San Lorenzo


Despite the map (below), this isn’t really an out-and-back hike. It is, instead, a network of out-and-back hikes that feathers through a small region of insanely gorgeous canyonland. Engage your inner explorer and find your own path through these formations. Pick a cool, sunny day and go. 

This patch of New Mexico is being loved to death. Your effort is needed to support the beauty of the canyon.

Driving Instructions:

  • From the south (e.g. Socorro or TOC)
    • Take exit 156 off of Interstate-25 (I-25), signed for Lemitar NM. 
    • After 0.3 miles on the ramp, at the end, go left onto NM 408. (The road itself is not named, but there is a directional sign for San Lorenzo Canyon). 
    • After 0.1 miles, immediately past the I-25 southbound off-ramp, go right onto Frontage Road 2046. (This road is unsigned, look for a cattle guard about 50 feet down the Frontage Road)
    • After 4.5 miles on Frontage Road 2046, where the Frontage Road makes a hard right turn, go left onto County Road 90. This road is gravel. CR 90 is not signed, but there is a directional sign for San Lorenzo Canyon.
  • From the north (e.g. Albuquerque)
    • Take exit 163 off of I-25, signed for San Acacia NM
    • After 0.2 miles on the ramp, at its end, go left onto San Acacia Road. Follow the directional signs for San Acacia/Polvadera.
    • After 0.1 miles on San Acacia Road, immediately past the I-25 northbound off-ramp, go right onto NM Frontage Road 2044. This road is also signed for Polvadera.
    • After 2.2 miles on NM Frontage Road 2044 watch for a tan stucco house on the left, mailbox number 510. It is one of the first houses you will see. Past this property turn right onto an unsigned, paved road, NM Frontage Road 2046.
    • After 0.1 mile on NM Frontage Road 2046, after a one-car-wide underpass, the Frontage Road makes a very sharp left-hand turn. At that turn veer very slightly to the right onto County Road 90 (gravel). CR-90 is not signed but it has a directional sign for San Lorenzo Canyon.
  • After 1.9 miles on CR-90, immediately past another sign for San Lorenzo Canyon, make a right turn onto a gravel road. There is a sign about 50 feet down this road saying, “Welcome To San Lorenzo Canyon”.
  • After 2.3 miles on the San Lorenzo Canyon Road pull off to the side of the road and park. 
Directional sign

The gravel roads are currently in very good shape. They appear to have been graded recently. Leave the vintage Triumph at home, but almost any family sedan could make the drive.

Google Maps can be a little confusing if you are trying to get to San Lorenzo Canyon. In particular, it misses the right-hand turn off of County Road 90 that takes you into the park drive.


Park Entrance

There is no official trailhead. The road goes a considerable distance further than the location described here, but driving carries the risk of going past some of the best parts of this canyon. There are no services: notably no water and no toilet facilities. There are no fees. On this date the berms left  behind by a recent re-grading of the road were a problem. Keep a shovel handy for opening up such berms.

The first tall wall in the canyon (about 0.2 miles past the trailhead described above) offers a parking spot will all-morning shade.


The elevation gain is trivial, although clambering over waterfalls and rock piles can be taxing. The distance shown on the map is 5.7 miles but you should ignore that. Explore!

Hike Description:

Angular Unconformity

The photo above shows a carefully signed instance of a geologic nonconformity along the park drive (sign not depicted). Here the old seabed got pushed up so that the sandstone layers are at an angle to the horizon. Erosion wore the high ends of these layers flat, and then a more recent activity formed the horizontal capstone.  

Part nave, part maze

From the proposed trailhead you could go due north and explore the brushy side canyon to the north. (The map suggests that this might be an excellent idea). The yawning mouth of the canyon is due west. Any direction is going to be terrific. The canyon mouth is almost alarmingly photogenic, most will head west. The intense sunlight drops into the cool gloom of a cowboy cathedral. The walls soar. Sandstone buttresses fly. The sky shrinks to a narrow blue vault. Niches form in the walls and in some places those niches are spectacular canyons in their own right. Pay attention to the north side, especially.

The canyon’s cathedralesque poise lasts for less than a half mile. You should take your time exploring the side routes. This place has seen many visitors so the routes are well worn. Rock piles must be surmounted. Steep sided sandstone intrusions bar the path. Effort is needed. The “rock” is often grains of sand barely cemented to each other, which is tricky to ascend. It helps to have grippy soles on your shoes. Investigate! Sometimes that daunting pile-o-rocks will evolve into a marvelously sculpted maze.

Pocket Meadow

Eventually the walls of the canyon relax into slopes. A long, straight leg of canyon bed brings you to a pleasantly shaded grove of cottonwoods. Push through the grove and find a path that leads into a broad bowl north of the main bed. This confluence of three separate sidecuts houses a burst of lush greenery, including a pocket-sized meadow. Water must lurk below, but there was no surface water on this date. The path brushes against a barbed wire fence protecting the Sevillita National Widelife Refuge and then turns back to the canyon bed.


The road ends at a cul-de-sac. A tall dam of gigantic boulders lies athwart the canyon bed. Look to the south side (on your left coming upstream) for a scramble up and over the boulders to reach the upper canyon. The scramble isn’t hard, but if your party has strict acrophobes then they will prefer to turn back at this point. Keep going; there is geologic drama in the upper canyon, although a little less dense than in the lower canyon. 

Slot through a hard rock intrusion

Of late it has been dry in mid New Mexico, yet the upper canyon held several small seeps. Wet, algae-blanketed rock form part of the footing for short stretches. You  will see salt flowers forming on drying sand, suggesting that you would not want to drink that water. Tall slots form where the stream has sawn into erosion-resistant rock. Chunks of chert and even some pocked, scoria-like river-stones can be found. High above the fan-shaped cliffs reflect sunlight into the canyon bottom. It can get toasty.

San Lorenzo Spring

I turned back at San Lorenzo Spring, a particularly beautiful, cool and shady region in the canyon. The moisture found here supports a big population of flies. Fortunately, these creatures are avid sun-lovers. A moment of resting in the shade of a rock wall sufficed to chase the pests away. It seems improbably convenient, but it makes for a terrific lunch experience!


Author in San Lorenzo Canyon

There are streamers of toilet paper all across the canyon, especially in the car-accessible stretches. Ugly. Everyone hates the idea of packing out toilet paper but, after doing part of the Continental Divide Trail, I can attest that TP sealed in a ziplock bag does not smell. It is unsightly, but take along an opaque plastic bag to keep the ziplocks stashed out of sight. We do not need to treat the San Lorenzo Canyon as a sewer. 

Go on a cool, dry day. I got a sunburned through a cotton shirt on this date. You don’t want your car down there if a storm inundates the canyon. 

This is photographer heaven. I regret having missed the early morning light.

I only went through about 700 mls of water on this hike. On warmer days or on longer hikes you may want three to five times that amount.

Some websites associate this canyon with Polvadera Peak, to the south. I did not discover any obvious trail connections between them.


A trip report with many details about the botanical and geological resources can be found at ExploreNM.

Another resource can be found at Summit Post. Great photos, and it makes mention of the fact that the Grand Enchantment Trail (running from Phoenix to Albuquerque) runs through this canyon.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a two page writeup (pdf) that touches on the geology, flora and fauna to be found in the canyon.

The FeralChats website has a nice writeup with some excellent photos. They also note that Google Maps is a little misleading.