Hiking Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. It features designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. 

Petroglyphs are ancient rock carvings created by striking the basalt boulders directly with hammerstone removing the dark, desert varnish on the boulder’s surface.

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Location

There are four different hiking trails in Petroglyph National Monument. There are three trails where you can view petroglyphs. The other trail takes you around a group of volcanoes on the west side of the Rio Grande Valley. The trails range in length, from one to four miles roundtrip, and in the degree of difficulty, from easy to moderately strenuous. Trail guides for each trail system are available at the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center.

We hiked three of the trails during our stay at Kirtland Air Force Base FamCamp.

The Hikes

Rinconada Canyon – With over 300 petroglyphs, this is the first canyon we hiked during our visit. This trail is a 2.2-mile loop that is considered easy. It takes about an hour to complete the trail with stops to view the petroglyphs along the route.

The sandy trail is easy to follow as the National Park Service has installed cables to keep you on the path. The problem with the cables is that you don’t get close to the petroglyphs. While the cables hopefully keep people from damaging the fragile artwork some petroglyphs are quite far away from the trail and can be hard to see. You might consider bringing binoculars to view the petroglyphs.

The densest concentration of petroglyphs is at the back of the canyon about a mile into the hike. We hiked the loop for this hike but would recommend doing an out and back to see petroglyphs from the other angle on the return trip.

Note: The Rinconada Canyon parking lot has a high rate of break-ins. There are warnings posted at the Visitor Center and the parking lot. Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle.

Volcanoes Trail – We took our dogs, Sierra and Ruby, on this 3.2-mile loop trail the second morning we hiked. Hiking this trail we hoped to go to the top of some of the volcanoes. From the parking lot, we started North on the trail that headed toward Vulcan Volcano.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to climb to the top of Vulcan Volcano. The National Park Service had cables and signs stating the areas were closed for restoration. The second volcano we came to on the hike was Black Volcano. There is a trail to the top of Black Volcano that we were able to climb to the top of for a view of the surrounding area.

From the top of Black Volcano we continued around the loop at the base of JA Volcano. The dogs were getting tired so we didn’t climb to the top of JA. The whole hike took us about 1hr 45 min.

Piedras Marcadas Canyon – The weather warmed up on our second day exploring Petroglyph National Monument, so we decided to leave the dogs back at the motorhome for our afternoon hike at Piedras Marcadas Canyon. This hike is listed as 2 miles but our hike ended up being 2.3 miles because we hiked some of the loops on the way back to the parking lot. The hike starts from a parking lot behind an oil change shop right at the beginning of a neighborhood. You start the hike by going down the trail behind a row of homes.

The 400+ petroglyphs on this hike were in my opinion harder to see than the ones we saw at Rinconada Canyon. It could have been that we were hiking the trail in the late afternoon so the sun might not have been in the ideal location for us to see the petroglyphs.

There are a number of loops that will take you back to the parking lot. I would recommend doing an out and back again as there isn’t much to see on the loops that take you down the middle of the canyons. All the petroglyphs are along the rocky edge of the canyon.

Again the National Park Service has put up cables to keep you on the sandy trail and has signs stating areas past the cables are closed for restoration. This keeps you and hopefully anyone that may cause damage to the petroglyphs away. Although it makes some of the petroglyphs harder to see.

Boca Negra Canyon – We didn’t hike the Boca Negra Canyon Trail during our visit but it looks like another nice hike to see some great petroglyphs. This trail can be hiked in 5 minutes to an hour and you can see up to 100 petroglyphs. Parking at the trailhead costs, $1 weekdays and $2 weekends although Annual, Senior, Military, and 4th Grade pass holders get in free.

Dogs

Leashed dogs are allowed on the entire length of the trails at Piedras Marcadas Canyon and the Volcanoes Day Use Area. Leashed dogs are only allowed on the non-petroglyph section (middle section) in Rinconada Canyon. Pets are not allowed at Boca Negra Canyon. Maximum leash length of 6 feet. Owners must pick up dog waste and carry it out to a trash can.

Conclusion

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. Being close to Albuquerque, New Mexico makes for easy access to the hiking trails you can take to see the petroglyphs and the volcanos that created the rocks where they are located.

If petroglyphs are your thing check out our article on Nine Mile Canyon near Wellington, Utah. If you love seclusion this is a great trip to do. There are so many petroglyphs and pictographs on the Nine Mile Canyon drive you could definitely spend days looking at them.

What interesting places have you been to and can recommend? We’re always looking for neat out-of-the-way places to put on our list of must-sees. Thank you for reading our article. If you have any comments or questions we’d love to hear from you below.

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