Canyon Overlook Trail

Fajada Butte from the Chaco Canyon overlook trail
A short, easy trail that ends with an excellent view of Fajada Butte and much of the rest of Chaco canyon.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: National Park Service; Chaco Culture National Historic Park
Region: Northwest; Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
start: 6233ft; 1900m end: 6318ft; 1926m
min: 6233ft; 1900m max: 6318ft; 1926m
elevation gain/loss: 85ft; 26m.
You gain and lose this elevation since you return to the starting point.
Length: 1.72mi; 2.77km. This is out and back GPS distance. The trailhead sign says 1.5 mi (2.4 km).
surface: mixed
condition: No value
ease of following: This trail is a cairn trail, and at times the small cairns are hard to spot. Careful looking always revealed them, however.
obstacles: None.
Fee: $20.00. The park entry fee is payable at the visitor's center. This fee is good for seven days in the park.
Season: All year. Beware of the heat and thunderstorms in the summer.
Dogs: Yes. On a leash that is no longer than 6 feet.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The trailhead is in the Gallo campground.

The light is best in the morning. If you stay in the campground, make this a before-breakfast hike.

You must stay on the trail. They are serious about this and we know of someone who received a ticket for leaving one of the other trails in the park.

Please leave all artifacts as you find them.

The trail is open sunrise to sunset.

Trailhead facilities: flush toilet(s), picnic area, trash can(s), water.
Hike attractions: history, scenery.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2001-04-14 2017-05-07
Time it took us: 0:30. 0:53. Moving time from the GPS. We also spent over an hour looking at plants, eating lunch, taking photos, etc.
Usage (people/hour): 2.00. I saw only one person when hiking it, but given the proximity to the Gallo campground, I would expect it to be a well-used trail. 1.00. We saw two people. Hiking on a Sunday after everybody has left the campground, few people are around.
Cleanliness: 10. 10. No litter along the trail


Waypoint Type Description
CCCOTTrailheadChaco Canyon Overlook trailhead


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
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.
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:

The National Park Service has made it much easier to find the park than in days gone by. You used to have to guess which road to take whenever you came to a fork. They now have good signs all the way in. They also have a map online.

From Cuba, take US 550 (old NM 44) past Counselor and Lybrook. Just past mile marker 112 is the turnoff, which is across the street from the Red Mesa Express gas station and convenience store. A sign indicates the turnoff to the left. The route is well signed.

After about 4.7 miles, you will turn right from the paved road onto a dirt road, county road 7950. Beware that the dirt road sometimes gets exciting when it rains. Do not cross the washes if there is any water running.

16.4 miles from the turnoff from US 550, the road turns left, and again, there is a sign here. When the road becomes really washboard-y, you are getting close. At 19.4 miles from US 550, you enter the park.

The trailhead is at the entrance to the Gallo Campground, which is on your right 1.5 miles after you enter the park.

No short text

About the hike:

Trailhead sign

The trail heads up the cliff behind the sign. Climbing to the mesa top is all the climbing you will do on this trail.

About halfway up the cliff, you can see a shelter cave which is mostly blocked off by rocks. Maybe for sleeping?

On top, you almost immediately get views of Fajada, such as this one.

Goldie and Luke near the end of the trail
View on the trail, showing trail markers

You follow cairns, and sometimes the cairns are a little hard to spot, but with careful looking I was always able to find the next one. Other times, I could see several at once.

Once you are on top of the mesa, you follow trail markers, such as the one in the photo to the right. The last post is hard to see; when you get near the cliff edge with a nice view of Fajada, that is the end of the trail. If you brought your GPS, CCCOT is the end of the trail. Also, you can find it by looking to the left of the way you were heading on the trail. This direction takes you towards the cliff edge, and you can see a pictograph holding a stop sign indicating the end of the trail.

Plants we saw along the trail:

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