Rim Vista trail

No short text At the top of this trail, you are on the rim of the Valle del Rio Chama. You get amazing views of the valley, the Ghost Ranch area with its colorful geologic formations, Abiquiu Lake, the Jemez, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains. When it comes to views, this trail is probably one of the best in the state, and this is really saying something.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Carson National Forest; Canjilon Ranger District
Official URL:Forest service web page
Region: North-central; Jemez Mountains.
The trail is north of the Jemez.
start: 6646ft; 2026m end: 7913ft; 2412m
min: 6646ft; 2026m max: 7913ft; 2412m
elevation gain/loss: 1266ft; 386m.
Length: 5.36mi; 8.63km. out-and-back distance
surface: mixed dirt/rock
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: You have to walk over/around a couple of down trees.
Fee: $0.00.
Season: All year. Summer is hot. Bring plenty of water. Winter usability depends on how much snow the area has had.
Dogs: Yes. on leash
Bikes: Unknown.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The nearest water is at the Echo Ampitheater day use area ($2.00 fee), 1.5mi north on US 84. It tastes bad, so bring your own.
Trailhead facilities: None other than parking.
Hike attractions: scenery (One of the best hikes for scenery in the state.), year-round access.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2004-07-04
Time it took us: 5:15. 05:15. We were slower than normal; if you spend no time looking, you could probably finish in a little over two hours.
Usage (people/hour): 0.19. On a holiday weekend, we saw only one other hiker.
Cleanliness: 10.


Waypoint Type Description
RIMVISTATHTrailheadRim Vista trailhead


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) Canjilon-El Rito and Tres Piedras ranger districts portion
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.
Santa Fe National Forest US Forest Service 2004 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) West half
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 Española, take US 84 north through Abiquiu. You will pass the turnoff for NM 96 (Abiquiu Lake), and Ghost Ranch. 2.4 miles after the Ghost Ranch turnoff, you should see the turnoff on your left for forest road (FR) 151 (a sign indicates Rio Chama as well as the forest road number). Take FR 151 which starts as asphalt, but quickly turns to dirt. After about 0.7 mi, you see a road to the right, which had a small sign indicating trail 15 is to the right. Take this road. If you have a low clearance vehicle, you may want to park here. At about 0.2 mi the road forks. The more heavily traveled road to the right is the one you want. The road dead-ends about 0.1 mile further; this is the trailhead.

Note that on US 84, the Echo Ampitheater day use area is about 1.5 miles north of the turnoff to forest road 151.

In the photo, the trail takes off to the left.

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About the hike:

Kenneth starting down the Rim Vista trail.

The trail is easy to follow. From the trailhead, you head across a small wash, and then up the hill on the other side. The trail climbs gently throughout the hike. The mesa top you can see in the distance is your destination.

The sign at the trailhead says 2.3 miles. However, my GPS log shows that it is closer to 2.7 miles (one way).

When you start the hike, you can see the brightly-colored banding in the rocks across the highway and also on nearby cliffs. You are walking up these bands. Watch for the varied hues of the soil, here red and a light blue-white. Other places it is yellow or orange.
red and blue-white soils
Red and non-red rocks contrasting with each other.
Also watch for the brilliant red rocks in amongst the other rocks.
Often on trails, the really good views come only at the end, when you have hiked for miles. On this trail, they are available from the beginning. Later, you will be able to see the whole Rio Chama valley, all the way to the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Kenneth and interesting layered geologic formations
Kenneth Ingham on the Rim Vista trail
You get to see interesting geologic formations, such as these. No, I am not a geologic formation. Look behind me.
Starting at about 0.5 miles into the hike, you start to see trail markers such as this one. They are not really needed, as the trail is easy enough to follow.
blue diamond trail marker
Down tree holding a blue diamond trail marker
The drought has killed many of the trees which hold the trail markers. As time goes on, more will end up like this one across the trail. Other trail markers are falling apart due to weathering; you may see a scattering of blue plastic at the base of a tree.
Along this trail, we saw more wildlife than we had expected, especially due to the time of day. This lizard was nice enough to pose for me. We also saw a couple of rabbits, one of which did not think we saw it (although it was keeping a close eye on us, just in case).
Mountain mahogany with seeds
Unfortunately due to the drought, many of the Piñons are dying or dead. However, the Mountain Mahogany is still doing well. You can recognize it by the curly, feathery seeds.
Along parts of the trail are cryptobiotic crust. This crust is a collection of microbes that are helping prevent erosion. Stepping on the crust can kill it, allowing erosion to occur.
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opuntia and various grasses along the trail
This ant hill with grass and opuntia was expecially nice.
In spite of the drought, some flowers still have enough water to bloom, such as this Wyoming paintbrush (Castilleja linariifolia).
Wyoming paintbrush: Castilleja linariifolia
View SE from the Rim Vista trail
As you begin to climb the steeper part of the cliff (the trail is not much steeper though), you begin to get views to the southeast. If it was not for the fires burning in Arizona reducing visibility, you would clearly see the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance. Closer in, you can see the Ghost Ranch area and Abiquiu reservoir.

