View of Albuquerque Basin from Trigo Canyon

Overview

Uff! The last six miles of road batters your suspension. The burned crest batters your sensibilities. The thorn brush batters your gear. The clutch of abandoned trails batters your soul. You might ask, “why bother?”. The answer is: Trigo Canyon. In its lower stretches the canyon echos with running water, pools and waterfalls abound, gigantic ponderosa pines tower above you, spectacular rock outcrops tower above the ponderosa, while the sheer walls and route finding challenges add to the attraction. Kick your day into high-gear and stroll up the lower reaches of Trigo Canyon.

It should be admitted that it took me several trips to hike the short distance described here. There are many roads leading to the canyon and finding a good driving route was unexpectedly difficult. The unofficial treads lured me off the main path. The driving directions and hike description (below) might be of particular use for this hike.

Driving Directions:

Take Interstate-25 (I-25) to the Los Lunas or Belen exits.

 If you are coming from the south (e.g. from Socorro) then take exit-190, signed for Belen.

  • After 0.3 miles, at the end of the ramp, segue directly onto Main Street/I-25-Business-North and reset your odometer.
  • After 1.9 miles on Main Street, at a stop light, go right onto Reinken/NM-309
  • After 2.4 miles on Reinkin, at the junction with NM-47 (stoplight), go straight ahead onto the Manzano Expressway and reset your odometer.
  • After 6.5 miles on the Manzano Expressway veer onto the right-turn lane and then turn right onto South Rio del Oro Loop (signed). This road turns to gravel after 0.4 miles but the quality of the gravel bed is currently excellent.
  • After 6.3 miles on S. Rio del Oro turn right onto Trigo Springs Road (unsigned). (Jump down to “Trigo Springs Road:”)

If you are coming from the north (warning: directions taken from Google, not tested!) then take exit-203, signed for Los Lunas

  • After 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn east (left) onto Main St. NW (also known as NM-6)
  • After 3.7 miles on Main St. NW turn south (right) onto NM-47S
  • After 3.6 miles on NM-47S turn east (left) onto Tome Hill Rd. This essentially continuous road is renamed at various points:
    • At 0.5 miles Tome Hill Road makes a slight right and becomes La Entrada Rd.
    • At 1.1 miles La Entrada Rd makes a sharp right hand turn, but you want to go straight ahead as the road becomes Sandhill Road
    • At 1.4 miles Sandhill Road makes a sharp left hand turn, but you want to go straight ahead as the road becomes Rio Del Oro North
  • After 4.5 miles on Tome Hill – La Entrada – Sandhill – Rio del Oro North turn south (right) onto Bonita Vista Blvd.
  • After 1.1 miles on Bonita Vista Road, at a T-intersection, turn east (left) onto South Rio Del Oro Loop (this is a gravel road, currently in excellent shape)
  • After 3.7 miles turn south (right) onto Trigo Springs Road (unsigned)

Trigo Springs Road:

  • After 3.3 miles on Trigo Springs Road come to what looks like a fork. This is actually a turn onto a new road (unsigned). Confusingly, both branches of this fork are called Trigo Springs Road. The right hand branch will continue to take you south, so we will call it Trigo Springs North-South. The left-hand branch will take you east, so we will call it Trigo Springs East-West. Veer left onto Trigo Springs East-West.
  • After 6.3 rough miles on Trigo Springs East-West, immediately after a cattle guard, turn left onto the trailhead parking lot. (Trigo Springs East-West road is usually gated closed at this point).

Regrettably, a high clearance vehicle is recommended. The Trigo Springs East-West road has very deep ruts and extensive piles of loose rock in the roadbed.

Orange metal post with two tires at Trigo Springs junction

The junction between South Rio Del Oro and Trigo Springs Road is not signed. Look at the far-right corner for a metal fence post (a.k.a. “angle iron”) painted orange with two tires that have both orange and yellow paint on them.

Satellite images show a grid of roads on the plain between the Manzano Mountains and Manzano Expressway. Be cautious in using them as shortcuts. In my experience those roads are brutally rutted, unsigned, sometimes gated and often complexed with ad hoc ranch roads. Navigation is awkward. I tried out a few such shortcuts and it did not work well. The route described above may be longer but it is on relatively good road with considerably fewer navigation problems.

Trailhead:

trailhead: note gate across road

The trailhead is a large, fenced dirt lot. There are no other services (trash receptacles, water or toilets). Judging from the tracks on the trail the horse riders come up here from time to time. Try to park sufficiently out of the way so that people can turn-about while dragging horse trailers. There are no fees or permit requirements.

Data:

  • starting elevation: 6110 feet
  • ending elevation: 7810 feet
  • net elevation gain: 1700 feet
  • distance: 3.5 miles (one way)

Hike Description:

Gate at end of road-walk, with Trigo Canyon above

From the trailhead go past the gate and follow the road uphill. You will come to two road junctions where a left-turn offers you an uphill route into the canyon. Take both of those left-turns. After 0.6 miles the road ends at a second gate, which is also built of pipe. Go through the gate and continue on a trail.


