Set over 13 miles of mountains and grasslands, just a couple of hours from Albuquerque, the Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico is a haven for wildlife and adventure. Situated in the vast crater of a dormant volcano, the varied landscape makes for fantastic year-round explorations, whether you’re looking to go fly-fishing or cross-country skiing. Visit the Valles Caldera next time you’re in New Mexico for the chance to explore and re-engage with nature.
Since it opened its gates as a national preserve in 2000, the Valles Caldera has become known as one of the best places in New Mexico to see elk herds grazing among the meadows. Heading to the San Antonio Creek in the morning or early evening improves your chances of seeing the giant deer feeding by the water’s edge. The Caldera is also home to many other species, including over 60 types of birds, black bears and coyotes.
Hiking in the National Preserve
Hiking in the Jemez Mountains offers some of the most impressive views of the Caldera. From June to September everyone from novice to expert walkers can don their hiking boots and head out on a variety of trails. For a moderate hike, take the “˜Coyote Call Trailhead’ to gaze upon views of the expansive grass valley, Valle Grande. And with the mountains reaching up to 8000ft, there are plenty of more exerting hikes, too.
Brown trout are plentiful in the streams of the San Antonio Creek, one of the best spots for fly-fishing in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The creek meanders through the Caldera, with each section designated to a specific person, ensuring plenty of room to fish and preserving the thriving population of trout. There are also ample opportunities for fishing in the East Fork of the Jemez River. The East Fork weaves through the meadows and is bustling with cold-water fish. Both sites require a fishing permit, although some walk-in slots may be available on the day.
For a traditional experience of the Caldera, head for the pine-covered mountains on horseback. From spring through to autumn, horses can be hired for either a half, or full day’s pass for an exhilarating horseback ride. With specific equestrian routes, riders have 20 miles of trails to explore the ranching history of the landscape. After a day’s riding, why not head to the local hot springs to unwind in the foothills of the mountains?
Winter in the Valles Caldera
Visiting during the winter offers up a range of alternative explorations to make the most of the snow. Cross-country skiing is recommended at the preserve, with glorious views of the snow-covered crater from November until the end of March. For an alternative to skiing, visitors can strap on snowshoes and take to the Jemez Mountains with some hand poles, where the snow is deeper. For a more relaxed tour, book a horse-drawn sleigh ride and take in the glistening mountains as you glide by.
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Have you been to the Valles Caldera National Preserve? Tell us about your trip in the comments below.
Written by Emily Littler