San Lorenzo Canyon Recreation Area

The canyon and some of the interesting rock formations.

This hike is a less-structured hike than many we write about. However, a repeated note we took when hiking summarizes one of the reasons to hike: interesting geology. Arches, shelter caves, a slot canyon, interesting inclusions of agate(?), and interesting rock formations are some of the geological features that you can find on this hike.

The other note that shows up often is the contrasts of this area. The cottonwoods, which indicate a reliable water source contrast with the cactus that can easily survive without one. Something interesting is around every corner.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Bureau of Land Management; Socorro Field Office
Official URL:BLM web page for the area
Region: Central; North of Socorro.
start: 5160ft; 1573m end: 5249ft; 1600m
min: 5160ft; 1573m max: 5249ft; 1600m
elevation gain/loss: 88ft; 27m.
The actual elevation change depends on where you go.
Length: 0.62mi; 1.00km. The length depends on where you hike, and could easily range from a few feet/meters to several miles/kilometers.
surface: mixed
condition: There are several trails of varying condition. You can also bushwack.
ease of following: It depends on the trail.
obstacles: It depends on where you go.
This is an area to explore rather than stay on a trail. The more heavily-traveled areas have trails, either made by game, people, or ATVs.
Fee: $0.00.
Season: All year. In summer it will be hot, and you should beware of flash floods from thunderstorms. Snow is unlikely to last long, so winter should be fine.
Dogs: Yes.
Bikes: Yes.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: Be careful on the mesas with steep drop-offs. There has been at least one fatal fall caused by someone too close to the edge.

The nearest water and other facilities are at the rest area on I-25.

How much time you spend here depends on how long you want to explore. You could easily spend a whole day.

People also camp here.

Trailhead facilities: None other than parking.
Hike attractions: geology, scenery, stream (The stream is intermittent and at the back of the canyon.), wildflowers, wildlife, year-round access.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2003-02-15 2008-02-02
Time it took us: 3:15. 5:00.
Usage (people/hour): 2.10. 2.00. People were either hiking or using motorized conveyances. There are lots of ATV tracks.
Cleanliness: 8. Among other litter, we took out some shotgun and .22 shells. 8. We brought out two aluminum cans and a beer bottles as well as some glass from broken bottles.


Waypoint Type Description
SLCNYNTrailheadSan Lorenzo Canyon entrance


Geohack online map list

Paper maps:

Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Gila National Forest US Forest Service 1997 1:126720 N From the National Forest Store (purchase) North half. Includes part of the Apache National Forest.
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:

These instructions are for arriving from the north. While they work for arriving from the south, a more efficient route exists.

The county maintains the road you take to get to the trailhead. The quality of the road is dependent on the recent weather and when they last graded it. It may be sandy, and it may have deep ruts. A high-clearance vehicle might be needed; if it has a lot of loose sand, four- or all-wheel drive may be necessary. The Socorro BLM office phone number is (505)-835-0412; if you are unsure, call about the road status.

Exit from Interstate 25 at San Acacia (Exit 163), which is about 3.5 miles past the rest area. Head south on the east frontage road (you are following the signs toward Polvadera, although you will not go there). After about 2.2 miles on the frontage road, you will see a narrow (one car wide) underpass under the Interstate (this is the second underpass, and there are also some bridges that go under the freeway). The turnoff from the frontage road is just north of some houses.

After you cross under I-25, the paved road goes left, and a dirt road goes more-or-less straight ahead. Take this dirt road. I set the odometer to 0.0 here.

Stay on the "main" road, the one that is wider and somewhat less rough than the other roads that intersect it; it gets more traffic than these other roads and you can normally tell which road gets most of the traffic. After 0.3 miles, the road climbs a hill. At just under 1.3 miles, you start to come down from the hill. At about 2.0 miles, you will see the San Lorenzo sign on your right. Turn right and cross the cattle guard.

