rio grande del norte national monument
ESTABLISHED ON MARCH 25, 2013 BY PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATION
The monument includes approximately 242,555 acres of public land, most of which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The landscape is comprised of rugged, wide open plains at an average elevation of 7,000 feet, dotted by volcanic cones, and cut by steep canyons with rivers tucked away in their depths. The Río Grande carves an 800 foot deep gorge through layers of volcanic basalt flows and ash. Among the volcanic cones in the Monument, Ute Mountain is the highest, reaching to 10,093 feet. Click here to download map.
The unique setting of the Monument provides a wealth of recreational opportunities. Whitewater rafting, hunting, fishing, hiking, and mountain biking are some of the more outstanding activities that can be enjoyed in the Monument. The Wild Rivers Recreation Area at the confluence of the Río Grande and Red River includes campgrounds, scenic viewpoints, and hiking trails. La Junta Point, at Wild Rivers, provides a dramatic vista of the confluence of the two rivers, and is wheelchair accessible. The Orilla Verde Recreation Area includes campgrounds near the river’s edge, as well as boat launches. The Taos Valley overlook provides stunning views and trails for hiking and mountain biking.
The renowned trout fishing in the Río Grande and its tributaries draws anglers from across the country. Abundant wildlife, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, and antelope, attract hunters and wildlife watchers. The river also provides habitat for the recently‐reintroduced North American river otter. The area provides habitat for Gunnison’s prairie dog, ringtail, black bear, coyote, red fox, cougars, and bobcats.
The Río Grande Wild and Scenic River, which flows through the breathtaking Río Grande Gorge, provides world‐class whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities.
Free guided hikes in the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument are given by the Bureau of Land Management Taos Field office all through the summer. For more information about the monument visit Bureau of Land Management or Rio Grande del Norte.org
Explore Your National Monument
1. Taos Junction Bridge and Orilla Verde
Camping l Picnicking l Fishing | Boating l Hiking l Wildlife Viewing | Biking l Petroglyphs l Solitude
Nestled along the banks of the mighty Río Grande, hundreds of feet deep inside the towering walls of the Gorge, Orilla Verde (“green banks”) straddles the river for several miles south of Taos Junction Bridge. While the climate along the river is semiarid, the dramatic shift in elevation creates a great number of ecotones and a wealth of plant and animal life. As one of the few natural crossings in the river, the area attracted ancient peoples who left their mark through petroglyphs and tipi rings.
That diversity in the landscape likewise creates a wide range of recreational opportunities. Seven campgrounds, picnic areas and two group shelters are located along the river, as are several boat launches. Known for healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout as well as northern pike, it is well-suited to fishing. Several trails depart from near the river. All are steep and challenging but well worth the effort and a number are decorated with ancient petroglyphs.
The Río Grande Gorge Visitor Center is located in the gateway community of Pilar at the intersection of New Mexico State Road 570 and New Mexico State Road 68.
From May 1 through October, the Visitor Center and bookstore are open seven days per week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Winter hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days per week. For more information, contact the Visitor Center at 575-751-4899, or the Taos Field Office at 575-758-8851.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 22 miles
Directions: Take New Mexico State Road 68 sixteen miles southwest to Pilar. Turn right onto New Mexico State Road 570. Drive about two miles to reach the monument and Orilla Verde. New Mexico State Road 570 continues along the river for six miles before reaching Taos Junction Bridge.
2. Taos Valley Overlook
Biking l Hiking l Horseback Riding | Wildlife Viewing
The 2,600-acre Taos Valley Overlook sits on the rim of the Gorge above the Taos Junction Bridge and Orilla Verde. Dedicated to nonmotorized recreation, the sagebrush mesa is laced with an interconnected system of easy- to moderate-level mountain biking and hiking trails—also suitable for horseback riding. The trails all descend gently through the sage, rabbitbrush, Navajo tea and occasional piñon or juniper trees, to the expansive views of the Overlook at the edge of the Gorge. Several trails link up with paths climbing from the river. The Rift Valley Trail provides an excellent nine-mile loop that is perfect for the novice but also attracts more advanced bikers. The Slide Trail offers access to the whole area as well as the confluence of the Río Grande and the Río Pueblo de Taos, down
the long-closed roadbed from Santa Fe to Taos.
Coyotes, deer, elk and bighorn sheep can all be found in the dips and gullies of the mesa, while loud flocks of piñon jays race in waves across the landscape. Bald and golden eagles out on the hunt are another common site from the Overlook.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 10 miles
Directions: Take New Mexico State Road 68 south for about 10 miles. The Overlook trail parking lot is located on the west side of the road near mile markers 36. The Slide Trailhead. Take New Mexico State Road 68 south for about 5.5 miles. Turn right on County Road 110. Follow C110 approximately four miles to where the trailhead is located at the rim of the Río Pueblo de Taos canyon.