Up-canyon view

You will immediately cross a creek bed (an uncertain water source) and continue on a wide and pleasant path into the brilliant greenery of the canyon bottom. This is the well-shaded domain of juniper and pinion pine. The tread is an abandoned forest road that once saw considerable maintenance. Marvel at the culverts and stone water bars.

Don’t cross! Turn upstream to find a mellow tread going upstream

At 1.1 miles the trail crosses a branch of the canyon bed and then, about 10 feet further, comes to a second crossing. Straight ahead, across the waterway, is an obvious continuation of the tread. You can follow it but this tread makes a purely gratuitous climb onto the wall of the canyon before returning to the bed. Instead, make a more-than-90-degree turn left (without crossing the waterway). A good track follows the canyon upstream. At 1.3 miles the trail goes past a huge block of rock, and if water is running there will be a 6-foot waterfall right beside the path.

At first fork go right (the brush pile and the cairn both seem to be temporary)

At 1.5 miles, where meadows begin to open along the trail, you will come to a fork in the trail. The left hand track is very prominent and would take you into a canyon that trends to the northeast, almost directly at Osha Peak. Instead, go right at the fork to follow the main canyon to the southeast. If you look ahead from the fork you can see into the main canyon. The canyon walls are darkly forested, but look for a prominent outcropping of white rock on the left-hand wall. That gives you something to aim for as you find your path at this confluence of canyons.

Ponderosa pines and vertical canyon walls

Ponderosa pines dominate the canyon at this level. The huge, cinnamon colored trucks make a striking contrast against the whitish rock outcrops on the canyon wall. The rocks themselves exhibit strikingly glassy surfaces, perhaps an indication of metamorphosis. In places the canyon walls become vertical and drop straight into the stream bed. The grade also steepens here, and the stream becomes a series of small pools connected by short waterfalls. It is all gorgeous, until you round a bend in the stream and get your first look at the Manzanos crest. Burnt snags are a prominent feature of that high terrain, although a closer look will show regrowth from the old understory. The vegetation is clearly coming back.

Cave mouth

At 2.2 miles come to another fork, which is easy to miss if you are not looking for it. Going straight ahead will take you in to a canyon trending a little north of east. If you suddenly run into an immense pile of thorn-infested deadfall you have missed this junction! Instead, at the fork bear right to cross the stream bed and follow the trail around a bend to an almost due-south bearing. Here the tread becomes noticeably poorer. Put your trail finding skills to work as you negotiate around deadfall (some quite huge) and heaps of driftwood. The tall canyon walls can act as a wind funnel and you may be glad of a coat at this point. Watch the right-hand wall for a prominent cave.

40 foot tall waterfall in southerly canyon

At 3.2 miles from the trailhead come to a third junction. On my map the tread is depicted as swinging immediately to the north. This is almost correct, but the only paths that go directly north are game trails. The map will show that I tried to follow those trails into this difficult terrain. Not recommended! The narrow bed is clogged with brush and the steep walls are covered with loose soil and cobbles. Instead, you want to briefly enter the canyon to the south. The track is sketchy, but far more prominent than those game trails. In less than 0.1 miles the tread goes beneath a terrific waterfall, probably 40 feet tall. Then the tread climbs steeply onto the shoulder that separates two canyons and gets high enough to find a shelf on which to continue north. On this date, however, snow obliterated the trail. It may be time to enjoy lunch at the waterfall and return the way you came.(Edit: see Uwe Schroeter’s comment, below, for an update on trail conditions when the snow load diminishes).

Recommendations:

Wear long pants and heavy gaiters to help cope with the thorn bushes.

This trail faces west and might be warm in the summer months. That said, it certainly was cold on a morning in February. I was glad for my insulated jacket.

Carry a GPS.

If you are going in winter then consider bringing micro spikes. Snow on the lower trail gets beaten down to make an icy tread. On the upper trail the tread is rolling back into the hillside, so foot placement on crusty snow can be tricky.

Links:

The SummitPost page on the Manzano Mountains details four separate fires in the Manzano Mountains in 2007 and 2008. I suspect that much of the damage you will see from this trail came from those years. Their page on Osha Peak has driving instructions that would take you much further south. Those instructions will work, but that drive is a few miles longer and the roads are no better than the route recommended here. There is a second report (much shorter) that recommends carrying a machete!

Stav of StavIsLost has an excellent post describing the entire route (from 2017). He went all the way to Osha Peak and has some terrific photos showing both the views and the extensive fire damage.

The NewMexicoTrails site has another extensive report on this trail. The photos are great and they note that there are difficulties in using Google Maps to get to the trailhead. (Several people I met on the trail had similar complaints).