Santa Fe, NM: Alamo to Capulin Canyon Loop

Climb across mesas and up canyon walls to a cave full of pictographs.
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Climb across mesas and up canyon walls to a cave full of pictographs.

Find rarely visited ruins hidden in New Mexico’s big-sky desertscape on this difficult, 20.4-mile trek. Leave Monument Headquarters heading northwest to the Frijoles Canyon trailhead and follow the dirt path up 100 feet to a right turn at a T-junction. At the mesa top, look right across Frijoles Canyon’s pinkish cliffs of tuff, a soft rock formed from volcanic ash. Go right at the T-junction, then left at a Y-junction 200 feet later, and for the next 2.2 miles, weave through piñon, junipers, and sagebrush on Pajarito Plateau. Look for prickly pears, cane cholla, and yucca.

Cross Lummis Canyon, a pocket oasis full of aspens. Reach Alamo Canyon. The views from the rim of this 500-foot-deep trough are some of this trip’s finest. Go right at the next Y-junction toward Yapashi Pueblo. In .6 mile, oblong boulders rest in a 650-foot-diameter circle, the remains of the Cochiti Puebloans’ 385-room village. Walk .5 mile, then bear left toward Capulin Canyon. This loop’s only reliable water source irrigates the interior. Camp in Zone D on a bank a few feet above the creek (in dry years, camp at an up-canyon site).

Next day, tank up with one gallon per person and follow cairns south. In two miles, head east across a dry tributary on the .1-mile spur to Painted Cave. Continue south to reach a sandy trail at the canyon’s end and turn left. Pass a patch of Dali-esque spires on the mesa, then head north up a sandy path along the western wall of Hondo Canyon. Switchback into the canyon and head across the wash.

At the Hondo Canyon sign, follow cairns on a loose-rock path up the canyon’s eastern wall. Bear left at the Y-junction, and after a half mile, look right to see the muddy Rio Grande. Follow cairns for three view-packed miles to a rocky wash. From here, continue .2 mile to close the Capulin Canyon loop, then return to the headquarters.

GEAR UP CB Fox Department Store, 1735 Central Ave., Los Alamos. (505) 662-2864

SEASON Spring for mild weather and the greatest variety of wildflowers

INFO (505) 672-3861

MAP Bandelier National Monument ($12, natgeomaps.com)

-Mapped by MacKenzie Ryan

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 32.9

Waypoints

BNM001

Location: 35.779033, -106.270736

Visitor Center

BNM002

Location: 35.779035, -106.272376

Trailhead to Painted Cave

BNM003

Location: 35.778889, -106.272576

Take a right at the T-junction.

BNM004

Location: 35.782303, -106.276333

Turn left here and follow the trail northwest.

BNM005

Location: 35.782945, -106.278779

Look for views of cliff dwellings from this spot along the trail.

BNM006

Location: 35.785747, -106.286522

Go right at the T junction.

BNM007

Location: 35.78624, -106.287012

Bear left at the Y-junction 200 feet later, and head toward Mid Alamo and Yapashi. For the next 2.2 miles, hike through junipers and sagebrush on Pajarito Plateau.

BNM008

Location: 35.769818, -106.301895

The trail winds south into Alamo Canyon.

BNM009

Location: 35.765757, -106.302272

Arrive at an overlook: the views from here are some of the trip's finest.

BNM010

Location: 35.766258, -106.302979

Alamo Canyon: No Camping Zone

BNM011

Location: 35.762881, -106.301243

Hang a left here to stay on the trail.

BNM012

Location: 35.762637, -106.3009

Bear right and cross drainage.

BNM013

Location: 35.758472, -106.299751

Crest the top of the canyon.

BNM014

Location: 35.757655, -106.305513

Take a left turn.

BNM015

Location: 35.75764, -106.305567

Continue straight at the four-way junction.

BNM016

Location: 35.758071, -106.307858

Bear right at this 3-way, and hike northwest toward the Yapashi Pueblo.

BNM017

Location: 35.761442, -106.315597

Arrive at Yapashi Pueblo, where oblong boulders rest in a 650-foot-diameter circle. Continue .5 mile.

BNM018

Location: 35.763062, -106.31843

Cochiti Lake

BNM019

Location: 35.765507, -106.321829

Bear left toward Capulin Canyon.

BNM020

Location: 35.754896, -106.325831

Camp in zone D, to the left, on a bank a few feet above the creek.

BNM021

Location: 35.754035, -106.325543

Cross a small stream and continue hiking south.

BNM022

Location: 35.746164, -106.326714

Camping Zone D, continue 1.2 miles south to next creek crossing.

BNM023

Location: 35.730465, -106.323457

This stream crossing may be a dry wash during parts of the year.

BNM024

Location: 35.727786, -106.323502

Entering a "No Camping Zone".

BNM025

Location: 35.725245, -106.322765

Cross another small stream.

BNM026

Location: 35.721709, -106.321392

Head east across a dry creek on the .1 mile spur to Painted Cave.

BNM027

Location: 35.722197, -106.320019

Reach Painted Cave, 50 feet about the foot trail and painted with red mineral markings across its mouth.

BNM028

Location: 35.713643, -106.312509

Here, turn right.

BNM029

Location: 35.707589, -106.301451

Potential Campsite

BNM030

Location: 35.707972, -106.30068

Bear left to head north up the canyon.

BNM031

Location: 35.710342, -106.301037

Switchback into Hondo Canyon and head across the wash. Follow cairns up the eastern wall.

BNM032

Location: 35.709948, -106.297862

Go left at the Y-junction and continue for .5 mile.

BNM033

Location: 35.712301, -106.297789

Cross wash and continue north.

BNM034

Location: 35.716389, -106.29663

Look right to see the Rio Grande.

BNM035

Location: 35.755604, -106.309005

After three rocky miles, cross a rocky wash. Ahead: The route reconnects with Waypoint 16. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.