New Mexico has a rich and ancient history that makes for memorable adventures. This state offers some of the most beautiful mountain vistas, breathtaking forests, and magnificent deserts. Lace-up your hiking boots and step into the stunning wilderness of New Mexico.
From the undulating white hills of The Alkali Flat Trail to the ancient ruins of The Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico boasts some of the United States’ most breathtaking adventures. With a vastly varied landscape across the state, hikers are spoiled for choice of trails.
It seems nearly impossible to choose which trail to hike with such a diverse terrain. It is imperative to thoroughly research hiking in New Mexico to find an adventure that tickles your fancy. Furthermore, this stunning landscape is known to have unforgiving weather conditions. Therefore, you must be familiar with the best time to hike in New Mexico and how to prepare for your trail.
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The 13 Best Places To Hike In New Mexico
It’s no mystery why New Mexico is christened the ‘Land of Enchantment,’ with snow-capped peaks in the north and the arid desert in the south. When trekking in New Mexico, hikers can wind through densely forested mountains, explore limestone caves, discover waterfalls, visit ancient ruins, and trudge through soft white sand. On these beautiful hikes in New Mexico, you can soak in the state’s sunshine, rich history, and breathtaking scenery.
1. Pino Trail, Cibola National Forest
The Pino Trail, situated on the outskirts of Albuquerque, is perfect for hikers who enjoy a high-desert trail. The hike, located in the Cibola National Forest’s Sandia Mountains, starts with some dry stretches before snaking up the southern side of Pino Canyon for just over four miles until reaching the summit for a total elevation gain of 2,828 feet.
The first mile is a gradual ascent that takes hikers through forestry, creating shady areas. However, the last mile can be challenging in the desert heat. Keeping plenty of water in your pack is essential, as there are no natural water sources on this hike.
2. Wheeler Peak Trail, Taos
Wheeler Peak is the highest point in Colorado, and it is part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains. This is the ultimate trail for hikers looking for a mountain trail. The eight-mile round trip is a lengthy day hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain across avalanche paths and rubbly fields.
You may be fortunate enough to spot wildlife along the trail, such as the elusive bighorn sheep or pika. This is a challenging hike when there is no snow. Spring and summer bring eye-catching wildflowers and warmer weather. However, it is wise to keep a close eye on the weather as it can be unpredictable.
3. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, Cochiti Pueblo,
The short but intense three-mile Slot Canyon Trail hike here is unrivaled for unmatched vistas of geological wonders. Explore a terrain formed by volcanic eruptions that layered the area with pumice and tuff. Drop into a canyon through a world of 90-foot peaks of tent rocks, fairy chimneys, or earth pyramids.
The rock strata are a vibrant mix of warm earthy tones, in stark contrast to the Native American name of “white cliffs.” Be sure to carefully plan your trip around monsoon season, which lasts from June to September. These heavy rainfalls create dangerous flash floods. Furthermore, pack plenty of fluids and $5 for the entrance fee.
4. Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos
Bandelier National Monument has over seventy miles of trails that wind through thousands of acres of canyon and mesa country in Northern New Mexico, showcasing ancient ruins dating back to the Ancestral Puebloan period about 11,000 years ago.
Many of the lengthier, more craggy, and isolated hiking trails are in the backcountry but remember to explore and scale the ladders in the front country, as this is where you’ll find many of the ancient ruins, petroglyphs, and kivas.
5. Pueblo Alto Trail, Nageezi
This five-mile beginner’s trail at Chaco Culture National Historical Park is about taking in the sights and sounds of the past rather than challenging your endurance. This loop trail provides breathtaking vistas of the Chaco world from the top of the mesa.
The trail starts with a sharp ascent up a cliff cleft. The trail meanders across bleached bedrock, embedded with fossils of prehistoric sea creatures, before rewinding its way to that cleft in the rock. Dirt roads can only reach this remote park, so consider this when planning your trip. Before you begin your hike, make a stop at the Visitor’s Center to obtain a free backcountry permit.
6. Stewart Lake, Pecos Wilderness
The Pecos Wilderness is a breathtakingly beautiful area near Santa Fe and is a popular camping, hiking, and fishing destination. It boasts the best of New Mexico’s mountain wilderness areas, including high peaks, alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, and abundant wildlife.
The well-maintained trails are ideal for beginners, while experienced hikers will appreciate the network, perfect for backpacking. The Stewart Lake trek is well worth the challenge; lunch on the shores of a glacier-formed lake in the high country.
The trail leaves Cowles Campground at a steep grade but quickly levels off to a steady but not too steep climb. The forested trail will keep you cool while providing views of the more than 200,000 acres.
7. The Alkali Flat Trail, White Sands National Monument
The Alkali Flat Trail is a well-marked path that leads through the dunes and into the backcountry of White Sands National Monument. The path is marked with trail posts and spans what was once a lake during the Ice Age and are now sprawling white dunes made of gypsum. The dunes are undulating white hills that will challenge you on the way up but excite you on the way down.
The trail isn’t particularly long, but it’s worth spending the night at the monument because sunrise is the best time to hike it.
