Approach to Chupadera Peak ridgeline


This easily accessed, moderate, out-and-back hike propels you into the heart of the Chupadera Wilderness Area. The eye could be captured by the many surrounding mountain ranges: the Magdalena Mountains, Socorro Mountains, Manzano Mountains, Oscura Mountains and the Fra Cristobal Mountains. For most, however, the Rio Grande River will ensnare the eye – a slender green filament fluttering against New Mexico’s sere heartland. The trail traverses river bottom, winds through dramatic cliffs and summits on a windy ridge line. Tuck a few family members in the car for a sunny march and a great break from covid confinement.

Driving Directions:

  • From Interstate-25 take exit 139 signed for US-380 East/San Antonio
  • If you are coming from the north (e.g. Albuquerque or Socorro) then follow the ramp as it swings away from the highway and then circles back underneath the highway. Reset your odometer after 0.5 miles, where the ramp merges with the exit from north-bound I-25 to form US 380 East.
  • If you are coming from the south (e.g. Truth Or Consequences or Las Cruces) then follow the exit ramp 0.3 miles to where it merges with the other exit ramp (from south-bound I-25) to form US-380 East
Sign before trailhead road
  • After 0.5 miles on US-380 East, at a blinking light, turn right onto NM-1 South (signed)
  • After 6.7 miles on NM-1 South, immediately past a sign saying “Chupadera Trail Parking”, turn right onto the narrow gravel road.
  • After 0.1 miles on the gravel road, immediately before the road is blocked by boulders, turn right into the Chupadera Trail trailhead.


Sign at trailhead

A gravel pad within the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Area forms the trailhead. There are no services other than a sign about the Wildlife Area. Under ordinary circumstances you would be able to go a few miles further south on NM-1 to get to the Visitors Center, which offers a store and restrooms. On this date, however, the Visitor Center was closed due to the pandemic. You can find updated information on the park’s services here. (You also pass a gas station in San Antonio, on US-380 near the intersection with NM-1).

There were no fees on this date, but during the pandemic many parks are waiving fees. (See links below).


Note on map: once again I forgot to start the GPS until I got well underway, the outgoing tread is missing the first 1.2 miles, so be careful trying to follow this track if you download it from the internet!

  • Starting elevation: 4520 feet
  • Ending elevation: 6220 feet
  • Net elevation: 1700 feet
  • Distance: 4.7 miles

Hike Description:

Snag where trail departs from road

Follow the road going under the railroad trestle as it barrels fearlessly east on perfectly flat bottomland. The roadbed ends at turn-about under a spare stand of of tall cottonwood snags. The trail departs from the turn-about on either of two routes (a sign with opposite arrows points to the twoctreads). Both treads join back together once you reach the powerlines above you. On this date I continued on the left-hand route (not shown on the map above). This tread continues on an easterly course and enters an arroyo that has cut deeply into the skirt of alluvial material surrounding the Chupadera Hills (to geologists, a “bajada”). The loose sand in the arroyo bed shortens the hiker’s stride. Cairns lead to the north wall of the arroyo and eventually to a signed switchback that rises to the bajada top and much better footing. 

Rolling bajada and distant Chupadera Hills

The lower bajada, tattered by wind and water, rolls up and down. A lonely park bench (dedicated to Ann Young, likely a supporter of the Wildlife Area) maintains station by the trail. Climb to a power line where the tread re-joins with other trail. Give this junction a moment’s study, especially if you are particular about your path back to the car. Above the power line the vegetation changes to a near monoculture of creosote bush. Here the terrain is better consolidated and encourages you to stretch out your stride. The creosote bush is a solitary creature and everything looks like a trail. Keep an eye out for helpful cairns and the slight depression into the rocky soil that marks the tread. After 2.3 miles the trail drops into an arroyo decorated with prickly pear and banana yucca. This takes you to I-25 highway where a dark but helpful culvert gets you safely to the uphill side.

Cliff walls flanking the trail

Beyond the highway the trail stays close to (or in) the arroyo. A pinch-point of erosion resistant rock arises at 3.0 miles from the trailhead. Above this point the terrain opens into a bowl. High above and to the right the dry, open hillsides typical of the Chupadera Hills seem to beckon. Off to the left there arise high walls of vertical and dark rock. The tread resists the temptation of those open slopes and heads towards the cliffs. Some trail tension arises as you contemplate the sad lack of caribiners in your backpack. These walls close in yet, somehow, the trail threads the challenges without ever forcing you to place a hand on a rock. This terrain is well protected from the afternoon sun and the plants get much denser and more varied. A shady juniper even offers a shady respite alongside the trail!

View to south Chupadera Hills and (distant) Rio Grande ribbon

At 4.1 miles the path reaches a ridge that ascends gently to Chupadera Peak. Here, exposed to sun and wind, the vegetation reverts to grass and cacti. The view west to the Magdalena Mountains is terrific. Turn north and follow the trail up the ridge. Bumps on the ridge form a couple false summits, but with such views who could care? At 4.8 miles arrive at the summit. A small summit cairn protects a glass jar containing a summit register. Look south to find the narrow, green line that is the Rio Grande. Study the surrounding ranges for possible future adventures. On this date it got hot, so rather than enjoying a summit lunch I retreated back to that shady juniper. Return the way you came in.


Like all hikes in the Chupadera Hills this one is very exposed to sun and wind. Bring sunscreen and a wide brim hat in the warmer months and bring a jacket against the wind in colder weather.

I had 1 liter of water and that was not nearly enough. Even on cold days you’d want more just as backup. I should have had three.

This hike calls out for a telephoto lens. The views are terrific but the wide angle lens on a cell phone does the Wilderness no justice whatsoever.

Watch for thunder storms. You’ll want to be off the exposed ridge by noon during monsoon season.

Budget a little extra time and do a short and contrasting hike in the Bosque del Apache. 


The Albuquerque Journal has a writeup of the trail and names the dramatic canyon as Red Rock Canyon. They also mention javelinas, which were present today alongside NM-1.

The Albuquerque Senior Center’s Hiking Group (ASCHG) also names the canyon, but they call it Chocolate Canyon.

Bivy has a mention of the trail that notes a $5.00 entrance fee for the park. I’m not certain if this pertains to the Chupadera Peak hike, since I didn’t see any fee-collection stations.

The LivingWonderously site has numerous and informative photos, check it out for details of what to expect.