OverviewCanon de Valle is a lush narrow canyon in the Jemez Mountains just west of the town of Los Alamos, NM. It is about 3.5 miles long, with its lower southeastern end (~7700') bounded by NM state route 501, and its upper northwestern end opening up to a broad pass called Valle Pass (~9700'), which is the saddle between Pajarito Mountain (10441') and Cerro Grande (10199'). The lower three-quarters of the canyon, located within the Santa Fe National Forest, has a seasonal creek with a nice parallel hiking trail (#289) that ends at the fenced boundary (~9040') between the National Forest and the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The upper portion of the canyon and Valle Pass are located within the Valles Caldera.
Getting ThereThe Canon de Valle trailhead (southeastern end of the canyon) is located ~1.2 miles north of the T-intersection between NM state routes 501 and 4.
From the town of Los Alamos, NM, proceed west on Trinity Drive (NM state route 502); make a left onto Diamond Drive (landmark: hospital on the corner). Make the first right turn (at a light) onto West Road. Drive down into a canyon (Los Alamos Canyon) and past an ice rink on the left and continue as the road winds uphill. Pass the turnoff to Pajarito Mountain (Camp May Road) and continue until the road ends at NM state route 4. Turn right onto route 4 and proceed for ~1.5 miles to a dirt parking area on the right (west) side of the road.
Alternatively, from Bandelier National Monument, proceed west on NM state route 4. Turn right (north) onto NM state route 501, and proceed ~1.2 miles to the dirt parking area on the left side (west) of the road.
According to the Santa Fe National Forest website, the old parking area is the beginning of old Forest Road 2996 which goes up Canon de Valle, and it is now gated closed.
HikingA nice trail heads up the Canon de Valle from the parking area. This is Santa Fe National Forest trail #289. It is ~3.1 miles (according to the Sky Terrain topo map) from the trailhead to the fenced boundary with the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The starting elevation is ~7700' and the boundary is at ~9040', for a total elevation gain of ~1340'.
From the National Forest website:
"This trail was formerly a wagon road and then a jeep trail leading up the Cañon de Valle. The first half mile from the gate follows the road; just before the road makes a sharp swing to the north you encounter a junction with the Perimeter Trail to the south. Passing this junction, you leave the road here and continue straight up the canyon on the narrower Valle Trail. The trail continues at a gradual incline up the canyon parallel to the creek, crossing from side to side. There are a few difficult spots where the trail has suffered from effects of the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire. The upper sections of the trail are very pleasant, and the old wagon road nature of the trail are very apparent. At the top of the trail is the fenceline bordering the Valles Caldera National Preserve."
It is possible to cross the fenceline into the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The trail becomes much fainter and eventually disappears. The broad Valle Pass (~9700') is ~1 mile beyond and ~660' higher than the fenced boundary. Please visit the Valles Caldera website to obtain the most up-to-date information on access issues.
NOTE: Be aware of thunderstorm activity nearby, as this canyon has the potential for flash floods.
CampingThe closest established camping is at Bandelier National Monument (Ponderosa Campground <2 miles away, and Juniper Campground ~6 miles away). Please click here for more information.
Also, Camp May Campground (~9300'), which is located near the base of Pajarito Mountain Ski Area, is about 5 miles away. Typically, this campground closes around Nov. 1 of each year and re-opens in the spring. Camping is by permit only, which can be obtained at the Larry Walkup Aquatic Center on Canyon Road in Los Alamos. Call 505-662-8170 for permit information.
Exernal links1. Santa Fe National Forest
2. Valles Caldera National Preserve
3. Bandelier National Monument