Rinconada Canyon in the Petroglyph National Monument

One of the petroglyphs
An easy trail in Albuquerque offering excellent views of petroglyphs. Like the other trails which are part of the Petroglyph National Monument, (Cliff Base and Mesa Point), you get to see many petroglyphs. However, this trail is longer, and gives you a bit more exercise and different petroglyphs.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: National Park Service; Petroglyph National Monument
Official URL:Park web page for the hike
Region: Central; Albuquerque's west side.
start: 5150ft; 1570m end: 5252ft; 1601m
min: 5150ft; 1570m max: 5252ft; 1601m
elevation gain/loss: 101ft; 31m.
Length: 2.49mi; 4.00km.
surface: mixed sand/gravel
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy
The trail is sandy, so boots are a good idea to keep the sand out of your socks.
Fee: $0.00.
Season: All year. This is a four-season trail. In the summer, heat will be a problem. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and take plenty of water.

Snow will rarely prevent you from hiking the trail after 10am in the winter. It was snowing lightly in March 1998 and it was blowing snow in December 2002. You should not take this to mean that it snows a lot on this trail, but instead that I choose snowy days to hike it.

Dogs: No.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: Flat light like when the sky is overcast (which does not happen often) is the best for seeing petroglyphs.

They have guided walks Memorial Day through the end of Balloon Fiesta (the second weekend in October).

Trailhead facilities: trash can(s), vault toilet(s).
Hike attractions: geology, history, wildflowers (Wildflowers are likely to be best in May and September if we have had rain.), wildlife, year-round access.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2002-12-18
Time it took us: 2:17.
Usage (people/hour): 2.19.
Cleanliness: 10.


Waypoint Type Description
RINCNDTrail pointEnd of Rinconada Canyon trail
RINCTHTrailheadRinconada Canyon in Petroglyph National Monument


Geohack online map list

Paper maps:

Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Albuquerque New Mexico USGS 1983 1:100000 Y from sar.lanl.gov (free)
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N Arizona Strip Interpretive Association (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

From I-40 Westbound from Albuquerque, take exit 154 (Under Blvd, State Highway 345). Head north on Unser for 2.2 miles. At the traffic light at St Joseph's, turn left into the trailhead parking.

Note that the park headquarters is beyond Rinconada canyon. If you get there, you have gone too far.

This area has had several problems with thefts. Do not leave valuables in your car.

No short text

About the hike:

Trail arrow

Right after you walk through the gate, you veer right and then left as you meet other trails. You will be walking up the canyon floor. The trail is well marked with arrow signs, such as this one. There are some old trails; they often have signs indicating that they are closed.

Please honor these signs and stay on the marked trails. The desert vegetation grows slowly and is fragile. One footstep can do serious damage or kill the plants. Consider taking binoculars with you for better viewing of the petroglyphs from the trail.

Kangaroo rats live along the trail. Look for a hill with many tunnels; this is where they live.

As you hike to the back of the canyon, watch the rocks to your right (north). Most of the petroglyphs in these canyons are on the south-facing slopes.

The trail
Bullet damage to a petroglyph

Before this area was a national monument, people used to come out here to do target practice. Unfortunately, several petroglyphs are bullet-damaged, such as the one here (the damage is more visible if you click on the picture to view the larger version). You may also see some remains of clay pigeons, especially at the start of the trail.

If you travel with one or more friends, you have extra eyes to watch for the petroglyphs. I have found petroglyphs mainly on the sides and sometimes on the tops of rocks. Sometimes, short trails lead off of the main one to clusters of petroglyphs.
A petroglyph of two doves?
a rock with many petroglyphs
As you can see in this picture and the following pictures, it was snowing fairly hard when I was out (December 2002). However, even in this snowstorm, I met five people.
When you get to the back of the canyon, the trail returns by a different route, further from the canyon wall. However, if there are not too many people coming up the trail, I recommend that you turn around and return the way you came. Because you are traveling a different direction, you will probably see different petroglyphs.
Two circular petroglyphs in a snowstorm
A rabbit blending into its environment
I saw this rabbit only because it moved. Notice how well it blends into the background.
The face in this picture is on the corner of the rock.
Several petroglyphs including a face on the corner of a rock
A petroglyph where the artist used a natural hole for an eye
The artist of this face used a natural hole in the rock for one of the eyes.

I wonder about the ages of some of these. In some cases, you can easily tell that they are modern. In others, you are left to wonder.

More petroglyphs from Rinconada canyon.

Several petroglyphs, some I wonder about the age of

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Mon Oct 24 17:56:50 2005 BA from Somewhere said:
Nice site! I LOVE petroglyphs! Were thinking of taking a trip to see this area. Thanks for the photos and explanations!

On Tue Aug 8 01:37:16 2006 Erica H from Albuquerque said:
I live only 5 minutes away from Rinconada Canyon and hike it 2-3 times a week; it's an absolute treasure. There are so many new things I tend to see on each hike I never tire of the experience. Each season provides different landscapes due to the changing vegetation. The same plant, say---the salt bush or scorpion plant looks different when dormant in the winter than it does in mid-August. Different flowers bloom in the Spring than in the Fall and rain makes a difference if some come out at all. Besides the varied vegetation, it's always neat to see the occassional collared lizard, beautiful green irridescent beetles, red velvet ants, Coopers' hawks, and rabbits or hearing coyotes sing near dusk.

This week was very special. After a downpour I walked Rinconada and there were immense waterfalls in the back of the canyon! Never have I seen that before. A few days later, the areas where water was rushing created large sinkholes in the sand and exposed dirt that hasn't been seen for years. I spotted a large chuck of petrified wood in one of these holes. Very cool.

