Cebolla Mesa to the Rio Grande

The Rio Grande in the gorge

This hike is a short but steep scenic drop from the mesa down into the Rio Grande Gorge. As you descend, you go through several biomes; the trees change from piñon and juniper to blue spruce and Doug fir. You start with desert plants and end with plants that live along rivers. Add to this the great views and sounds of the river and you have a pleasant hike.

This hike connects to the nearby BLM Wild Rivers area.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Carson National Forest; Questa Ranger District
Official URL:Forest Service web page for this hike
Region: North-central; Rio Grande Gorge.
start: 7395ft; 2254m end: 6656ft; 2029m
min: 6656ft; 2029m max: 7395ft; 2254m
elevation gain/loss: 738ft; 225m.
When you hike back up, you go through the elevation change again. Elevation change from GPS. The Forest service says 1000ft elevation change.
Length: 3.04mi; 4.89km. The length is from GPS and is round-trip with some exploring at the river. A sign at the top says 1.25 mi to the river; however, a sign at the river says 1 mi to the top. According to the GPS, we had hiked 1.25 mi (2.05km) when we first arrived at the river.
surface: dirt
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: The trail is steep at times. Small rocks can be lke ball bearings. A large rock and tree had fallen across the trail.
Fee: $0.00.
Season: April 01 to December 31. The trail can be hiked whenever snow is not a problem.
Dogs: Yes. On leash.
Bikes: Unknown.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The trailhead is at the Cebolla Mesa campground. There is no water at the trailhead.
Trailhead facilities: fire pit. Most fire pits were full of ashes, rocks, or both 2006-09-03. picnic area, vault toilet(s). The toilet looked new; it was clean and not smelly 2006-09-03.
Hike attractions: exercise, fishing, geology, river (Rio Grande.), scenery, wildlife.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2006-09-01
Time it took us: 2:38. Moving time 1:32.
Usage (people/hour): 0.76. We saw one couple while hiking. During boating season (spring), the usage might be higher.
Cleanliness: 9.


Waypoint Type Description
CEBOLLACGCampgroundCarson National Forest Cebolla Mesa campground
CEBRGX1Trail junctionCebolla Mesa to Rio Grande jct to small river beach trail


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Carson National Forest US Forest Service 2002 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) Camino Real and Questa ranger districts and Valle Vidal Unit side of the map
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N from Amazon (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Wheeler Peak BLM 2001 1:100000 Y from Amazon (purchase)
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 Taos, head north on NM 522 (this highway starts out as US 64, but on the north edge of Taos, 64 goes left and 522 continues north). Between mile markers 15 and 16 you will see a sign about Forest Road 9 and Cebolla Mesa. Take Forest road 9 west (left) about 4 miles to the Cebolla Mesa campground. At the campground, the road splits. Take the left branch to the trailhead.

There is no sign along the road to indicate you have arrived at the campground. See the Cebolla Mesa campground web site for a photo of the campground entrance.

When we visited, the road had ruts indicating that it becomes slick and muddy when wet.

No short text

About the hike:

trail, view into gorge
Just behind the trailhead, a sign indicates this is trail 102. About 20 paces down the trail, you encounter your first switchback. Be careful here, as another trail goes straight. It leads to a view point and a much steeper, old version of the trail. After you have made the switchback, this is the view you see.
You immediately get great views into the gorge. As you descend, they slowly change, always different, always interesting.
View into the Rio Grande Gorge
Diana on the trail, several feet below me
The trail is steep at times, so watch your step. Small gravel can be like ball bearings. Diana uses hiking poles on trails like this.
When we hiked, this large rock and a big tree had fallen across the trail. With care, you can cross on the remaining part of the trail.
Diana on the trail near a rockfall
Diana on the trail, view of the gorge
As you descend, the views of the gorge change. If you look at the larger version of this picture, lust a little to the left of the center of the picture are two hills of basalt. The trail goes just to the right of these hills.
The trail has a lot of elevation change, and as a result, it has many switchbacks, such as the one you can see most of here.
Diana and a trail switchback
Keep your eyes open for wildlife, such as this basalt-colored lizard. We heard several different birds, but did not identify them. The Rio Grande is an important migratory path, and as a result you are likely to see many different types.
In this photo, you can see the vault toilet for the BLM Wild Rivers campground. It is across the Red River from you, and where this trail description will end.
Rio Grande and one of the BLM Wild Rivers campgrounds
Rio Grande
A bit more hiking, and you come to a T in the trail (GPS: CEBRGX1). If you go left, you get to this small beach along the river (whether or not it will be there when you arrive depends on the river level). We stopped and had lunch here. From the junction, the main trail goes right.
This trail goes to the confluence of the Red River and Rio Grande. Here you can see the Red River. Its unusual color comes from the Molycorp Mine.
Red River where it meets the Rio Grande
bridge over the Red River
If you cross this bridge, you will be in the BLM Wild Rivers campground. The BLM Wild Rivers area has a network of 22 miles of trails, some of which will be showing up on ExploreNM as we have time to collect the data and get it up.

Plants we saw along the trail:

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