Rinconada Canyon in the Petroglyph National Monument

One of the petroglyphs
An easy trail in Albuquerque offering excellent views of petroglyphs. Like the other trails which are part of the Petroglyph National Monument, (Cliff Base and Mesa Point), you get to see many petroglyphs. However, this trail is longer, and gives you a bit more exercise and different petroglyphs.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: National Park Service; Petroglyph National Monument
Official URL:Park web page for the hike
Region: Central; Albuquerque's west side.
start: 5150ft; 1570m end: 5252ft; 1601m
min: 5150ft; 1570m max: 5252ft; 1601m
elevation gain/loss: 101ft; 31m.
Length: 2.49mi; 4.00km.
surface: mixed sand/gravel
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy
The trail is sandy, so boots are a good idea to keep the sand out of your socks.
Fee: $0.00.
Season: All year. This is a four-season trail. In the summer, heat will be a problem. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and take plenty of water.

Snow will rarely prevent you from hiking the trail after 10am in the winter. It was snowing lightly in March 1998 and it was blowing snow in December 2002. You should not take this to mean that it snows a lot on this trail, but instead that I choose snowy days to hike it.

Dogs: No.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: Flat light like when the sky is overcast (which does not happen often) is the best for seeing petroglyphs.

They have guided walks Memorial Day through the end of Balloon Fiesta (the second weekend in October).

Trailhead facilities: trash can(s), vault toilet(s).
Hike attractions: geology, history, wildflowers (Wildflowers are likely to be best in May and September if we have had rain.), wildlife, year-round access.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2002-12-18
Time it took us: 2:17.
Usage (people/hour): 2.19.
Cleanliness: 10.


Waypoint Type Description
RINCNDTrail pointEnd of Rinconada Canyon trail
RINCTHTrailheadRinconada Canyon in Petroglyph National Monument


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Albuquerque New Mexico USGS 1983 1:100000 Y from sar.lanl.gov (free)
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 I-40 Westbound from Albuquerque, take exit 154 (Under Blvd, State Highway 345). Head north on Unser for 2.2 miles. At the traffic light at St Joseph's, turn left into the trailhead parking.

Note that the park headquarters is beyond Rinconada canyon. If you get there, you have gone too far.

This area has had several problems with thefts. Do not leave valuables in your car.

No short text

About the hike:

Trail arrow

Right after you walk through the gate, you veer right and then left as you meet other trails. You will be walking up the canyon floor. The trail is well marked with arrow signs, such as this one. There are some old trails; they often have signs indicating that they are closed.

Please honor these signs and stay on the marked trails. The desert vegetation grows slowly and is fragile. One footstep can do serious damage or kill the plants. Consider taking binoculars with you for better viewing of the petroglyphs from the trail.

Kangaroo rats live along the trail. Look for a hill with many tunnels; this is where they live.

As you hike to the back of the canyon, watch the rocks to your right (north). Most of the petroglyphs in these canyons are on the south-facing slopes.

The trail
Bullet damage to a petroglyph

Before this area was a national monument, people used to come out here to do target practice. Unfortunately, several petroglyphs are bullet-damaged, such as the one here (the damage is more visible if you click on the picture to view the larger version). You may also see some remains of clay pigeons, especially at the start of the trail.

If you travel with one or more friends, you have extra eyes to watch for the petroglyphs. I have found petroglyphs mainly on the sides and sometimes on the tops of rocks. Sometimes, short trails lead off of the main one to clusters of petroglyphs.
A petroglyph of two doves?
a rock with many petroglyphs
As you can see in this picture and the following pictures, it was snowing fairly hard when I was out (December 2002). However, even in this snowstorm, I met five people.
When you get to the back of the canyon, the trail returns by a different route, further from the canyon wall. However, if there are not too many people coming up the trail, I recommend that you turn around and return the way you came. Because you are traveling a different direction, you will probably see different petroglyphs.
Two circular petroglyphs in a snowstorm
A rabbit blending into its environment
I saw this rabbit only because it moved. Notice how well it blends into the background.
The face in this picture is on the corner of the rock.
Several petroglyphs including a face on the corner of a rock
A petroglyph where the artist used a natural hole for an eye
The artist of this face used a natural hole in the rock for one of the eyes.

I wonder about the ages of some of these. In some cases, you can easily tell that they are modern. In others, you are left to wonder.

More petroglyphs from Rinconada canyon.

Several petroglyphs, some I wonder about the age of

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Mon Oct 24 17:56:50 2005 BA from Somewhere said:
Nice site! I LOVE petroglyphs! Were thinking of taking a trip to see this area. Thanks for the photos and explanations!

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