3. Rio Grande Gorge ” High Bridge” and West Rim Trail
Wildlife Viewing l Hiking | Mountain Biking l Local Arts & Crafts
The Río Grande Gorge Bridge, known locally as the “High Bridge,” is a massive steel arch crossing the Río Grande Gorge northwest of Taos. Spanning 1,280 feet and secured nearly 565 feet above the river, the bridge is the seventh highest in the United States.
The High Bridge offers stunning views at every turn. From the sidewalks that line the bridge, the view straight down into the Gorge is breathtaking. To the east, tower the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. On the west side of the bridge is a rest area where you will find parking, picnic tables, restrooms and the trailhead for the nine-mile West Rim Trail. This moderate hike heads south to Orilla Verde and is perfect for those seeking an easy walk or bike ride. Going south, way
from the bridge, you have an amazing view as the high peaks spread before you and the nearly 600 foot Gorge plummets down to your left. Returning north you see the bridge arching over the Gorge and framing the river below. The West Rim Trail can also be accessed on the south end off New Mexico State Road 567 at the north end of Orilla Verde.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 12 miles
Directions: Follow US Highway 64/ New Mexico State Road 522 north for approximately 3.5 miles to the last traffic signal as you head north toward the village of Questa. Turn west on US Highway 64 and travel about 8 miles. Cross the bridge and the parking area is on the left
4. John Dunn Bridge Recreation Site
Hiking l Fishing l Picnicking | Rafting l Kayaking l Rock Climbing | Bird-watching l Hot Springs
John Dunn Bridge is one of only three river crossings in the national monument. The bridge spans the Río Grande just a few yards above the confluence with the Río Hondo. The original bridge washed out and was rebuilt in 1908 by local businessman John Dunn, who ran a stagecoach and mail service from the west side. At one time there was a hotel, bar, restaurant and gambling parlor on the site—today, almost none of this remains. The current bridge, the third one at this location, was built in 1930.
As one of the only drivable access points to the river in the national monument, the location sees a large number of visitors who come for the excellent fishing and picnicking along the banks of the river. It is also the main launch point for rafters
and kayakers pushing south into the 650 foot walls and the 18-mile stretch of the river known as the Taos Box. A small hiking trail runs north of the bridge along the eastern shore but becomes very rough after just a mile.
Five climbing walls hosting all skill levels are likewise located in the John Dunn area, as is the Black Rock Hot Springs, just a short hike down from the first switchback on the dirt road after you cross the river. Numerous Native American petroglyphs cover the cliff faces that line the Río Grande and, on chilly mornings, hot air balloons often float over the bridge and down the canyon.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 14 miles
Directions: Follow US Highway 64 /New Mexico State Road 522 north for about 9 miles. Turn left onto County Road B-007. Follow B-007 west for about 2 miles. Bear right down a curve and then left down a steep road to the bridge, about
2.5 additional miles.
5. Wild Rivers Area
Hiking l Camping l Fishing l Picnicking | Cross-country Skiing l Mountain Biking
Cutting through the volcanic underside of the high plains of the Taos Plateau, the Río Grande rushes 800 feet below the spectacular La Junta Point at the Wild Rivers Area. Without a doubt one of the most impressive views in a state full of
impressive views, La Junta towers above the confluence of the Río Grande and the Red River.
The dramatic shift in ecosystems from the rim of the Gorge to the riverbanks creates an amazing variety in flora and fauna. From ancient stands of piñon and juniper on top, down to ponderosa pine forests at the lower elevations, the area hosts a wide variety of birds including red-tailed hawks, eagles, falcons and blue birds. Mule deer, mountain lion, bobcat and prairie dogs also frequent the area.
Wild Rivers offers a universally accessible visitor center, overlook, picnic areas with tables and grills, drinking fountains and restrooms. There are also two group shelters and five developed campgrounds. A few campsites, accessible only by hiking, are located at the bottom of the Gorge.
The 13-mile Wild Rivers Backcountry Byway is a paved driving loop circling the entire recreation area. Within that loop is a graveled path that can be used for biking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. Along the rim are several easy trails including a half-mile-long interpretive trail. For the more adventurous, a number of challenging hiking trails leave from the rim for the banks of the Río Grande. The nearby Guadalupe Mountains are also accessible
Two other access points are available. The Pescado Trail leaves for the Visitor Center from the Red River Fish Hatchery while the Cebolla Mesa Trail leaves from Forest Service lands south of the Red River and drops to the bank near the confluence of the two great rivers.
