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The Valles Caldera is a special place, one of my favorite places on the planet. For years it has been a place of serenity for me, a place to hit the ‘reset’ button when my stress level hits critical mass. Gazing across the expansive meadow from highway 4 puts life in perspective, even on a less than ideal day, because no matter how bad a day might seem, it would be far worse if this caldera wasn’t dormant. It would be fatal.


The 13.7-mile wide caldera, for which the preserve is named, is one of three “supervolcanoes” in the United States. A supervolcano is capable of producing eruptions thousands of times larger than a typical volcano. These eruptions are rare and catastrophic, altering weather patterns for years and raining ash across vast areas. The last time the Valles Caldera erupted it emitted 150 cubic miles of lava, propelling ash as far as Iowa. That was 1.2 million years ago.


The Valles Caldera has been a unique experiment in public lands management for over a decade. The property was part of a Spanish land grant, operated most recently as the Baca Ranch, until being sold to the federal government in 2000 for $101 million. The goal was to continue operating the property as a working ranch while developing recreational opportunities for the public. Congress declared it a preserve, to be run as a nonprofit ranch, overseen by a board of trustees.


In December, 2013 the 89,000 acres of the Valles Caldera Preserve became accessible to the public, with most of the preserve’s forests, meadows and streams open on a limited basis for hiking, mountain biking, fishing and other activities. What motorists see from highway 4 is only a small portion of the caldera. The large meadow familiar to travelers on highway 4, the Valle Grande, is the largest of several grass valleys and it is the only one accessible by a paved road. The visitor’s center is in the middle of the Valle Grande. Shuttles are available to access the backcountry, with a daily quote on the number of private vehicles allowed.


Hot springs, streams, fumaroles, natural gas seeps and volcanic domes dot the caldera floor, with a variety of igneous stone, from pumice to obsidian, bearing witness to a variety of volcanic activity in the past. The highest point in the caldera is Redondo Peak at 11,253-feet (3,430 m). It is a resurgent lava dome located entirely within the caldera. The preserve encompasses vast grasslands, supporting an abundance of wildlife, including 17 rare species and one of New Mexico’s largest elk herds.


Geology of the Valles Caldera


Today the Valle Caldera is a glorious landscape of mountains, grassy meadows and streams. It is home to one of the largest elk herds in the state as well as bears, coyotes, cougars and other critters. Alert motorists traversing highway 4 in the Jemez often see the herds of elk grazing in the vast meadow. However, magma lurks three miles beneath the surface of this pastoral vista. The aspen and conifer forested hills are actually resurgent volcanic domes, earthen lava bubbles, that emerged in the aftermath of the massive eruption that created the caldera.


A supervolcano is a volcano that disperses magma and rocky particles over an area greater than 240 cubic miles (1000 cubic kilometers). This is thousands of times more powerful than a normal volcanic eruption. To put that in context, Mount Vesuvius produced 100,000 cubic yards of magma per second during the massive explosion that buried Pompeii in A.D. 79. If Mount Vesuvius had been a supervolcano, it would have produced 100 million cubic yards of magma per second. Modern mankind has never witnessed the eruption of a supervolcano and might not survive the spectacle. It would be a devastating, extinction inducing event.


There are 3 supervolcanos clustered in the western United States: Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming, Long Valley Caldera in California and the Valles Caldera in New Mexico. Fortunately, as apocalyptic forces of nature go, the Valles Caldera is one of the smaller volcanoes in the supervolcano class. It is also one of the oldest.


A caldera is formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, usually triggered by a large eruption emptying the magma chamber beneath the surface, with the earth’s crust caving into the void, creating a large crater. The Valles Caldera is the younger of two calderas at this location. When the Valles Caldera formed, the process of collapsing buried an older caldera, the Toledo Caldera, which in turn may have collapsed over yet older calderas.


These calderas and associated volcanic structures lie within the Jemez Volcanic Field. This volcanic field lies above the intersection of the Rio Grande Rift, which runs north-south through New Mexico, and the Jemez Lineament, which extends from southeastern Arizona northeast to western Oklahoma. The volcanic activity is related to the movements of the earth’s plates at this intersection.