It is worth going to the visitors center to get a pamphlet regarding Rinconada's history. (From formation thousands of years ago - to human dwellings, and interesting information about the Atrisco land grant. Did I mention the petroglyphs?!

Since I frequent Rinconada so often, I make sure that I pick up one piece of someone's trash to throw away after the hike each time. (Modern day "Sunny Delight" bottles to crushed beer cans from the 70's.) I want to keep it as pristine as possible.


On Tue Aug 15 19:32:36 2006 Mark A. Trujillo from Albuquerque, NM said:
Just finished hiking this trail today with the kids and it is absolutely beautiful with all the rainfall we've been getting. It's amazing how the noise from the street is drowned out as you get further into the canyon. Since I live less than 5 miles from here I will definitely do this hike again. For visitors, I would wait for a cloudy/overcast day to hike it. There is not much shade.

On Thu Apr 12 23:21:57 2007 Dale from Albuquerque, NM said:
I enjoy hiking this trail so much, however, I had my car broken into. Not enough security/patrols at this parking lot. Some jerk smashed the window looking to steal what he could. I believe this is a big problem here, as I saw other areas in the dirt parking lot with auto glass chunks scattered around from previous break-ins. I live 2 miles from the entrance, so I will be leaving the car at home and hiking in. 7 mile hike round trip, but who's counting! I recommend having someone remain with your vehicle; or parking further down in the Visitors Center parking lot, and hiking over to Rinconada Canyon via Unser. approx 1 mile. There is a paved jogging/bike trail on the east side of Unser. At least at the Visitors center parking lot, there are Park Rangers on site/on duty.

I have seen and heard so many wonderful things during my 4 hikes of the Rinconada Canyon. Each hike is a new and exciting experience. I can only wonder what the Petroglyph's look like at night, during a full moon! Now that would be something to see. Thanks Dale

On Mon Jul 14 16:33:07 2008 Jan O from pueblo, co said:
The park is great but they need better security. We took our "very valuables" with us in backpacks but someone still smashed the driver side door window and broke into our car. They ripped out the CD player (not an expensive one) this is a mom-van. Damaged alot of electronics related to the dash while they did it. They took every bag with a handle on it including our cooler of extra water. They took our suitcases which contained only clothes and even an envelope of family photos. These guys are jerks. The park ranger was very nice but it would be better if there was a bus from the visitor center that would pick up folks and drop them off at the trail head. This little visit to New Mexico cost me about $2000 more than I planned due to the damage to my vehicle and theft of which very little will be paid by insurance after all the deductibles. Afterward, we were left with no clothes to change into so we went home a day early to Colorado. Too bad New Mexico, your loosing tourist dollars to these thieves!

On Mon Oct 11 21:00:14 2010 Catherine from Somewhere said:
I have lived in ABQ for a long time and always passed by this place but never stopped. I did the 2.5 mile trail today and enjoyed the many petroglyphs I saw. Because I got a late start, I hussled most of the way through and did the total loop in under an hour. I will go back again.

I had read about the vandalism and was worried about leaving my car. But, when I first drove in, I saw a NPS truck prominately parked near the entrance, and I didn't see anyone's car having been vandalized while I was there.

My advice - do this walk when its cool or cloudy as there is no shade. Don't forget your water, your sunscreen, and have a good attitude. This walk can be done by anyone able-bodied, you just need to keep positive that you can make it. I'm always surprised by how many people I meet along a trail who complain about how long it is and how close are they to the end. Enjoy the outdoors - this is a beautiful site/sight!

On Sun Dec 12 15:51:48 2010 Twinville Trekkers from Tijeras, NM said:
We just hiked this wonderful trail in November. I don't think I would ever consider hiking it in the summer. Even in November it was very warm. Winter is the best time....plsu all the hooligans who are out of school and like to vandalize will probably be in school. We didn't have any trouble with car-break-ins during our visit, but we visited on a Friday late morning. I would guess that weekends or evenings would be less safe?

Anyway, this is a beautiful, relaxing hike. We took our dog and appreciated the waste bags as I forgot to bring any. It's a shame that we did see quite a bit of dog poo when the park service provides the bags and trash cans to dispose of it. Oh well.

One of my favorite things about visiting this trail is that it seems that the Petroplyhs choose who to reveal themselves to. I've seen many photos of petroplyphs from this area that I've yet to see, and people who have hiked this trail and then seen my photos of petroplyphs from this hike are confused why they didn't see the same petroglyps. Weird, huh?

The hike back through the sand dunes seems longer than the trail beside the petroglphs, probably because there are less distractions and the sand is very deep and difficult to trudge through. But all in all, a very enjoyable hike. One we will do again.

On Wed Jan 26 08:29:53 2011 Indigo from SouthWest Albuquerque, NM said:
I have lived in ABQ for over seven-years. Rinconada Canyon was the first hiking trial I discovered here. I hike it about once a month and have seen it in all weather--in the Winter of 2006/2007 there was enough snow to build a snow man. It is a different experience each time. In 50 or so visits, my car has never been disturbed. In 2010 they upgraded the parking and entrance with a paved lot.

On Mon Jan 16 20:28:06 2012 Trish from Columbus, Ohio said:
I walked this trail about 8:30 in the morning January 13, 2012, and saw one hiker, two joggers, a dog walker, and about 3 tourists. It's an easy, pleasant walk in the winter! I was entertained by desert cottontails, a roadrunner, Crissal thrashers (very cool birds), and lots of sparrows. I also saw a coyote on the return trail, some distance away but I had my binoculars handy--quite a treat! There was a ranger's vehicle in the parking lot when I got back, so perhaps the parking lot is now patrolled regularly, but it's still probably wise not to leave anything in your car.

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