Located about 30 miles southwest of Las Cruces in the midst of the Potrillo volcanic field between the East and West Potrillo Mountains, Mount Riley has an elevation of 5,905 feet and a prominence of 1,113 feet. Along with neighboring Cox Peak (elev. 5,936 ft., prominence 1,541 ft.) and Point 5782 (elev. 5,782 ft., prominence 634 feet), this isolated cluster of peaks rises prominently above southern New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert landscape and is visible in every direction for many miles. These peaks are part of the Greater Potrillo Mountains Complex, managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There are no maintained trails in this area that sees very few visitors.
Mount Riley from the southeast.
From the summit, numerous mountain ranges come into view. Cinder cones, craters, and lava flows make the views truly unique. Seven miles east of the summit lies Hunts Hole, a maar volcanic crater over 1,500 yards wide. Kilbourne Hole, a maar volcanic crater that measures in diameter between 2,600 yards to more than 3,700 yards at its widest point and is more than 300 feet deep, lies 6 miles to the east-northeast of Mount Riley. Hunts Hole, also a maar volcano, measures over 1,500 yards in diameter and is 1.9 miles south of Kilbourne Hole. These are two rare examples of volcanic action void of a mountainous rim. There is a summit register enclosed in a jar, secure in the confines of a small cairn. Although topographic maps show a benchmark on Riley, I could not find it. Early entries in the summit register indicate previous searches for the benchmark to no avail. The register, placed there on January 3, 2001, shows that my daughter (kelster) and I were the only visitors to Riley’s summit during 2007...unless someone else makes it up there in the few remaining days of the year. The summit saw visitors on only 3 days of 2006. Despite its unpopularity -- probably due to a combination of its isolated location and sub-6k summit -- Mount Riley is a very worthy summit objective that won’t leave you disappointed.
Kilbourne Hole and Hunts Hole from the summit.
Take NM Hwy 9 west from Santa Teresa or east from Columbus. From NM Hwy 9, turn north onto County Road A-005; proceed about 1.1 miles, where the road will split; go to the right 0.1 mile and pass through the gate. From the gate, continue on CR A-005 for 7.0 miles, then turn right onto the 4WD road, proceeding east towards Cox Peak. The 4WD road will end near the north side of Cox Peak after 0.9 miles. 2WD vehicles should be able to make it as far as the turnoff to the 4WD road, however, I would recommend against it.
County Road A-005 entrance.
Route to summit
From the end of the 4WD road, hike east towards Mount Riley. The approach is 1.3 miles with ups and down with a gradual elevation gain of 270 feet. Work your way eastward towards the southwest slope during the approach. There is a well-defined trail during the approach that runs along a nearby wash. The trail fades in a few places but is easy to pick back up. At some point, you’ll want to leave the trail and shoot for Riley’s southwest base. From that point, there are no trails; you will have to route find your way to the top. There is more than 1,100 feet elevation gain for the last 0.9 miles to the summit. The cacti density on the mountain is moderate. The rocks are loose and the route does get steep in some areas, so be careful. Proceed towards the highest visible prominence during the ascent; this is a false summit at about 5,600’ elevation, leaving roughly 300’ elevation gain to the summit, which will be clearly visible to the northeast prior to reaching the false summit. The steepest areas of the route are below the false summit. This route is about 2.2 miles one-way with 1,375 feet elevation gain.
TOPO! map of route.
Trail on approach hike.
Start of ascent.
Approaching the false summit.
There are no developed campsites or facilities in the area. Primitive camping is permitted; no fees or permits.
BLM rules apply. No fees and permits required. 24-hour access.
Food & Lodging
The town of Santa Teresa is about 28 miles east of the County Road turnoff from Hwy 9. El Paso, Texas is about 12 more miles of driving. Columbus, NM is about 36 miles to the west. Each place offers adequate food and lodging facilities.