management’s El Malpais National Conservation Area, not the neighboring National Monument run by the National Park Service.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/elma/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most trailheads are off paved roads, but some roads in El Malpais National Monument require four-wheel drive (especially when wet), so check at a visitor center before setting out.

Camping

There are no developed campgrounds, but primitive camping is allowed on back roads and in the surrounding Cibola National Forest.  On Interstate 40, Bluewater Lake State Park has full RV hookups.  There is also a small campground located west down Highway 53 in El Morro National Monument.

Related Sites

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – Privately owned and open for tourists, what makes nearby Bandera Crater special?