8. The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, Tularosa
Petroglyphs can be found on many New Mexico trails, but they are the main attraction at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. The Jornada Mogollon people carved over 21,000 sunbursts, animals, and geometric designs in the basalt of the Three Rivers Valley, making it one of North America’s largest rock-art sites.
A half-mile trail leads from the visitor center through the desert, past many fascinating glyphs carved more than a thousand years ago, including google-eyed and horned beings, which are common at Jornada Mogollon sites. Another trail on the picnic area’s east side leads to the ruins of a Mogollon village.
9. Gila Middle Fork, Gila Wilderness
The Gila Wilderness was the country’s first of its kind. The area is vast and rich in both human history and natural gems. This route takes you deep into the wilderness, following the Gila Middle Fork along the area’s longest trail.
You don’t have to hike to the end; just a couple of miles is enough to whet the appetite of less ambitious hikers. You’ll still get to see the towering cliffs and leafy sycamores, as well as several of the river crossings that make this trail so popular. Locals enjoy hiking to Jordan Hot Springs, about seven miles away. This 15-mile round trip can easily be turned into an overnight camping trip.
10. Argentina Canyon, White Mountain Wilderness
Argentina Canyon is a favorite of many district rangers. Its network of trails ascends through lush forests to the White Mountain Wilderness and the tallest peaks in southern New Mexico, including the nearby Sierra Blanca. The Argentina Canyon Trail follows a stream to the Crest Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the Tularosa Valley.
Descend toward Little Bonito Spring, then return to the trailhead via Bonito Creek. If you time your hike correctly in August and September, you’ll be spoiled with eye-catching wildflowers.
11. The Zuni-Acoma Trail, Cubero
This one-way nine-mile hike traverses the rugged terrain of this ancient molten rock, which once cooled became a rough, uneven, and somewhat treacherous trail. Cairns, which are chunks of lava piled and stacked around intermittent posts, guide the way on this challenging trek.
The footpath, which was once a connection between the Zuni and Acoma Pueblos hundreds of years ago, takes you past historical signs of the long-ago travelers. Many hand-made bridges across deep crevasses connect the past to the present. This is a wilderness, so bring plenty of water and food, and have someone waiting at the other end if you intend to return.
12. La Luz Trail, Albuquerque
The tramway at the top of the Sandia Mountains is not the only way to reach Sandia Peak. You can also take the La Luz Trail. This eight to nine-mile hike is not for the faint of heart. This is a difficult and strenuous trek with a 12 percent grade and nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain.
The final stretch has a series of 19 switchbacks, presumably to make the ascent easier. The best seasons to visit are spring, summer, and fall. Snow falls during the winter. Consider combining your hike with a trip on the tram.
13. Williams Falls And Lake, Carson National Forest
This day hike is the most popular activity in Carson National Forest. Beginner and advanced hikers alike flock to the state’s highest peaks and an alpine lake fed by a waterfall. The trail starts at the parking lot and follows a creek through stands of Engelmann spruce and a meadow.
The crystalline waters of Williams Lake reflect the surrounding peaks, including Wheeler to the east, which is frequently snowcapped even in summer. Turn east just before the lake and walk 300 yards to find the enchanted 30-foot falls. Simply put on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis in the winter and go.
When Is The Best Time To Hike In New Mexico?
The weather in New Mexico is as varied as the landscape, with a stark contrast in climate between the northern and southern areas. This is owed to the differences in elevation. The mountain ranges in the north of New Mexico give way to desert plains in the south.
Northern New Mexico boasts relatively warm weather during the summer months; however, the winter welcomes heavy snowfall in the mountainous regions. Southern New Mexico experiences extreme dry heat during the summer and mildly cold winter weather.
The best time to hike New Mexico trails is between September and November. The weather is temperate, which helps avoid getting stuck in extreme desert heat or icy mountain temperatures. However, spring is an excellent time to hike in New Mexico since you will avoid the holiday crowds and still enjoy milder weather conditions.
What To Know Before Hiking In New Mexico
New Mexico is the fourth-highest state in the United States, with an average elevation of 5,700 feet. So, no matter which hikes you enjoy, ease into the trails to avoid altitude sickness if you are visiting from a lower-altitude area.
It is critical to bring plenty of water and electrolytes in your hiking pack. The high altitude and arid climate can be dehydrating, and most of these hikes don’t have access to drinking water. Adults require two cups of water for every hour of hiking, while children require one to two cups of water for every hour. So, if you estimate that your hike will last 5 hours, bring at least 10 cups of water per person.
Keep in mind that these are only guidelines. Some people drink significantly more water than this. However, it is a good starting point. A mile can take much longer or much shorter depending on the terrain and incline. As a result, the “cups per hour” method is more accurate than “cups per mile.”
Finally, remember to apply sunscreen and wear a hat. At higher altitudes, your exposure to the sun’s harmful rays increases, so use sun protection wisely.
New Mexico has a rich and ancient history that makes for memorable adventures. From the undulating white hills of The Alkali Flat Trail to the ancient ruins of The Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico boasts some of the United States’ most breathtaking trails.
Furthermore, hiking this stunning landscape during the spring and autumn months helps avoid its unforgiving climate. Bring plenty of water and sun protection in your hiking pack and ease into the state’s high altitude to make the most out of your adventure.