When you are about 40 ft below the mesa top, the trail suddenly becomes steep up to the top. When you reach the top, you can see a sign. Note how you get to the sign, because the trail is indistinct for returning to this point. To add to the possible confusion, a pseudo-trail heads along the rim top.

Near the sign, this is the view you get. Well, you probably will not see Diana standing there, but the rest you should see. The view between the two trees is the one at the very top of this page.

Return via the route you took to get here. Be careful on the steep part.

Diana at the top (end) of the Rim Vista trail.
Diana Northup hiking on the Rim Vista trail.
If you time it so that you are heading down as the sun gets lower, the quality of the light improves.

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Tue Jan 31 15:09:35 2006 Anonymous from Somewhere said:
Abiquiu Reservoir is not a lake, it is a reservoir.

reservoir: A natural or artificial pond or lake used for the storage and regulation of water.

lake: A large inland body of fresh water or salt water.

Abiquiu Reservoir contains water for future use for Albuquerque. The water in the reservoir wasis from rerouted rivers and streams that were once flowing on northern NM and Southern CO Native American lands. After much struggle and a few deaths due to construction accidents, the water ends up where it is in the reservoir, so that the folks in Albuquerque will have water when their aquifer runs out.

In this case, calling a reservoir a reservoir might be prudent.

On Sun Mar 19 17:58:33 2006 Anonymous from los angeles, california said:
I hiked this trail on March 18, 2006---a cold and blustery day, with a bit of rain and sleet. Despite the weather, and the poor visibility, it was a wonderful hike. I enjoyed it greatly, and would love to know more about the local geology, as the rocks and formations along the way were beautiful and very interesting. I only saw one person on this trip, heard two airplanes, and otherwise was alone.

I also wanted to comment that I found the directions and information about this hike on your site to be very informative and helpful. In fact, I found the information about this hike to be better than similar information on hikes in northern New Mexico that I've gotten from the books in my collection!

On Wed Apr 5 21:51:23 2006 Dave, Stu, Chloe, Jake from Albuquerque said:
Hiked the last Sunday in March 2006, a beautiful 65 degree day. As with San Lorenzo Canyon, never could have found this place without your directions. There was noone else here when we hiked, so Chloe and Jake got to be off their leashes.

The views are incredible. Your description that this is one of the most beautiful hikes around is true. It is a nice mixture of dry and hilly at the beginning, nice flat forest hike in the middle, and spectacular rim trail on the side of a mountain near the top. The hike was just about perfect in length for me...3.5 hours up and down.

There are patches of dead trees in the middle, with small bushes sprouting back to life at their roots. There were small patches of snow in the higher, shaded areas. The mountains in the distance had snow on the top.

There were some interesting old cans and some strange holes were dug along side the trail near the beginning...one looked like it was dug for a coffin.

On Thu Jul 4 16:38:01 2019 Russ from Somewhere said:
Completed hike today with a moderate amount of effort in about (3) hours during the morning hours. Amazing views and terrain changes throughout. Definitely recommend wearing pants as the mites and grassland seed pods will get you. Also recommend a walking staff or a trek pole in certain spots if your balance is not great. Lastly, there were quite a few animal droppings in different sizes throughout the first third of the hike. Take precaution and make your presence known. Highly recommend if visiting from out of town. 5-stars. On Sun Dec 27 21:51:48 2020 Diana from Somewhere said:
Camped close by. 16 degrees Christmas night. In the 40’s in the day and crystal clear. This is a great trail , just enough elevation gain for a comfortable work out with intervals of flatter areas for rest. The last part has easy switchbacks. The most challenging parts were where there was ice and very slick mud. Bring poles!!! I had two good falls in the mud. Boots and clothes were caked. Lovely views from the top. My Fitbit logged it at 8.6 miles with 1800’ elevation gain, although the website says it’s a lot less. It was about 4-3/4 hours including a leisurely lunch at the top of the Mesa. What a great Christmas hike!!! Just loved every minute. Even saw a herd of elk during breakfast and a shooting star about 4AM.

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