Dog Canyon

The cabin at the halfway point
People who take this hike are rewarded with views both distant and local. The distant views include White Sands, the Tularosa basin, and the Organ and San Andreas mountains. The more local views are the spectacular wildflowers, especially in the spring. If you hike all the way to the top, you have climbed the western escarpment of the Sacramento mountains, getting an excellent workout. As you climb, you are going going through rocks (primarily limestones) that get younger as you approach the top. About halfway up, you reach the cabin built by a rancher many years ago, providing a historical element to the hike.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Lincoln National Forest; Sacramento Ranger District. The lower trailhead is at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.
Region: South-central; Sacramento mountains.
Near Alamogordo.
start: 4416ft; 1346m end: 7552ft; 2302m
min: 4416ft; 1346m max: 7552ft; 2302m
elevation gain/loss: 3136ft; 956m.
Roundtrip elevation gain Oliver Lee to the cabin 1834ft/559m; from cabin to top 2011ft/613m. Elevation data from Garmin Etrex Vista GPS.
Length: 6.41mi; 10.32km. One-way length to the top. Round-trip distance Oliver Lee to the cabin is 7mi/11.4km. Round-trip distance from the top to the cabin is 5.75mi/9.25km.
surface: mixed
condition: The trail is well-maintained.
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: An easy-to-cross stream near the cabin.
From the bottom, you start walking across rock, then it turns to gravel. After the cabin, the gravel can be slippery due to the slope of the trail. On the upper half, the rocks in the trail are like climbing stairs.
Fee: $5.00. This is the day-use fee at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. Parking at the top is free.
Season: All year. The summer will be hot. The park recommends 1 gallon/4 liters per person, and we second this recommendation.

In the winter, the presence of snow may present an obstacle to the last portion of the hike, as well as in getting to the upper trailhead. Plus, ice on the upper portion of the trail could be hazardous.

Dogs: Yes. On leash.
Bikes: Unknown.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: You need a vehicle at the top or the time/distance/elevation is double.

Many people only hike up to the cabin, avoiding the shuttle hassle and over half of the elevation gain.

Useful phone numbers: Oliver Lee State Park: 505-437-8284; Lincoln National Forest, Cloudcroft Ranger district 505-682-2551.

All of the trailhead facilities are at the lower trailhead only. There are no facilities at the upper trailhead.

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

When we hiked it:

Date: 2006-04-02 2005-03-27 2005-03-20
Time it took us: 4:06. Round-trip upper trailhead to the cabin (about half the distance). 5:14. Round-trip time Oliver Lee Memorial State Park to the cabin (about half the distance). 4:43. Round-trip time Oliver Lee Memorial State Park to the cabin (about half the distance).
Usage (people/hour): 0.00. 3.33. 10.70.
Cleanliness: 10. 9. 0.38 pieces of litter per kilometer. 9. One piece of litter.


Waypoint Type Description
106THTrailheadUpper trailhead for Dog Canyon
DOGCYNBCH1Trail pointFirst bench on the Dog Canyon trail
DOGCYNX1Trail junctionJunction where old and new trails separate
DOGCYNX2Trail junctionJunction where old and new trails rejoin
OLVRLEETHTrailheadDog Canyon trailhead at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Lincoln National Forest, Smokey Bear and Sacramento Ranger Districts US Forest Service 2007 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) Sacramento Ranger District
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:

To get to the lower trailhead, from Alamogordo take US 54 south from the point where it crosses US 70. After about 12.6 miles, a sign indicates the left turn to the park. This road dead-ends after about 3.9 miles at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. The trailhead is behind the visitor center (VC); walk as if you were going to enter the VC, but instead of going in the door, continue past it, and the trailhead is around the corner.
No short text
No short text
To get to the upper trailhead, from the north side of Alamogordo, take US 82 toward Cloudcroft (you do not go all the way to Cloudcroft). When you get to the town of High Rolls, look for the post office sign. Just past this sign is Westside road. Turn right and set your trip odometer to 0.

At 1.1 miles, the pavement ends. At 13.7 miles, A sign in the bushes indicates that Burleson and Long Ridges are to the right. Go left, since your destination is not on those ridges.

