Valles Caldera National Preserve Backcountry

Scout Route
5/5 (1 reviews)

Every trail guide in full detail for $0.80/week*

Get access to thousands of Trails Offroad™ Trail Guides with
  • Detailed Waypoints
  • Photos and video on the trail
  • Comprehensive list of concerns
  • Community trail reviews
  • PLUS Trails Offroad™ Scout Routes
Check out a nearby All-Access Preview trail guide:
*Billed annually at $39.99/year
Hero: Valles Caldera National Preserve Backcountry
small-sr Icon

Over a million years ago, a volcano in present-day New Mexico erupted with a force over 300 times the 1980 Mount Saint Helens eruption. Ash fell as far away as present-day Utah. The eruption resulted in a huge caldera, the sunken center of a volcano. Humans since the Paleolithic period have valued this unique high-elevation area of cinder cones and massive prairies. The Ancestral Puebloans referred to the area as the Bear's Paw based on the arrangement of the cinder cones and valleys.

Established in 2000, Valles Caldera National Preserve protects this 88,900-acre unique ecosystem. Visitors are welcome to the front portion of the Preserve in Valle Grande. Most visitors enjoy viewing large elk herds from the many pullouts along Highway 4. New Mexico's elk were hunted out. Imported Rocky Mountain elk now thrive in the Preserve. A mile beyond the visitor center, the cabin area includes ranch houses and hunting lodges from the land's previous users. One cabin was used in the Longmire TV series. Though the program was supposedly set in Wyoming, the rustic cabin and forever views of Valles Caldera were used as Sherrif Walt Longmire.

A limited number of daily backcountry permits available through allow driving into the stunning backcountry of the preserve. Anglers snag most permits hoping to outwit a wily Longnosedace in San Antonio Creek or the other beautiful brooks winding through open alpine meadows. The easy dirt road winds north through hills dotted with Gunnisson's prairie dog towns and across meadows full of Rocky Mountain Iris. In the far north of the Preserve, the road forks going west to Valle San Antonio and eastward to Valle Toledo. The San Antonio cabin evokes an idyllic cowboy lifestyle. Old ranch roads are closed and are now used as hiking trails to get even deeper into this fantastic landscape.

Camping is not allowed in the Preserve. Jemez Falls Campground is popular and close by. Dispersed camping is permitted along nearby FR 287 in the Santa Fe National Forest.