Don’t forget to bring enough water for your trip!
The Visitor Center is open daily during the summer and on holiday weekends during the winter.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 40 miles
Directions: Follow US Highway 64/New Mexico State Road 522 approximately 27 miles north to the village of Questa. Three miles north of the only stoplight in Questa, turn left onto New Mexico 378 and follow the road about 12 miles southwest to The Wild Rivers.
The turnoff for Cebolla Mesa is located 19 miles north of Taos Plaza along New Mexico State Road 522. Turn left onto Forest Road 9 and follow it to the rim of the Gorge. The turnoff for the Red River Fish Hatchery is located 22.5 miles north
of Taos Plaza along New Mexico State Road 522. Turn left onto State Road 515. Wild Rivers is a fee area so be sure to stop at the pay station on the way in.
6. Ute Mountain
Hiking l Biking l Backpacking | Wildlife Viewing l Camping l Hunting | Horseback Riding l Stargazing
At 10,093′ Ute Mountain is the highest point of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The rugged volcanic mountain juts dramatically nearly 3,000 feet up from the sage flats and grasslands at its base just south of the Colorado border. The striking rise offers a remarkable contrast to the nearby Gorge cutting along its western flank.
Ute and the surrounding volcanic cones are relics of an age when the Río Grande Rift valley spread and opened massive lava flows across the plateau. The Ute Mountain area offers outstanding opportunities for solitude and wilderness-style recreation. The craggy landscape, free of designated trails, provides fabulous primitive recreational opportunities and some of the best stargazing skies in the nation.
Sharp elevation gain along the forested slopes of the mountain creates a great diversity of wildlife habitat. The steep slopes of Ute Mountain are covered in piñon at the base just above grassy meadows of blue grama, western wheatgrass and Indian rice grass. The climb brings you into pockets of ponderosa, aspen, white pine and Douglas fir in the higher elevations where the trees thin and the sky opens to a one of-a-kind vista. Beware of rattlesnakes and prickly vegetation. Be sure to bring plenty of water.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 45 miles
Directions: Follow US Highway 64/New Mexico State Road 522 north through the village of Questa and then just over the state line in Colorado. Turn left on County Road B toward the village of Jaroso, Colorado. Turn south and follow the signs into the Ute Mountain Area.
7. Central Volcanoes
Hiking l Biking l Backpacking | Wildlife Viewing l Camping l Hunting | Horseback Riding l Stargazing
One of the more remote areas of the national monument, the Central Volcanoes Region is dominated by a series of extinct volcanic cones jutting from the sagebrush plateau. The cones generally date from 1.8 to 4 million years but the oldest dates to 22 million years ago, a time when the Río Grande Rift opened, spilling massive flows of basalt and rhyolite lava over what is now northern New Mexico.
The largest of the imposing cones are Cerro de la Olla (9,475 feet), Cerro del Aire (9,023 feet), Cerro Montoso (8,655 feet) and Cerro Chiflo (8,976 feet). Each offers ample opportunities for solitude, hiking, camping, wildlife watching and most accessible. The landscape is extremely haunting. Of these, Cerro de la Olla is the rough and challenging however, and proper preparation is required for a safe adventure in this area of the national monument. Be aware of potential thunderstorms as the roads are impassible when wet. Tell someone where you’re headed. Bring extra supplies including plenty of water. Bring your cell phone. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended.
Thanks to the porous volcanic substrate there is very little surface water in the area. This lack of water kept permanent settlement out of the area for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Hispanic sheep herders began using the area on a seasonal basis. It wasn’t until 1918 that 15-20 families, many of whom were veterans of World War I, made an attempt at homesteading. By 1933, they were gone.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 20 miles
Directions: Go north along US Highway 64 to the last traffic signal as you head north toward the village of Questa. Turn west on US Highway 64 and travel about 8 miles to the Río Grande Gorge Bridge. Continue northwest for about 3 miles to a dirt road on the right. Follow this road straight east for several miles then turn north onto TP130. Few roads are maintained, and summer rains or winter snows make for treacherous conditions. Inquire with BLM-Taos for current conditions (see page 29) and plan for possible emergencies.
8. Rio San Antonio
Fishing l Camping l Hiking | Bird-watching l Wildlife Viewing | Hunting l Cross-country Skiing
Rolling grasslands dominate the 7,050-acre Río San Antonio Wilderness Study Area (WSA) anchoring the northwest corner of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Flowing from the Tusas Mountains to the west and sitting just below the extinct volcano known as San Antonio Mountain (10,908 feet), the Río San Antonio itself cuts the wilderness study area nearly in half as an inky gorge through local basalt layers. Many think of it as a miniature of the Río Grande Gorge.