The road weaves in and out of an arroyo; sometimes in it, other times beside it. You will probably see tire tracks going off into the arroyo when the road takes off to be beside it. Beware that some of these side branches are sandy and it is easier to get stuck. This arroyo is coming from the canyon that is your destination.

About 4.2 miles from the paved road, you reach the entrance to the canyon. As you get closer to the canyon, you can begin to see the interesting geology pictured here. The mesa pictured here is a sign you are close. The road ends in the canyon. We suggest stopping at the mouth, so you can take your time and really see it.

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About the hike:

The canyon near the mouth

Assuming you start hiking at the canyon mouth, this is the view up the canyon.

As you can see, the rock formations here are interesting. When we visited, the tamarisk (an invasive non-native plant) had been cut and burned. You can see some of the burned tamarisk in this picture.

Note that the sandstone (such as is shown in the previous photo, this photo, and the next one) weathers, and this results in a layer of loose sand across the top. If you are on top of a sandstone formation, you may find yourself sliding on what feels like a bunch of small ball-bearings. A friend slid 200 ft down a slope into an arroyo. Such a slide could have much worse consequences if the slope ends in a drop-off (as many do), so please be careful.

Rock formations in San Lorenzo Canyon
The trail in a side canyon

When you come to side canyons, you should explore them. We have seen slot canyons, shelter caves, beautiful little alcoves, arches and keyholes, and amazing geology.

Look for where the water seeps from the canyon walls---you will often find more interesting life in these areas. If you sit still, you may see animals come to the water.

Here is a view from the main canyon up one of the side canyons.

You can find great colors of lichen on rocks in the side canyons.
red and green lichen
rocks in the wall
We saw these interesting rocks in the wall up a side canyon as well.
This is one of the natural arches.
Diana Northup and a natural arch
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When you get to what looks like the end of the canyon, climb up and you find that the canyon continues. This huge cottonwood is at this point.

This colorful mineral was one of many in the canyon wall above the climb. A geologist friend said that you can see calcedony, calcite, quartz, and other minerals. The tan-red rocks are sandstone. Starting near the large cottonwood, you also can see a greenish-slate colored rock that is andeste, a type of lava.

All of the rocks you see here are a result of the Rio Grande Rift. The sandstones were deposited by the river earlier, around 30 million years or so ago. The widening of the rift is also responsible for the vulcanism that produced the andesite.

backlit grass
This bunch of grass was really attractive when back lit.

This spring is one of a couple in the back part of the canyon. While we were hiking, one of the other hikers said that he had often seen wildlife such as deer at the springs. However, we did not see any.

Not far past the springs, you run into a fence with a sign indicating you have reached the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. At this point, you can go no further.

A spring with algae in it

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Fri Jan 13 12:33:33 2006 Mike Bilbo from BLM, Socorro Field Office, NM said:
Very nice webpage and features. I'll refer visitors to take a look at this. I'm the BLM outdoor recreation planner responsible for recreation management on BLM's portion of SLC. Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge manages 1/2 of the canyon), the boundary going down pretty much the center of the canyon.

On Sun Feb 19 22:06:33 2006 Dave, Stu, Mike and the dogs from Albuquerque said:
Hiked on a beautiful 65 degree mid-February 2006 day. We never could have found this without the directions...the roads to here are not marked. The suggestion to park at the mouth of the canyon and walk in was great...the views walking in are spectacular.

There were a few people here when we visited...three cars with a small boy scout troop and one pickup with a camper. There was not anyone walking or hiking except us.

We explored a few of the side canyons. There is a slot canyon, a small cave you can see from the road, there was even a pool of water in one canyon. We walked some of the back country on top of the canyons.

San Lorenzo is a truly beautiful area that is not crowded. Unfortunately a few people who do not appreciate how precious a beautiful area like this is have left there mark...there is some graffiti painted on the side of a canyon wall, a few beer bottles, some campfires, and some shotgun shells.