The caldera and surrounding area continue to be shaped by ongoing tectonic activity. The Cerros del Rio volcanic field, which forms the eastern Pajarito Plateau and the Caja del Rio, is even older than the Toledo Caldera. The lower Bandelier tuff, which can be observed along canyon walls west of Valles Caldera, including San Diego Canyon, is related to the eruption and collapse of the Toledo Caldera. The upper Bandelier tuff is believed to have been deposited during the eruption and collapse of the Valles Caldera. The El Cajete Pumice, Battleship Rock Ignimbrite, Banco Bonito Rhyolite, and the VC-1 Rhyolite were also created during the most recent eruption of Valles Caldera, which was approximately 50,000–60,000 years ago. An active geothermal system with hot springs and fumaroles exist today, which is a clear indication that this volcanic hotbed is dormant…not dead.


The Valles caldera and surrounding volcanic structures are one of the most thoroughly studied caldera complexes in the United States. The main caldera has a diameter of 13.7 miles (22.0 km), which encompasses a field of volcanoes, with the many resurgent domes partitioning the 22-kilometer-wide caldera into five sections. The sections are refered to as “valles”, which is Spanish for valley without trees. The largest of these, Valle Grande, is a beautiful, bucolic meadow over 6 miles long and 3 miles wide.

Contact Information

Mailing Address

18161 Highway 4

Jemez Springs, NM 87025

Physical Address

Valle Caldera National Preserve

39201 New Mexico Highway 4

Jemez Springs, NM 87025

(575) 829-4100



(505) 661-3333, #3 for visitor center



Explore the natural resources and history of the Jemez mountains, from the Giusewa Mission Ruins in Jemez Springs to the Valles Caldera, the third largest super volcano in the U.S.


Near Los Alamos and Bandlier, this is a view you don't want to miss! An inconspicuous turnoff in a suburban sports park leads to a spectacular view of the Rio Grande Valley.


Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe on Cochiti Pueblo, the volcanic tuff and slot canyons of the Jemez volcanic field are a local favorite for hiking and glorious views.


The Navajo have legends about a Sasquatch creature and sightings occur fairly regularly in the northern Rockies, with a high concentration in the Jemez Mountains around the Valles Caldera.

History of the Valles Caldera


Like much of New Mexico, the Valle Caldera has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Spear points over 11,000 years old have been discovered. Several indigenous tribes frequented the caldera, often migrating seasonally to hunt. They mined obsidian for spear and arrow points. Obsidian from the caldera was traded across much of the Southwest.


Eventually, other people arrived, including tribes from neighboring regions, Navajo, Spanish colonialists and Mexican settlers vied for the fertile land, with periodic conflict, raids and confrontation. When New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1948, commercial ranching and logging interests promptly moved into the caldera, igniting conflict with the existing inhabitants. The caldera became the backdrop for the Indian wars with the U.S Army.


In 1876 the caldera became part of the Baca Ranch. The Bacas were a wealthy Spanish family from northeastern New Mexico. They were given the land as compensation for the termination of a Spanish land grant given to their family near Las Vegas by the King of Spain during the colonial period. The 100,000-acre parcel was called Baca Location number one. The land has exchanged hands many times since then, alternately used for grazing, logging and hunting, often with dire consequences. In the 1930s Frank Bond, a businessman based in nearby Española, ran up to 30,000 sheep in the calderas. The watersheds are still recovering from the damage associated with the overgrazing.


The land was purchased by the Dunigan family from Abilene, Texas in 1963. Unfortunately, timber rights were not included. The New Mexico Lumber Company logged the property heavily, removing significant amounts of old-growth douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Mr. Dunigan managed to secure the timber rights in the 1970s and slowed the logging. He negotiated unsuccessfully with the National Park Service and the US Forest Service for possible sale of the property in the 1980s. However, after he passed away, the Dunigan family sold the entire surface estate of 95,000 acres (380 km2), and seven-eighths of the geothermal mineral estate, to the federal government for $101 million in 2000.


