Red Canyon/Spruce Spring loop

One of the views from the trail

A great day hike that goes through several biological zones in the Manzano Mountains.

This forest that this hike goes through was damaged by the Ojo Peak fire in 2007.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Cibola National Forest; Mountainair Ranger District
Region: Central; Manzano Mountains.
start: 7896ft; 2407m end: 7896ft; 2407m
min: 7896ft; 2407m max: 9934ft; 3028m
elevation gain/loss: 2037ft; 621m.
Length: 7.39mi; 11.90km.
surface: Unknown
condition: Good to excellent
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: None
Fee: $0.00. The campground is a fee area, but the trailhead might not be.
Season: April 01 to October 31. This season is the campground (trailhead) season. If snow is not a problem, you can hike in from the gate.
Dogs: Yes. On leash.
Bikes: No. Much of the trail is in the Manzano mountain wilderness.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The trailheads for this loop take off from the horse camp at the Red Canyon campground. A trail leads from the lower campground to the upper (horse) campground.

Red Canyon has a stream through part of it. Spruce Spring trail goes past Spruce Spring. The US Forest Service recommends treating all water before drinking it.

Trailhead facilities: picnic area, trash can(s), vault toilet(s), water.
Hike attractions: exercise, scenery, stream, wilderness access, wildflowers.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2000-07-15
Time it took us: 6:40.
Usage (people/hour): 0.90.
Cleanliness: 9.


Waypoint Type Description
170189Trail junctionSpruce Spring (189) and Manzano Crest trail (170) junction
89THTrailheadTrail 89 (Red Canyon/Spruce Spring)
89X189Trail junctionTrails 89 (Red Canyon) and 189 (Spruce Spring) in the Manzano Mountains
GALLOTrail pointHigh point on the Red Canyon/Spruce Spring loop, near Gallo peak
MMW189Trail pointPoint where trail 189 enters the Manzano Mountain Wilderness
RCTHTrailheadRed Canyon 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:

From Albuquerque, take Interstate 40 East to exit 175 for South NM 337. Take 337 south. From the stoplight, head 28.7 miles south on NM 337 through Chilili until the road ends at a T intersection with NM 55. Turn right (west) and continue another 12 miles passing through Tajique and Torreon to the town of Manzano. Watch for a sign which says: Manzano State Park; Red Canyon Campground; NM 131. After going 2.4 miles on NM 131, you are at the entrance to Manzano Mountains state park.

Turn right; you are now on a one-lane paved road. 0.5 mi down the road you get to the forest boundary and the road turns to gravel. A few small side roads branch off, but remain on the main road for 1.8 miles, where you will see a sign for the Red Canyon campground.

The trailheads are at the horse camp, across from the picnic area (GPS: RCTH) and at the far end of the loop (GPS: 89TH)

No image

About the hike:

Diana Northup at the Red Canyon trailhead

You can hike the loop either way. This description is for Spruce Spring trail no. 189 up and Red Canyon Trail no. 89 coming back down.

Start at the trailhead across from the picnic area (GPS: 34.622324 -106.411922 RCTH). Trails 89 and 189 are both on the same trail at first as it heads behind the horse campground. You could also start at the trailhead at the back of the loop road in the horse campground, and turn right almost immediately to get to Spruce Spring Trail.

To the right, Diana stands on the trail at the trailhead.

One thing that this trail excels in is flowers. From the beginning of the trail to the end, you are rarely out of sight of wildflowers.

The Spanish called Geraniums (like the sample to the right, which is James Geranium, geranium caespitosum) patita de leon because the leaf looks like a lion's paw. They also used some form of geranium as a gargle for sore throats.

geranium caespitosum
The trail heads behind the horse campground. Near the back end of the campground, you walk past several large gooseberry bushes. Unfortunately, they were not quite ripe when we were there.

Just past the end of the campground, you come to a junction (GPS: 34.623199 -106.414159 89X189) where the two trails diverge. Turn right at the sign (pictured on the left).

The trail is shady, and the temperature is pleasant. This makes it a nice change from the city where we spend most of our time. The trail is clean and people were rare when we hiked it. As you climb on the trail, the flowers change, providing continuous variety.

The junction of forest trails 89 and 189
Pterospora andromedea
One of the more interesting flowers to find in the forest is Pterospora andromedea, commonly called pine drops. They are parasites on the roots of pine trees, and they grow in forests all the way into Canada.
As mentioned, the flowers along this trail are abundant. To the left is Penstemon barbatus, also called scarlet penstemon. You can easily see how it got its name. We have a little more information about penstemon on our penstemon page.
Penstemon barbatus

There are raspberries along the trail. They were ripe 7/15/00. The one to the right did not last much longer than the time it took to take the picture.

There are strawberries along the trail as well, but none had any fruit.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens?) is the state flower of Oregon. It has a fruit that looks like a blueberry, and leaves that look like holly. The fruit are rumored to be tasty, but I have not yet tried them.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)
view east along the trail

Oh, yea, we're hiking. That is a view east along the trail in the photo to the right.

When you start to see some aspens, you can take heart in the fact that you are about halfway in your elevation gain. A little after you see the first aspens, you cross the wilderness boundary (GPS: 34.640729 -106.427350 MMW189).

After about a quarter of a mile, you come across a fork in the trail which leads to a spring about 300ft away from the main trail. This is the Spruce Spring for which the trail is named. The spring is more of a muddy place where a little water comes from (at least when we visited).

The trail heads through a field of ferns about (Kenneth's) waist-high. When you see these, you are almost at the junction with trail 170 (GPS 34.644399 -106.432398 170189). In the photo to the right, you can see Kenneth taking notes beside the trail sign.

Trail 170 is the Manzano Crest trail. When we were here, it did not look like the trail was heavily traveled. If you are happier without people, you might want to hike this trail northbound. However, to continue the loop we are describing here, turn left (southwest).

Kenneth Ingham at the junction of trails 170 and 189
view north

From here, the trail begins to climb more steeply. When you see trails heading right, they normally head to a place with a good view.

The trail skirts the east side of the highest point of the mountain here. The high point on the trail is at GPS: 34.637371 -106.435397 GALLO.

The trees are so thick here that the trail is dark at times.

After about a third of a mile, you reach a field of wildflowers and the junction with trail 89, the Red Canyon Trail. Before you head down the trail, take the short trail west to the view point for a nice view west.
Field near the junction with trail 89
small waterfall along the trail

Heading down trail 89, the canyon is much narrower than the one you hiked up.

In this canyon, you cross a stream many times. Sometimes, this stream has water, sometimes it does not. At one point, there is a small waterfall (photo right).

There also are lots of thimbleberry plants along this trail. Unfortunately, they were not ripe.

Not long before you return to the campground, you will come across a small shelter cave. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get a good photo when we were hiking. Next time.

Plants we saw along the trail:

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