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Tent Rock Canyon Trails, New Mexico

This climb is excerpted from 75 Hikes in New Mexico, by Craig Martin, published by The Mountaineers, Seattle. ©1995 by Craig Martin. All rights reserved.

Tent Rock Canyon is a narrow slice through some tuff ejected from small volcanoes at the edge of the massive Jemez Volcano. In places the walls of the canyon are 200 feet high, but a child's arms can span the entire width. The canyon takes its name from the surrounding weird towers of tuff capped by harder, more erosion-resistant rocks. The cap rocks offer some protection to the crumbly tuff directly beneath, resulting in a hoard of conical spires roughly shaped like tepees. Two trails lead into the wonderland, one along the base of the cliffs, another into the canyon.

Easy3 miles, day hike
Mid-March through NovemberCarry water
Elevation RangeElevation Gain
5,800 to 6,200 feet400 feet
Interesting FeaturesMaps
Very narrow canyon, strange-shaped rocksUSGS Cañada 7.5' quadrangle

Take I 25 south from Santa Fe or north from Albuquerque to the Cochiti exit, number 264. Go west on NM 16 for about 8 miles to a T intersection. Turn right onto NM 22, heading for Cochiti Dam. Go past the spillway and, at the base of the dam, turn left with NM 22 as it heads toward Cochiti Pueblo. In 1.8 miles, at the end of NM 22, turn right onto FR 266. This dirt road is bumpy but passable to any vehicle. At 4.8 miles, turn right at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sign for Tent Rocks. Park in the small lot on the right.

Begin hiking the Tent Rock Canyon Trail at the BLM parking area. Follow the sandy trail, marked with National Recreation Trail signposts, about 100 yards to a junction and bear right. A bit less than 0.5 mile from the start, the trail leads into an arroyo. Bear left and walk up the sandy bottom into a narrowing canyon. Just before reaching the mouth of the canyon, the trail splits; the left fork is the cliff trail, but for now go right into the canyon.

"...drop into a broad amphitheater surrounded by banded cliffs. The trail follows the base of the cliffs, passing a cave that shows signs of use by Anasazi/Pueblo people...."

The trail passes between high walls of banded volcanic deposits as the canyon alternates between narrow and open sections. Short stretches are a squeeze for an adult with a daypack. At one point hikers must crawl under a boulder to continue, but this only adds to the fun.

At mile 1.2, a primitive trail continues 0.25 mile to a viewpoint above, climbing the steep slope on loose rock. From the viewpoint, backtrack to the mouth of the canyon. Just outside the canyon, turn right onto the cliff route and climb steeply out of the arroyo. After 200 yards, drop into a broad amphitheater surrounded by banded cliffs. The trail follows the base of the cliffs, passing a cave that shows signs of use by Anasazi/Pueblo people. Just past the cave, descend into a narrow arroyo. At the bottom, turn left and walk down the arroyo. In 100 yards, cross a larger arroyo and continue as the trail skirts the base of the western side of the amphitheater to the parking area.

Craig Martin
Born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Craig Martin fell in love with the mountains of New Mexico at the age of twelve when a fellow Boy Scout shared pictures of his trip to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron. He has lived in New Mexico since 1987, exploring the state on foot, bike, cross-country skis, or with a fly rod in hand.
After working as a carpenter, a naturalist for the Delaware State Parks and the National Park Service, a geology instructor, and a junior high school science teacher, Martin took over primary care of his then-infant daughter and began a career as a freelance writer. He was editor of the award-winning Fly-Fishing in Northern New Mexico (The University of New Mexico Press, 1991) and its companion volume, Fly Patterns for Northern New Mexico (University of New Mexico Press, 1992). He has also written three mountain bike guides including Mountain Biking in Northern New Mexico which features twenty-five tours into New Mexico's historical and geologic past. His writings have appeared in such magazines as Sesame Street Parents, Delaware Conservationist, New Mexico Magazine, Fly Fisherman, and The Flyfisher.
Martin lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico, with his wife, June and children, Jessica and Alex, who all share his love of the outdoors.