In this section
Home to New Mexico's tallest peak, biggest game and most spectacular scenery, the Carson National Forest is where the Rocky Mountains begin. Our cool summer temperatures and snow-capped mountain peaks make us New Mexico's playground for year-round recreation.
Four hundred miles of sparkling streams mean the 5 Wilderness Areas of the Carson National Forest are teaming with life. Find yourself alone in pristine scenery that is as unique to this area of the state as the wildlife that roam here.
A one-mile, looped trail guides you through the remains of a 13th century Anasazi pueblo. Discover the culture and daily life of a society that thrived in this area more than 800 years ago. A picnic area is also located on site.
A local favorite, this natural amphitheater is the result of more than 200 million years of geological processes. Its distinctive desert varnish and spooky natural echo have inspired centuries of lore that may be more myth than fact. The area includes interpretive displays, trails, facilities and a campground.
A moderate and highly popular hike, the Devisadero (meaning lookout) Loop Trail takes you to a peak once used by Taos Pueblo Indians to keep watch for Apache raiding parties entering the valley below. A steady climb through 2 forest types is rewarded with spectacular views of land to the north and south of the ridge, as well as a unique resting spot at the peak.
Just east of Questa, this easily reached recreation spot offers picnic areas, camping, fishing, and hiking. Much of the site is wheelchair accessible and offers basic amenities.
Nestled along the Rio Pueblo and at an altitude of 8,100 feet, Agua Piedra offers many recreational opportunities within a mixed forest of spruce, fir and aspen. Camping, hiking, picnicking and fishing opportunities are available, as well as group areas for reservation.
Take a winding drive through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and visit an area rich in the history, art and culture of Native Americans and early Spanish settlers.
From the sacred summit of Mt. Taylor, the highest point, to the sprawling plains of the Kiowa, the Cibola not only spans an impressive range of ecosystems and distance, it spans the history of New Mexico itself. From Paleoindian sites on the Magdalena, to still-thriving Puebloan and Land Grant communities surrounding Mountainair and the bustling sprawl of Albuquerque as it butts up against the Sandias, these public lands provide for the preservation of sacred traditions, opportunities for work and recreation, and the exploration of new frontiers with research labs and observatories.
The Cibola is home to four wilderness areas: The Apache Kid Wilderness is the most remote, the Manzano Mountain Wilderness offers an exceptional opportunity to view migrating raptors, the Sandia Mountain Wilderness lies near the city of Albuquerque and the Withington Wilderness offers solitude with stunning views of the Very Large Array radio telescope on the Plains of San Augustin.
Located just behind the Sandia Ranger Station, the Tijeras Pueblo Archaeological Site is an interactive museum that offers interpretive trails, exhibits and displays that provide information about the Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited this area more than 700 years ago.
A variety of trails exist at the crest of the Sandia Mountains, from short and easy walks with interpretive displays, to longer hikes for those adventurous spirits who seek solitude. The Sandia Crest Trails are easily accessible by riding the Sandia Peak Tram to the crest, or driving the Sandia National Scenic Byway to the top and parking. There are several picnic sites with shelters, as well as group areas available for reservation.
New Mexico isn't all desert! The Mescalero Sandsheet contains some of the last remaining examples of short grass prairie indicative of the southern Great Plains. In the heart of this sprawling landscape, the Canadian River has carved Mills Canyon. The campground offers not only stunning displays of wildflowers, but the opportunity to encounter a few remaining fruit and nut trees from the orchard that once thrived in this area, the skeletal remains of which are still visible.
Let your car be a vehicle for time travel as you wind your way along beautiful landscapes and back into the past. Visit 18 interpretive waypoints to discover how people, from ancient cultures to turn-of-the-century loggers, have lived and thrived in the area.
This area provides opportunities for larger groups. Reserve one of several day use sites to gather and experience the Manzanita Mountains. Enjoy a picnic lunch then set off on one of many trails for a short walk or long hike to explore the forest. Opportunities for mountain biking, horseback riding, OHV-ing and camping also exist.
The Gila National Forest is 3.3 million acres of forested hills, majestic mountains and rangeland. The forest is best known for its wilderness areas, particularly the Gila Wilderness, the first wilderness established in the United States. The magnificent landscape, cool summer temperatures and relatively warm winters not only made this place a welcoming home for ancient peoples, but today permit a wide range of recreational activities; including bicycling, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, OHV, and boating.
Considered New Mexico’s “wildest wilderness,” these 316 square miles of rugged landscape honor the legacy of one of America’s foremost ecologists, wildlife managers and nature writers, Aldo Leopold. Centered on the Black Range and containing McKnight Mountain and the headwaters of the Mimbres River, the wilderness stretches from pinyon-juniper woodland, through ponderosa pine, to islands of spruce-fir and quaking aspen. The remote area contains 30 miles of the Continental Divide Trail, and has been a focal point for conservation efforts to save the endangered Gila trout.
The Blue Range Wilderness is the easternmost - and smallest - wilderness on the Gila. It is crossed by the Mogollon Rim, which extends into Arizona, and is the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau.
The world’s first designated wilderness area, it is home to the headwaters of the Gila River. Centered on the Mogollon Mountains, whose tallest peak is Whitewater Baldy, the Gila Wilderness also contains the world’s largest and healthiest ponderosa pine forest. This area represents the ancestral home of the Mimbres peoples, and the wilderness abuts the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The area would later become home to the Chiricahua band of Apache, whose fierceness protected this area from development until late in the 19th century. This wilderness has been the focal point of many conservation efforts for the state, including bighorn sheep, elk, spotted owls, and more recently, the effort to reintroduce Mexican grey wolves to the region.