The Valles Caldera Preservation Act was signed by President Clinton on July 25, 2000. The legislation provided for the federal purchase of the property and the historic ranch nestled in the caldera. Many sites on the Baca Ranch are considered culturally significant to the neighboring pueblos. All of the land is considered sacred. 5,000 acres of the purchase was obtained by Santa Clara Pueblo, including the sacred headwaters of Santa Clara Creek. 300 acres was ceded to Bandelier National Monument.


Before the federal government acquired the caldera, it had been in the hands of ranchers for 140 years, and in the hands of the prior inhabitants for thousands of years prior to that. Now that the land is public, the board of trustees limits the number of visitors to protect the integrity of the landscape and “emphasize quality of experience over quantity of experiences.” For example, they allow cars in, but they limit the number daily. If you want to drive your own vehicle, reservations are recommended. If you don't have a reservation, arrive early in the day.


The caldera is prone to thunderstorms and the back roads do get washed out when it rains. This can be a daily occurrence during monsoon season. Watch the weather. Be aware. Don’t litter. Be careful with fire of any sort.


In July 2011, the Las Conchas Fire was ignited by power lines on private land neighboring the preserve. The fire burned 30,000 acres (120 km2) in the preserve and 150,000 acres (640 km2) in the Jemez. The fire and subsequent flooding did an enormous amount of damage to Bandelier National Monument.

New Mexico Outdoors
Northern New Mexico by Drone

Featured in this video is footage from around Northern New Mexico, such as both the High Road and the Low Road to Taos, and other areas, such as Tres Piedras. We spent two days in Santa Fe and two additional days driving around New Mexico. We loved our time there!

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Jemez Mountains: Sky Island

The volcanic Jemez Mountains are isolated from all other ranges -- an island in the sky, surrounded by a desert sea. In Sky Island. By filmmaker John Grabowska.




Special Permit

The main entrance is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Severe winter weather may impact operating hours. Please visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve's website for the most up-to-date information.


Summer Season

Sunday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Monday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Tuesday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Wednesday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Thursday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Friday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Saturday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM


Winter Season

Sunday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Monday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Tuesday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Wednesday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Thursday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Friday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Saturday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM


From Jemez Springs, NM: Follow Highway 4 north. Preserve is about 22 miles from Jemez Springs. Look for the Main Gate at Mile Marker 39.2.


From Los Alamos, NM: Take Trinity Drive to Diamond. Take a left on Diamond, then a right on West Jemez Road to the intersection with State Highway 4. Take a right [away from Bandelier National Monument], following the highway up and into the Jemez Mountains.) The Preserve is 18 miles up Highway 4 from Los Alamos. Look for the Main Gate at Mile Marker 39.2.


Entrance Fee - By Vehicle - $20

Non-commercial car, van, pickup truck, motorcycle or RV (no per-person fee)


Entrance Fee - By Foot - $10

Entry into the preserve by foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial bus: $10 per person aged 16 and older (academic fee waivers may be available for curriculum-based educational trips)

Spending a day in the quiet expanse of the Valles Caldera National Preserve is worth the effort of booking reservations and traveling to this remote location. Hidden beyond Los Alamos in the Jemez Mountains, the preserve is a secret garden nestled inside a geologic wonder.


  • The Valles Caldera has on site lodging from May to December.  The Lodge has 8 bedrooms that can accommodate up to 16 people. The Bunkhouse has 3 bedrooms that can accommodate up to 12 people.
  • Primitive camping can be allowed as part of a special event. Off site lodging is open year round.
  • The Science Education center in Jemez Springs has 25 bedrooms that can sleep up to 50 people.


Camping is also available in the national forest bordering the preserve. Please see options below. Less rustic accommodations are available in Jemez Springs or Los Alamos.

Certain types of activities require a special use permit. A special park use is defined as a short-term activity that takes place in a preserve area, and that:


  1. provides a benefit to an individual, group or organization rather than the public at large;
  2. requires written authorization and some degree of management control from the National Park Service (NPS) in order to protect preserve resources and the public interest;
  3. is not prohibited by law or regulation;
  4. is not initiated, sponsored, or conducted by the NPS;and is not managed under a concession contract, a recreation activity for which the NPS charges a fee, or a lease.