One of the special things about this river is that you barely know it is there until you are on the rim of the canyon. The grass and the flatness of the tablelands on either side effectively hide the river from view. There are no designated trails in the area and the river is considered one of New Mexico’s best fly fishing waters.
For wildlife viewers, this is an amazing area. The open terrain provides incredible visibility. Everything from elk to mule deer, pronghorn, black bear, mountain lions, coyotes, prairie dogs, wild turkey and raptors such as red-tail hawks, bald eagles and peregrine falcons can be found here.
It is worth noting that New Mexico conservation organizations have recommended that the San Antonio WSA is part of a larger 25,100 acres of wilderness quality lands. So your options to roam this vast open landscape are more numerous than the official boundaries suggest—just don’t do it in a vehicle.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 51 miles
Directions: Drive north along US Highway 64 to the last traffic signal as you head north toward the village of Questa. Turn west on US Highway 64 and continue to the village of Tres Piedras. Turn north on US Highway 285 and drive about 15 miles north. Turn west onto Forest Road 118 north of San Antonio Mountain and drive about 3 miles to a small dirt trail that goes north along the eastern side of the little canyon. Four-wheel drives recommended.
9. Rio De Los Pinos
Fishing l Hiking l Mountain Biking | Wildlife Viewing l Camping | Horseback Riding
The hauntingly beautiful River of the Pines flows from Colorado’s San Juan Mountains into New Mexico where it loops through deep canyons, a nearly pristine pine forest and past several expansive meadows. After nearly twenty miles, it runs back across the Colorado border and meets the Río San Antonio near the terminus of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad at the village of Antonito.
The New Mexico portion of the loop runs through a mix of private lands, Carson National Forest and the Río de los Pinos Wildlife and Fishing Area, managed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The Río de los Pinos is one of the premier fly-fishing rivers in New Mexico with healthy populations of both rainbow and brown trout. The best action comes in the early autumn when the browns grow aggressive and give anglers quite the workout.
The relatively unspoiled nature of this section of the Pinos creates a sanctuary for wildlife, including resident elk populations. Several beaver ponds offer haven for a variety of water fowl while bobcats, black bear, mountain lion, mink, turkey, and eagles roam the forests and canyons of the area.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 71 miles
Directions: Go north along US Highway 64 to the last traffic signal as you head north toward the village of Questa. Turn west on US Highway 64 and continue to the village of Tres Piedras. Turn north on US Highway 285 and drive about 20 miles north, just across the Colorado border. Turn west on County Road C to the village of San Antonio. Take County Road 12.5 southwest to County Road 443 and back across the state border into the area.
10. Taos Plateau Prairie
Bird-watching l Hiking | Wildlife Viewing l Hunting | Camping l Stargazing l Mountain Biking
The vast grassland prairies of the north central portion of the national monument lie atop the Taos Plateau volcanic field, the second largest volcanic field in the Río Grande Rift. Covering a significant portion of the monument, the Taos Plateau Prairie ecosystem is made up of sheet flows of basalt and rhyolite lava. The Pinabetoso Peaks located on the southwestern end of this region are some of the youngest volcanic cones in the national monument. This is an incredibly remote and wild landscape comprised of rolling hills of winterfat and grama grass, sage and cactus. For such a seemingly desolate area, the plateau hosts a wide array of wildlife including scaled quail, mountain plover, western burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk and a whole host of migratory birds. Gunnison’s prairie dogs, pronghorn, swift fox, badger, box turtles and tarantulas can also be found in the grasslands.
Well-known for its hunting opportunities and sky watching, the Taos Plateau Prairie also offers opportunities for hiking, camping and mountain biking.
This area is remote and rough. There is little water available and when wet, the dirt roads turn to a sticky mud that will easily suck in a car. Plan your trip to this area of the national monument accordingly.
Distance from Taos Plaza: 50 miles
Directions: Dive north along US Highway 64 to the last traffic signal as you head north toward the village of Questa. Turn west on US Highway 64 and continue to the village of Tres Piedras. Turn right on US Highway 285 and drive about 17 miles north. Turn east onto a signed BLM Road (TP120) towards Pinabetoso Peaks. The prairie spreads to the north.
Print a 32 page guide (PDF file; 2.33 MB) to visiting the national monument, or pick one up when you get to Taos. They are available at Taos Visitor Center and the BLM welcome centers in Pilar and at Wild Rivers Area. The guides were published by MARKETAOS and the Town of Taos.