Don't let news of this stop you...this area is among the most beautiful canyons of a very beautiful state.

On Sun Feb 4 19:28:07 2007 Anonymous from Albuquerque, NM said:

Thank you for the wonderful directions and pictures. My friend and I were looking for a winter hike near Albuquerque. We would have never ventured to this area if we hadnt found your site. Interesting geology and landscape.

On Fri Mar 16 12:23:54 2007 Martha from Albuquerque, NM said:
Hi.. I visited this area just yesterday.. had to stop for directions at the gas station nearby. The first question the fella there was what kinda vehicle am I driving.. he said the roads are very sandy. He said as long as I have front wheel drive & DO NOT STOP, I probably would do ok.. I made it to the canyon fine.. Beautiful area.. I parked near the mouth of the canyon & hiked down the road aways. It was a little tough hiking as it was walking on a beach! I spent a couple of hrs just hiking, scrambling around & taking pics. I had trouble leaving out as I missed the correct road. Of course then I got stuck in the sand! Had to hike out to I25 & the frontage road to get help! I stopped at a house where a nice man with a big truck pulled me out! I really dont know exactly how I missed the main road out, but I did! But... I had a wonderful time!

On Sun Mar 25 18:53:12 2007 Clinton Brown from albuquerque said:
The direction that we pulled from this web site were very good. I used my GPS to pull some coordinates so that I would have a trail to follow.

The turn from the frontage road is the tricky one, there are two, take the second turn to the west, under I25, this turn is next to a house. We did however find that the road is blocked by some very large rocks further down. Where we stopped the coordinates are N 34 14.402 W 10700.385 we thought that we were where we wanted, as we looked over our maps we found that we were short of the springs. We suggest that you do some map study before you go, there are different routes to take to the west side of rocks. There is a turn at cord. N34 14.020 W 106 58.061 this trail appears to go north and ends up west of the blocking rocks. This area is, we believe the best area to hike and see the true marvels of the canyon. My father and I are looking forward to revisiting this area soon, to verify our thoughts and assumpsion.

Any question you can email me at, I would be glad to help.

Clinton Brown

PS sorry for any misspellings

On Sat Jan 14 18:46:03 2012 Catherine from Somewhere said:
Finally made it to this beautiful canyon today. The cool weather up north made this the perfect winter hike for me. There was some snow, which made for muddy walking, but nothing too strenuous. I explored the main canyon, took a few side hikes, and went just a few turns past the cottonwood/rock wall. I took a ton of pictures, so I was there at least 3 hours enjoying the interesting geology.

The road to San Lorenzo Canyon is pretty apparent. The sandy arroyo was the only thing that worried me, given the prior entry. The sand could be problematic, but the best advice is don't slow down too much and certainly don't stop in the sand.

Also, bring sunblock as there's not much shade.

On Sat Feb 21 18:02:33 2015 Leah from ABQ, NM said:
We decided to visit San Lorenzo Canyon this past weekend based on this review, and it was awesome. Very pretty views and the weather was great for February--mid 70s in the day, mid 30s at night. It got a little windy in the afternoons, but not so bad that we couldn't explore the area. I'm not sure if earlier reviews were pre-road grating, but the roads were well grated and packed. We were in a Toyota 4Runner 4WD and had zero issues navigating the road in. I'd imagine a small car may have issues, but even a 2WD SUV would navigate it fairly easily.

While we had planned to backpack in, we ended up car camping in a little alcove along the road inside the canyon since we were literally the only ones there. The second day a film crew showed up, which was mildly annoying but everyone was nice and considerate. Our camp spot gave us a great "jumping off" point for various hikes, which were fairly easy but still worthwhile for the scenery.

The site, itself, was very clean compared to other public camping spots. We didn't get to see as much as we would've liked because our dog cut his paw pretty badly, but we will definitely be back.

Thanks so much for this review. This is a great late Winter spot that we never would have found otherwise. Happy Camping!

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