Examples include: weddings, ceremonies, public assemblies, etc.


Examples of a First-Amendment Activity include: a church service, political event, or Freedom of Speech act.


For more information regarding Special Use Permits or to determine if your activity requires one, please call 575-829-4100, select option #4.


Applications for permits should be submitted well in advance, preferably 2-3 months before event, for consideration and processing.




The fascinating history of this ancient village 28 miles east of Santa Fe is an exploration of culture and trade; offering insight into the impact of early colonialism in New Mexico.


3 of the 23 UNESCO world heritage sites in the United States are located in New Mexico, with White Sands currently being considered. Have you visited all of them?


Many hikers attempting to thru-hike the CDT start at the Southern border of New Mexico in March or April. Learn more about the most challenging of America's triple crown distance trails.

Valles Caldera Activities & Recreation


The Valles Caldera is an amazing place with 54 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty, 30 miles of trout streams and a variety of activities, including climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hunting, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, sleigh rides and wildlife viewing. There are over 51 mammals, 117 birds, 6 reptiles, 3 amphibians and 6 fish species thriving in the caldera. Most trails are accessible by shuttle. Guided hikes are available.


There are several special events hosted throughout the year, including a marathon, an 80 mile mountain bike ride, moonlight skiing, and the Jemez Mountains Elk Festival. When exploring this vast volcanic wonder, practice “leave no trace” principles. Go prepared. Don’t remove vegetation, rocks, animals, natural or historic objects. Pack out all trash. If you see trash that isn't your own, pack that out too.


Summer Recreation

Open daily from mid-May to mid-October.


Winter Recreation

Open daily from late December to mid-March.


For cross country skiers, the Valle is a pristine paradise of powder. There are 29 miles of groomed trails and 11,000+ acres of snow for trailblazers. Snowshoes are also welcome!  When the weather cooperates, the Preserve hosts moonlight skiing and snow shoeing activities, complete with bonfires for warmth and navigation, and horse drawn sleigh rides.


Backcountry Vehicle Permit

Some of the best adventures take place in the backcountry, with hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, rock climbing, cross-country skking, snowshoeing and wildlife viewing available at the preserve. The backcountry can be accessed by foot, mountain bike, horseback or personal vehicle. A permit is not needed if accessing by foot, mountain bike, skis or snowshoes. If accessing by vehicle or horse, a back country vehicle permit or equestrian permit is required.


How to Obtain a Backcountry Permit

Beginning May 15th, you may walk into the Valle Grande Visitor Center to pick up a permit for that day if permits are still available. At this time, reservations for permits are not accepted. Given the limited number of permits available each day, it is very likely the permits will be issued out early, especially on weekends.


  • A total of 35 backcountry vehicle permits will be available each day during May 15 to September 30. Backcountry vehicle access may be unavailable if the roads are unsafe for travel.
  • Permit holders are allowed to travel only on designated roads and to park only in designated parking areas that have not reached the maximum vehicle capacity. (map)
  • The backcountry vehicle route is unpaved. The dirt and gravel road can be slick during heavy rains. Ruts and washboarding may be present. Flash flooding and washouts may occur during periods of heavy rains, especially during monsoon season (July-August).
  • The permit allows the permit holder and all passengers that can legally fit in the vehicle access to the backcountry. Passenger vehicles and motorcycles are permitted. 4WD or high clearance vehicles are strongly encouraged. Buses, off-road vehicles (ATVs, UTVs, etc.) and non-street legal motorcycles are not permitted.
  • There is no additional fee for this permit beyond the preserve entrance fee.
  • The backcountry vehicle pass is only valid between 8:00 AM to 7:30 PM on the date of access; no overnight access is granted. Permit holders will need to leave the backcountry no later than 7:00 PM to be able to check out before the main gate closes at 8:00 PM.
  • Permit holders will be exiting the preserve the same way they came in. No other exits are designated.
  • Speed limit is 15 mph thru the Valle Grande district and 25 mph everywhere else within the preserve.
  • Smoking is allowed only inside your personal vehicle: remember cigarette butts are trash and need to be disposed of properly.
  • Only service animals are allowed in the backcountry, no pets.
  • Permits are non-transferable.
  • Permits can be revoked for violations of preserve rules & regulations.
  • Remember, safety is your responsibility.
  • Information EVERY visitor needs to know.


