New Mexico was made for hiking. Our state’s public land offers a wide range of environments, from forests to deserts to wilderness areas. In fact, there are so many hiking trails here that it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve highlighted 10 hiking spots in New Mexico with scenery that is unparalleled and, in some cases, otherworldly.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Crater Rim Trail, Capulin Volcano National Monument
Capulin Volcano is a perfect example of a cinder cone – a pretty rare find in the U.S. As the name suggests, the paved Crater Rim Trail leads around the volcano’s rim. From there, you can see for miles. Although this loop is only one mile in length, all of the elevation changes make for a good workout. No pets allowed.
2. Alkali Flat Trail, White Sands National Monument
The gypsum dunes of White Sands are one of the most unusual and impressive landscapes in New Mexico. This hike, which is 4.6 miles round-trip, takes you right through the dunes. Bear in mind that the sand gets really hot in summer, so avoid hiking in the middle of the day and remember to bring plenty of water. Leashed pets are allowed.
3. La Luz Trail, Cibola National Forest
This trail twists through the Sandia Mountains, above Albuquerque. It’s a tough, 8-9 mile climb along switchbacks, through altitudes ranging from 7000 to 10,378 feet – the views are spectacular. Bring food, water, and layers of clothing. While dogs are allowed on the trail, if you intend to take the tram down from the top, leave Fido at home.
4. Slot Canyon Trail, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
The scenery at Tent Rocks certainly seems out of this world and the best way to explore it is on foot. The slot canyon trail (3 miles round-trip) is a spur off the 1.2 mile-long cave loop trail. Much of this hike involves gently climbing slopes, but towards the end, the slot canyon trail becomes steep. The 630 foot scramble up to the top of the mesa yields incredible mountain views in all directions and allows you to view the hoodoos from above. No pets allowed.
5. Pine Tree Trail, Aguirre Springs Recreation Area
This 4.5-mile long loop trail is a hidden gem, providing unexpected greenery and, depending on the time of year, wildflowers. It leads you to the bottom of the towering Organ Needles, letting you soak in their austere grandeur. The trailhead is in the campground and leashed pets are welcome.
6. Wheeler Peak, Wheeler Peak Wilderness
It’s a 13.2-mile round-trip hike to the summit of New Mexico’s highest mountain, which stands at an elevation of 13,161 feet. This is a more remote trail and you’ll mostly have bighorn sheep for company. The route meanders through forests and past streams and, from the summit, the panoramic views will steal whatever breath you have left! You can camp in La Cal Basin if you’d rather take this hike at a slower pace.
7. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area
Adventurous folks love this surreal environment. Once you enter the actual badlands, there’s no set trail. Just gusting winds, a landscape banded with color, and bizarre rock formations. Expect to walk at least 4 miles if you hike here. This is completely off the grid - no facilities - so bring water and food, plus a map and compass. (Dogs permitted, but watch out for cacti.)
8. Gomez Peak, Gila National Forest
Gomez Peak is a 3.2-mile long loop trail, consisting mostly of switchbacks and ending with a staircase. From the top, you can enjoy views of Silver City from above, Kneeling Nun, and the Gila Wilderness. Leashed dogs are permitted.
9. Lava Falls Trail, El Malpais National Monument
Traverse a lava field on this 1-mile long trail - 1.2 miles if you add the spit on to the loop. Despite the short length, the rolling, rough terrain and giant cracks in the ground make this trail difficult. It's also very easy to get lost, so don't leave one cairn before you've located the next one. That being said, this is an unusual landscape which is fascinating to explore.
10. Dog Canyon Trail, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park
This trail is 11 miles round-trip and is a fairly challenging but beautiful canyon hike. Highlights include views of the Sacramento Mountains and a creek that passes through Dog Canyon – an unexpected sight in the Chihuahuan Desert. Given the name, it's no surprise that this trail is pet-friendly.
It would be impossible to list every great trail in New Mexico because there are simply too many of them. What’s your favorite hiking spot and why?