At 17.7 miles, you come to a sign indicating Joplin and Holder ridges (90B and 90E). Go right, and then take the left of the two choices (90B). At this point, the road is one lane wide; it is not heavily traveled, so you are not likely to see other vehicles.

At around 20.1 miles, you see an unmarked trail to the right and signs indicating you are still on 90B. This trail is not the one you want. Continue on 90B. At 20.5 miles, a sign indicates trail 106 is on the left. This is the trailhead. Just past the trailhead is an area where you could park two vehicles.

You are likely to need a high clearance vehicle to make it to the upper trailhead. The road was very rough and rutted when we drove it. Allow plenty of time; expect to spent two hours to get from Oliver Lee Memorial State Park to the upper trailhead.

About the hike:

Diana near the start of the trail
The trail starts out climbing nearly immediately, and you are usually hiking on bedrock. You will be taking several switchbacks as you climb.
As you hike this portion, keep your eye open for cactus, such as this claret cup that was blooming in late March of 2005. At other times, other cacti are likely to be blooming.
claret cup cactus blooming
Yucca torreyi and the Tularosa basin
It does not take long before you start getting views. First of the park as a whole, and soon White Sands and other areas in the Tularosa basin become visible.
When you have hiked around 0.5mi/0.9km, you arrive on the first bench (GPS: DOGCYNBCH1), and the trail levels out for a while. Many of the plants are different up here; notice the new plants that have appeared in this area and the others that you no longer see.
Diana on the trail on the first bench
strawpile cactus
The aptly-named strawpile cactus looks like a pile of straw. You can see them all over the hillside when the light is right.
This greenish-colored rock with dark intrusions is porphyritic andesite, an igneous rock amongst all of the (sedimentary) limestone. You can see lots of it around the 1-mile mark.
porphyritic andesite
trail junction and a sign
A bit more hiking, and the trail begins to climb again, with the steepest part after the 1.75 mile marker. Early in the climb, you come across a junction (GPS: DOGCYNX1). This is an old version of the trail. The newer route is less steep, so go straight instead of left. A sign also points the way and lets you know that you are about a mile from the cabin. The old and new trails rejoin later at DOGCYNX2.
After a climb roughly the same as the climb to the first bench, you reach the second bench. The trail levels out as before. Again, some of the vegetation is different on the bench from what you were seeing as you climbed.
level trail on the second bench
trail on the bench with White Sands and the Tularosa basin
You still have excellent views into the Tularosa basin, but your perspective chances as you get higher.
When the trail begins to descend, you get your first view of the cabin. Also, in the larger version of this photo you can see the trail heading away from the cabin, and then diagonaling up for the next climb.
remains of a cabin near a stream
Diana Northup in the remains of the cabin
The cabin and the stream make a nice resting place before either continuing up to the top or returning to the lower trailhead.
From the cabin, the trail climbs, steeply at times. Parts of the trail bear a resemblance to a staircase, with the rocks in the trail being the stairs. The first mile or so from the cabin is the worst, as you climb to the next bench level.
trail climbing up the hillside
narrower trail climbing
At times, the trail is narrow, and you are walking at the cliff base. Other times it is slightly wider, as pictured here. Be careful, as loose rocks can act like ball bearings.
In the larger version of this photo (click to see it), you can see the trail across the far bench, descending to the cabin (in the valley), and then the trail you have taken so far, climbing up and along the base of the cliff in the left portion of the photo.
clifffs and trails
Diana Northup on a more level part of the trail
You do reach the next bench, and the trail levels out again. At this point, while you still have plenty of climbing to do, the worst is done.
From up here, you can easily see to El Paso TX (around the south end of the more distant mountains).
View southwest of basin, Franklin mountains in the distance
donkey and pinon tree

The climb to the next bench is much more gentle than any so far.

We saw this donkey on the last bench.

You have one more climb to do. If you have been hot, good news. You are in a forest now, and the upper trailhead is not far away. If you have set up to have a car at the top, you are done. Otherwise, it is now time to do the trail in reverse. In either case, congratulate yourself, as this was quite a climb.
Diana Northup on a switchback.

Plants we saw along the trail:

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