Parts of the Caldera


East Fork of the Jemez River

Home to both brown and rainbow trout, the East Fork of the Jemez River begins its journey at the eastern end of the Valle Grande, meandering southwest to be joined by Jaramillo Creek. The confluence of the East Fork and Jaramillo waters provide an ideal feeding area for trout and creates a near perfect fishing hole. The narrow Jaramillo is an excellent hiding place for large trout, who seek shadows under the grass banks that overhang the narrow creek.


The East Fork is the river crossed when traveling to the visitor center in the Valle Grande. The river continues its journey under the main road and into a secluded valley where it exits the preserve. At that point the river widens, deepens, and slows, creating an excellent habitat for large trout. The East Fork presents the same challenges as the San Antonio in terms of having to sneak up on the fish. It is home to brown and rainbow trout that grow as large at 18".


San Antonio Creek and Rito de los Indios

Below the north rim of the volcanic caldera lies 12 miles of the San Antonio Creek. The creek meanders through the lush mountain meadows of the Valle San Antonio and is home to thousands of brown trout. Elk, bear, coyote and mountain bluebirds are often spotted along the creek banks.


  • 14+ miles of creek
  • keep up to 5 fish
  • reserve 2 – 6 miles for you and your friends
  • Highest trout density of any New Mexico stream
  • East Fork of the Jemez River
  • 9+ miles of stream
  • catch and release


The northern stretch is only two feet wide in some areas, with few trees and shrubs to cover a fisherman's approach. The river widens at the lower end and flows over long, gravel bed shallows. The crystal clear water and lack of cover require stealth and an accurate cast to catch  brown trout. The Rito de los Indios is a small stream located in the northeast corner of the preserve and flows into San Antonio Creek.


Historic Ranch Headquarters

Headquarters was the base and residential site used by the prior owners for large scale sheep and cattle ranching operations since the 1860s. Today, the historic structures left by the previous land owners are used to interpret the colorful ranching history of the 88,900 acres once known as Baca Location No 1.


North Rim

The north rim offers visitors, who are willing to put in the effort, breathtaking views of the Valles Caldera. From within the preserve, La Garita is the route of choice for hikers and mountain bikers to enjoy spectacular views of mix conifer forests and the many mountain meadows and valleys below.


South Rim

The south rim provides some amazing views of the Valle Grande to the north and Dome Wilderness to the south. The easiest access to south rim is from the Coyote Call Trailhead. Hike ¼ mile counterclockwise on the Coyote Call loop trail and then take the Rabbit Ridge spur an additional 2 miles to the ridge. The route is well signed.


    Use extreme caution when riding on preserve roads; roads are winding and narrow while shoulders are either narrow or nonexistent. Vehicle traffic can be heavy at times. There are no bicycle paths along roadways. Bicycles are subject to the same traffic rules as automobiles. Bicycling is permitted on established public roads and designated routes. Cyclists must ride single-file. Commonly accepted road courtesy in the mountains calls for slower traffic to pull over and stop to allow congestion behind to pass where appropriate shoulder space is available. Stay on designated open trails and roads. Backcountry trails and roads are maintained to provide identifiable routes that concentrate and support traffic. Concentrating travel on established and maintained paths reduces soil erosion and the likelihood that multiple routes will develop causing future environmental impact.


    A backcountry vehicle permit is required if you wish to access the backcountry with your vehicle. No permit is needed to bike into the backcountry from the Valle Grande Visitor Center.


    Tips for Riders

    • Wear safety gear, including helmet and high visibility clothing, be worn by all bicyclists.
    • Carry tools and spare parts, and inspect brakes for worn cables and pads.
    • Know how to navigate across the landscape. Plan your route according to time, terrain, and abilities.
    • Always let someone know your outdoor plans including your anticipated time of return.
    • Motorists frequently do not see bicyclists or fail to give them sufficient space on the road. Drivers sometimes pass on hill crests, blind curves, or in oncoming traffic.