The discovery of gold and silver above Whitewater Canyon brought a short-lived mill to this area in 1893, remnants of which sit just above the parking area. In the mid-1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps built a Catwalk along the river, which washed away after the Whitewater-Baldy Fire. Recently rebuilt, the Catwalk is a very accessible area and easily hiked by all ages.
The first International Dark Sky Sanctuary established in North America, this area offers an unparalleled opportunity to observe the night sky. This is a primitive campground with several additional rules for staying. A partnership exists with Friends of the Cosmic Campground, who hold star parties and other viewing events throughout the year.
The Trail of the Mountain Spirits beckons. Go where the spirits of miners, homesteaders, Indians, Spanish explorers, and mountain men have left their marks. Cross the Continental Divide, experience the wild Gila River, walk amongst the ruins of ancients to sense life before history, and hear the sounds of solitude. National Scenic Byways Programs website
Immerse yourself in the Apaches' history and the hot mineral springs used by Geronimo and his warriors. Visit the historic mining towns that flourished and died with the gold and silver fortunes. From desert lakes to forested mountains, the Geronimo Trail captures the spirit of freedom and independence. National Scenic Byways Programs website.
Home to the real-life Smokey Bear, Lincoln National Forest stretches from cacti-covered Chihuahuan desert, to the sub-alpine forest of the Guadalupe, Sacramento, Sierra Blanca, Capitan and Gallinas mountain ranges. The area has long served as a vacation spot for our Texas neighbors, with recreational activities as varied as the landscape and opportunities abounding year round.
The Lincoln National Forest provides an opportunity to enjoy the rugged scenery of New Mexico. Both the Capitan Mountains and White Mountain Wilderness offer dispersed camping, hiking and pack & saddle trails.
Follow portions of the historic Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway, known as the Cloud Climbing Railroad, as it winds from Cloudcroft to the Sunspot Observatory, offering scenic views of the surrounding area. Open for hiking, biking, motorcycle and horseback riding.
This short and family-friendly trail offers touchable interpretive signs for both the sighted and visually impaired. The trail is a loop easily accessible from the Sleepy Grass Campground.
Find peace and escape in the easily accessible Bluff Springs Waterfall Recreation Area. Offering both camping and day-use areas along a spring fed waterfall, this site has access to many short hikes.
High in the Sacramento Mountains, the National Solar Observatory’s Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope, once considered the world’s premier high resolution optical solar telescope, is open to the public on a seasonal basis. The site, along with its approach along the Sunspot Scenic Byway, offers a visitor center, museum, exhibits, and views of White Sand National Monument.
Listed on the National register of Historic Places, Monjeau Tower was originally built in 1936, then reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940. Its impressive stone structure managed to survive the 2012 Little Bear Fire, although the landscape is only now recovering. The drive is steep and adventurous, but camping is available nearby.
Follow this byway through the rugged beauty of the million-acre Lincoln National Forest. From grassy plains to dense pine forests, the region is known for its stunning views and cool mountain climate. Visit historic Lincoln, once home to outlaw Billy the Kid and lawman Pat Garrett.
Some of the finest mountain scenery in the Southwest is found in the 1.6-million-acre Santa Fe National Forest. Here you can find the headwaters of Pecos, Jemez, and Gallinas Rivers; mountain streams; lakes; and trout fishing. Travel into the Pecos, San Pedro Parks, Chama, and Dome Wildernesses via pack trips, saddle, or on any of the 1,000 miles of hiking trails. Try whitewater rafting on the Rio Chama or Rio Grande. Consider turkey, elk, deer, and bear hunting, or visit one of the many nearby Indian pueblos or Spanish missions. Golden aspen grace the high country from September to October and snow blankets Santa Fe Ski Basin in winter.
An abundance of water is what distinguishes the wilderness areas of the Santa Fe. Whether it is the Rio Chama that has carved the rainbow-hued Chama River Canyon, the abundant streams that wind their way through the San Pedro Parks Wilderness or the string of jeweled lakes on the Pecos, water brings life, and these special areas provide ample opportunity for recreation and reflection.
Situated at an overlook near Abiquiu, displays, interpretive panels and renderings help visitors understand the lives and culture of the people who once occupied this 15th century, 700-room Pueblo community in the valley below.
If you drive north on I-25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, you will encounter La Bajada (meaning "drop" or "downhill"), a 600-foot high, imposing volcanic escarpment that separates the Rio Arriba (Upper River)and Rio Abajo (Lower River)portions of the Rio Grande Valley. The La Bajada Mesa has long been an imposing landmark for travelers who moved through this area, where footpaths of the ancient Puebloans gave way to Spanish wagons and the El Camino Real, and finally Route 66 and the American car.
Built on the center of a mesa around 1275 A.D., this place is sacred to the people of the Tewa pueblos. The hike is moderately difficult, and a permit is required for access (free from the Coyote Ranger Station, along with useful directions and helpful guides to the site). Please respectfully enjoy this close encounter with a ancient culture and the people who once lived here.
Full of some of the most spectacular scenery in the Southwest, the Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway takes you on a loop through geological time. Visit the Coronado National Monument, Valles Caldera Nation Preserve, Bandelier National Monument, Soda Dam, Cabezon, Battleship Rock, Gilman Tunnels, and the Spence and Jemez Mountains Springs. You may recognize much of this landscape from the classic Westerns of Hollywood's Golden Age.
The nationally-recognized strip of highway originates in downtown Santa Fe at the oldest public building in America – the Palace of the Governors – and loops 15 miles through an aspen-evergreen forest to the Santa Fe Ski Basin. This drive is most scenic in the autumn when the aspen colors are in full effect, but offers spectacular vistas any time of the year. There are also a number of campgrounds and picnic areas along the way.