Northwest of Santa Fe and west of Los Alamos, the 89,000 acre Valles Caldera National Preserve consists of high grassland valleys above 8,000 feet that hosting the largest elk herd in the southwest. This is an old volcanic caldera, reminiscent of Yellowstone National Park, surrounded by 11,000 foot peaks. The preserve is relatively untracked but does have a half dozen designated trails although they are relatively short out-and-back trails.
The El Cajete Loop is a moderate 7 mile trek with 800 of elevation gain. Follow the ridge above the East Fork River into the heart of the Preserve forest. El Cajete is your destination and the site of the most recent volcanic activity. This hike is along a heavily forested area just below Redondo Peak. Picnic in the meadow at El Cajete and enjoy the prairie dog entertainment or just go as far as you like and head back. You may begin your hike anytime between 8AM and noon and return sometime before 3:00 PM. The trailhead is located on SR4 northeast of Jemez Springs, just east of the Jemez Falls Campground. (day-permit required)
The Valle Grande Hike is an easy 2 mile trek with 400 of elevation gain. This hike is along a wonderful old wagon trail that wanders through a lovely wooded area on the Southeast corner of the preserve and eventually opens up on the Valle Grande. This is a free area with donations requested. You may use this trail at your leisure for a picnic, elk viewing or just an opportunity to be on the Valle Grande. Please stay within the activity boundaries and on the trail. Parking area and trail are marked. Parking is located on the South side of State Rd 4 with trail on North side. We would like you to come down and see us at the yurt located 2 miles down the main ranch road before proceeding to the trail. Please be extremely cautious crossing the highway. (no permit required).
The Cerro del Abrigo route is a 7 mile trek with 700 of elevation gain. Enjoy the amazing views of all the Valles on the Preserve from Cerro de Abrigo. As you circumvent the entire dome you will discover scenic views of Valle Grande, Valle Jaramillo, Valle Toledo and the Valle San Antonio. What a perfect way to get your first glimpse of the Preserve and decide what new ground you would like to discover next. Shuttle required- directions will be included on your required permit.
The Rabbit Ridge Hike is a 5.5 mile trek with 1,200 of elevation gain. Rabbit Ridge offers a spectacular view of the caldera rim from the southern most edge of the Preserve. Early mornings offer views of the clouds rising above the Valle Grande. Later in the morning the clouds lift to wide expansive views of the Valle Grande elk herds and a chance to see the entire caldera rim. You may depart any time between 8AM and noon and return at your leisure anytime before 3PM. (permit required).
To reach the preserve from Albequerque, head north on US25. Follow SR44 northwest through San Ysidro. Turn north on SR4 for 30 miles to the preserve gate.
Overall, Valles Caldera National Preserve is the 7th most popular hiking trail of all 39 hikes in New Mexico.