    There is no camping available in the caldera, though visitors can apply for a special use permit. There are numerous camping options available in Bandelier and the Santa Fe National Forest.


    Bandelier National Monument

    Ponderosa Group Campground

    Juniper Family Campground

    Backcountry Camping


    Santa Fe National Forest



        Coyote Ranger District

        Resumidero Camping Area

        Rio Chama Campground

        Rio Puerco Campground

       Cuba Ranger District

        Clear Creek Campground

        Clear Creek Campground Group Area

        Rio De Las Vacas Campground

       Jemez Ranger District

        Jemez Falls Campground

        Paliza Family Campground

        Redondo Campground

        San Antonio Campground

        Vista Linda Campground


    Group Camping

        Coyote Ranger District

        Resumidero Camping Area

        Rio Chama Campground, Small Group Sites

        Cuba Ranger District

        Clear Creek Campground Group Area

        Jemez Ranger District

        Paliza Group Campground


    RV Camping

        Coyote Ranger District

        Coyote Canyon Camping Area

        Resumidero Camping Area

        Rio Chama Campground

        Rio Puerco Campground

        Clear Creek Campground

        Clear Creek Campground Group Area

        Rio De Las Vacas Campground


    Winter is a spectacular time to explore the Valles Caldera National Preserve. There are miles of trails for visitors who want to explore the caldera on skis or snowshoes. Whether skiing a groomed trail in a developed area or venturing into the backcountry, visitors should be aware of potential hazards, including unpredictable wildlife, rapidly changing weather conditions, deep snow and snow covered streams.


    Most of Valles Caldera involves backcountry skiing. Keep the following tips in mind to stay safe.


    • Dress properly and know about layering for severe winter temperatures to prevent chilling and overheating. Layer for insulation. Wear waterproof clothing. Wear sunglasses. Use sunscreen. Take plenty of water.
    • Classic track is set on a few groomed trails. All unplowed roads and trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
    • None of the streams have bridges. Carry a USGS topographic map and a compass and know how to use them. Cell coverage is very limited in the backcountry.
    • Talk with park rangers before you leave on any trip. Some preserve areas could be closed to skiing or snowshoeing to protect wildlife.
    • Include allowances for limited daylight, snow conditions, temperature extremes, and the number of people in the group, their experience and physical condition.
    • Learn as much as you can about winter survival.
    • Narrow racing skis are great for groomed trails, but provide little surface area to break new trails.


    Seasonal Conditions

    Snow volume varies from year to year. Call the visitor center for current conditions at (575) 829-4100, option #3. The ski and snowshoe season is usually mid-November to mid-March. The trails are open all year to hiking.


    1971 Shoot Out

    1977 The Medicine Hat Stallion (TV)

    1982 The Gambler (TV)

    1994 Troublemakers

    1995 Buffalo Girls (TV)

    1997 Last Stand at Saber River (TV)

    2003 The Missing

    2007 Seraphim Falls

    2013 The Lone Ranger

    2014 Longmire (TV)


    A backcountry vehicle permit is required to drive personal vehicles into the backcountry. No backcountry vehicle permit is required to fish any preserve waters accessed by foot, bike or horse.


    Fishing Rules

    • All anglers are required to check in at the Valle Grande Visitor Center before fishing the waters within the preserve to obtain a free fishing permit.
    • All anglers are responsible for being familiar with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) fishing regulations and must have in their possession a valid NMDGF fishing license and Habitat Stamp.
    • All waters within the preserve fall under NMDGF's designation of "Special Trout Waters." Only artificial flies and lures with single, barbless hooks are permitted. The preserve bag limit is two trout, at least 15 inches each.
    • No bait such as worms, grasshoppers, salmon eggs, corn etc.
    • To minimize the chance of the fatal whirling disease, waders and privately owned nets should be soaked in a 5% bleach solution for one minute and thoroughly dried before used within the preserve.
    • Fishing is permitted year-round when streams are not frozen. Vehicle access to certain streams may not be available year-round. Vehicle access requires a backcountry vehicle permit, which has seasonal date restrictions.


