Narrows Rim Trail

A view across the lava to Gallo Peak in the Zuni mountains.

This hike gives you a very different view of the lava flows that make up El Malpais than most hikes---you are 500 ft above them and looking down. You also get a great view of La Ventana Arch. Hike this hike for the views. You will not be sorry.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Bureau of Land Management; Rio Puerco Field Office
Region: West-central; Cebolla Wilderness.
start: 7083ft; 2159m end: 7519ft; 2292m
min: 7083ft; 2159m max: 7519ft; 2292m
elevation gain/loss: 436ft; 133m.
Length: 8.39mi; 13.50km. The mileposts and all of the published information we have read claim shorter lengths for this trail. This value is the GPS track length, which matches better how long the trail seemed.
surface: mixed gravel/rock
condition: Fine
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: None
Fee: $0.00.
Season: All year. This is an excellent winter hike, if snow is not a problem. In summer, it will be great for watching thunderstorms build, but dangerous to be on in a thunderstorm.
Dogs: Unknown.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: Unknown.
Trailhead facilities: picnic area, trash can(s), vault toilet(s).
Hike attractions: geology, scenery.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2005-02-06
Time it took us: 4:29.
Usage (people/hour): 0.00. We saw footprints and dog pawprints, but saw nobody.
Cleanliness: 9. Most of the few pieces of litter we found were near the picnic area at the trailhead.


Waypoint Type Description
NARROWSTHTrailheadNarrow Rim trailhead


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
El Malpais Recreation Map and Guide BLM 2008 1:100000 Y from Amazon (purchase) Great overview map for El Malpais area, including showing land ownership.
Geologic Map of El Malpais Lava Field and Surrounding Areas, Cibola County, NM USGS (Charles Maxwell) 1986 1:62500 Y No online copies. For sale at the three visitor centers (NPS, BLM, Northern NM) around El Malpais.
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:

Take I-40 to exit 89 to take NM 117 south from the interstate. After several miles, you come to the BLM El Malpais visitor center. After stopping at the visitor center if needed, continue south on 117. Pass the trailheads for the Acoma-Zuni trail, and La Ventana Arch. At 12.3 miles from the visitor center, turn left into the South Narrows picnic area. Park in the first part of the lot, near the entrance. The trailhead is here, near the entrance.
No short text

About the hike:

Diana on the trail, just past the trailhead.

The trail starts out by climbing these step-like rocks. This is probably the steepest climb of the hike. You will be gently climbing for most of the hike.

We saw a rabbit near the trailhead. We also saw deer tracks in the area.

The trail is often sandy, and marked by cairns. Even without the cairns, it has been walked enough to be clear and easy to follow.

As you hike the trail, notice the texture and colors of the rocks.

Lichen-covered sandstone rocks and pinon trees provide a study in colors
and textures.
The narrows, lava nearly to the base of the cliff.
This area is known as ``The Narrows'', because of the narrow area between the lava (where travel is difficult) and the cliffs. Imagine what people hundreds of years ago thought as they traveled this area. The trail will follow the cliff edge (at a safe distance from the edge) for the whole hike.
The colors of the rocks along this hike, augmented by the colorful varieties of lichen are one of the features.
A sandstone rock with colorful lichen and weathering patterns.
A view of the lava below the sandstone cliffs
Another main feature of this hike is the views of the lava, which you get nowhere else in the state.
The trail is always either sandy or rocky. The forest is an open one, allowing plenty of views.
Diana on the trail
Kenneth near the trail, with a view of the Zuni mountains behind him.
When the trail is not sandy, you are walking on sandstone. You also have views of the Zuni Mountains in the distance.
Starting with the 2.5 mile marker, you will see several of these painted rocks, presumably indicating the distance you have come to this point. However, our GPS track said we had come 3.0 miles (4.9km) at this point. Similarly, at the 3 mile marker, we had hiked 3.5 miles (5.7km) according to the GPS.
A painted stone indicating 2.5 miles into the trail.
Cinder cones and an approaching snowstorm
The views also include volcanos to the west, as well as approaching storms (we were snowed on later in the hike).
Two views signal significant accomplishments while on this hike. First, the ponderosa pines dissappear; only the Piñon and Juniper remain. Then, you get views of Mount Taylor, like this one. These signify that you are nearing the end of the trail.
Mount Taylor in the distance.
Gallo Peak and the Zuni Mountains.
The views of the Zuni Mountains to the west remain quite nice.
Shortly after your first view of Mount Taylor, you get this great overview of the La Ventana Arch hike, from the parking lot to the arch (in the shadows on the right).
The parking lot, trail, and La Ventana Arch.
La Ventana Arch

The view from the end of the trail of La Ventana Arch is (in our opinion) better than the one you get when you hike to it from below.

From here, retrace your steps to return to the trailhead.

Even dark, cloudy days are good ones for hiking. The lighting can be dramatic. The storm clouds behind this mountain mahogany had just finished snowing on us.
backlit mountain mahogany with dark stormclouds behind it.
texture on sand from snowstorm
The snowstorm also caused the interesting texture on the sand.
The BLM information for the trail says that you might see bobcats. All we saw were these paw prints, which they may have made.
paw prints, possibly from a bobcat.

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Mon Apr 18 08:45:15 2005 Tom Dorr from Rio Rancho, NM said:

Great Hike!

Views all along the trail. The group stopped constantly to take pictures.

We had to come down the rock fall at the bottom of the U in the Ventana Arch canyon at the north end of the trail due to a storm that came up on us during the hike. The rock fall area is steep but doable. We had the foresight to park a vehicle at the La Ventana Arch parking area as we heard afternoon storms were predicted. There is another way down marked with two cairns at the north end of the trail. One of our group went down that way and said the middle section was very steep. Novice hikers should return to the South Narrows trailhead as the way down on the north end of the trail is steep and full of large rocks.

Date Of Hike 4/16/05.

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