    Fishing Outfitters and Guides

    Valles Caldera National Preserve allows but does not provide outfitter or guide services. Only authorized outfitters or guides are permitted to conduct business within the preserve. To work with a guide, please visit their list of permitted fishing guides.


    Trails are not maintained nor are they regularly patrolled. Be careful when heading into the backcountry. Mother Nature holds all the cards and there aren't a lot of other humans out there to help. Stay on established trails. Taking shortcuts causes trail erosion.  Horses and mules have the right of way on trails. If you have never hiked before, or are traveling with children, check out the shorter trails and heed the tips below.


    • Carry (and drink) plenty of water. Dehydration is one of the biggest hazards. Drink a minimum of 1 quart every 2 hours. Be sure to filter and treat stream or spring water. Although you may not feel thirsty, the "thinner" air at high elevations actually results in increased water evaporation from your lungs. Drinking extra water may prevent a bad headache or other altitude symptoms.
    • Ultraviolet light is stronger in the mountains because there is less atmosphere for the sunlight to pass through. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sun glasses and consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt if you are out in the sun for an extended period.
    • Carry a headlamp on every hike, even short day hikes.
    • Sturdy footwear with good traction might save an ankle.
    • Minor/moderate health or medical issues can be easily exacerbated by hiking up the steep trails—know your limits and pay attention to how you're feeling.
    • When hiking in a group, each member of the group should carry some water and food in case the party becomes separated, and the group should make a plan for where to meet up (at the vehicle, at the trailhead, etc.) if the members become separated.
    • Only service animals are allowed in the preserve. No pets. Dogs are allowed on specially designated trails (La Jara, Valle Grande, and Coyote Call), but they must be leashed at all times.
    • A backcountry vehicle permit is required if you wish to drive your car into the backcountry. No permit is needed to hike into the backcountry from the Valle Grande Visitor Center.


    Much of the Valles Caldera is over 8,000 feet in elevation. Even very fit individuals coming from lower elevations may experience altitude issues. Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. Usually it only takes a few days to acclimate. To alleviate symptoms drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, don't skip meals and get plenty of rest.


    Given the history of ranching in the area, horses have been part of the Valles Caldera landscape 100s of years. There are equestrian trails available for horses, mules, ponies, llamas, and burros.


    Each group of riders will need to check in at the Valle Grande Visitor Center to be issued a horse permit. There is no additional fee for the permit beyond the preserve entrance fee. Access to the trails at the Banco Bonito area will be available through the special use permit process for the 2016 season. A backcountry vehicle permit is required if you wish to drive your vehicle and trailer into the backcountry before beginning your horseback ride. Much of the preserve is over 8,000 feet in elevation. Acclimation of stock is advisable.


    Rules of the Trail

    • Stock users are prohibited from establishing new trails and from the short cutting of trails and switchbacks.
    • Riding of stock at a speed greater than a trot is not permitted.
    • Stock must be under physical control at all times. Loose herding is not permitted.
    • Remove manure from around trailers and haul home.
    • Environmental conditions (snowpack, erosion, flooding) can close certain trails to stock use.
    • Only certified weed free forage (hay, straw, mulch) can be used in the preserve. No forage can be taken beyond a trailhead into the backcountry. Grazing of stock is not permitted.
    • Travel in single file.
    • Tying to trees for periods longer than is needed to load and unload is prohibited.
    • Closure of any portion of the preserve to stock use can occur at the direction of the park Superintendent.
    • Riders shall not ride double except for an adult/child combination.
    • Youth riders (16 years and under) are required to wear helmets.
    • Riders must be prepared to cross paths with other recreational users or vehicles.
    • The preserve does allow livestock grazing through a permit process and chances are likely that you will encounter wranglers working the livestock.

    Elk Hunting Overview

    Between 2,500 and 3,000 elk occupy the caldera, making it one of New Mexico's premier elk hunting locations. .


    Turkey Hunting Overview

    The Preserve is home to an estimated 400 Merriam Turkeys from April thru December. Merriam Turkeys, one of the three subspecies found in New Mexico, are noted for their striking plumage, wariness and keen eyesight. Turkey hunting, whether with bow or shotgun, can be a challenge for all skill levels.


    How To Apply For Hunts

    The elk and turkey hunting lotteries/drawings for the Valles Caldera National Preserve are part of the draw managed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). Information on how to apply for the state drawings can be found on the NMDGF website or by calling (888) 248-6866. The Valles Caldera National Preserve is Unit 6B.


    Special Use Permit to Hunt the Valles Caldera Required

    After being issued a NMDGF hunting license, each hunter must obtain a special use permit with the Valles Caldera National Preserve prior to their hunt. Permits will be issued as early as two days prior to the hunt start date through the last day of the hunt. In addition to entrance fees, hunters are required to pay a $35 special use permit fee.



    Drink plenty of water

    1 gallon (4 liters) of water per person per day is recommended. Take high energy snacks.

    Rest often

    Take frequent breaks out of the sun to avoid heat stroke.

    Know where you are

    Stay on designated trails. Carry a compass and fully charged cell phone. Keep landmarks in sight. Cell phone service is available in the Valle Grande area of the preserve.

    Be prepared

    Wear a hat and sunglasses. Apply sunscreen even in winter.

    Beware of lightning

    During a lightning storm, take cover in a solid, closed-door building or in your vehicle. If you are not near any of shelter, squat low to the ground and place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees.

    Dress appropriately

    Temperatures are hot during the day in the summer and drop drastically after sunset, from 20 to 30 degrees. Be prepared for changing weather conditions, i.e. wear loose, light-colored clothing to help keep your body cooler in the summer, but have a light jacket on hand for when the sun goes down.

    Respect wildlife

    Be bear aware. Please slow down and use pullouts to watch wildlife and do not approach wildlife.


    Control your pet. Pets are not allowed on most trails, in the backcountry or along streams.

    Gas stations

    The nearest gas station is 20 miles from the main entrance.


    The weather changes dramatically based on season and/or time of day. Springs are usually wet and lush. Summers are moderate. Fall is cool. There can be a lot of snow during the winter months.


    Average temperatures are 22°F (-6 C) in January and 60°F (16 C) in July. Temperature extremes range from a high of 84°F (29 C) in summer to -30°F (-34C) in winter. Rainfall is heavier during summer monsoon rains during July and August, with winter snowstorms December through March. The temperature is much cooler than lower elevations and varies dramatically between day and night. Based on casual observation and preparedness, I assume that it will rain every day in the caldera.


    Guided hikes are led by rangers or volunteers that have an in-depth knowledge of the preserve. In addition, each guided hike focuses on a different topic or theme. Some guided hikes are only offered once while others are offered more frequently. Please check the calendar for dates and times. Guided Van tours are also available for 1–6 hours. Topics include wildlife, geology, history, artists and archaeology.


    Fly Fishing Clinics

    Volunteers from New Mexico Trout conduct fly fishing clinics, giving up to 20 participants the opportunity to fish the waters of the preserve. Participants spend a half day learning about equipment, tackle, knots, stream insect sampling and identification. Participants have time to practice casting in the morning and then head for the stream in the afternoon. Pre-register for the clinics by calling (575) 829-4100, ext. 3.


    Fly Fishing Clinics

    Pre-register by calling (575) 829-4100, ext. 3.

    June 18, 2016 (8:30 AM - 4:00 PM) - Youth Clinic

    July 23, 2016 (8:30 AM - 4:00 PM) - Adult Clinic

    August 20, 2016 (8:30 AM - 4:00 PM) - Youth & Adult Clinic


    Preserve Birthday Bash–July 23, 2016

    On July 25th, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Valles Caldera Preservation Act, which created the Valles Caldera National Preserve.


    NPS Centennial Celebration - August 25-28, 2016

    The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016. Entrance is free throughout the weekend.


    Jemez Mountains Elk Festival–September 24, 2016

    The 8th Annual Jemez Mountains Elk Festival includes elk viewing, hiking and elk education booths.

New Mexico Nomad