#6 – Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument

  • Scenic Views
  • Photographic Opportunities
  • Road Conditions
  • Trail Hiking Level
  • Adventures
  • Wildlife

Park Stop #6 - Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument - Taos, NM

Established in 2013, The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is an ideal place to enjoy lots of recreational activities including whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, hunting, and etc. 

About Rio Grande 

The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument is a large land area of 242,455 acres. The crown jewel of the monument is where the Río Grande river carved an 800-foot deep gorge through layers of volcanic basalt flows and ash. The land is managed by the BLM or the Bureau of Land Management. The Rio Grande offers a variety of opportunities for tourism and recreation that attracts the attention of tourists from all over the world. 

The land is surrounded by Ute Mountain which is a peak entirely in the monument. The mountain is located south of Colorado and rises to a height of 10,000 feet.   

Recreational Activities in the Rio Grande Del Norte Monument 

The Rio Grande del Norte monument is the perfect destination if you are looking for recreation and enjoyment. So, if you consider yourself as an adventurer, pack your bags and come here. 

There are specially designed trails for all visitors who want to enjoy the silence of the wilderness of the Ute Mountain. It is an ideal place where you can spend a whole weekend relaxing and bird watching. Perfect, right?  

The Rio Grande River 

The Rio Grande River was one of the first of eight rivers to be specially designed by Congress in 1968 as a Wild and Scenic River.  

Stretching the Rio Grande River, Razorblades provides some of the most challenging kayak races in New Mexico. The Ute Mountain run on the other hand provides amazing opportunities for boater skill development and wildlife exploring. 

The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument protects this beautiful environment and will ensure that the history and natural legacy of this area remain intact for generations to come. 

Operating Hours - General Info

The monument may be visited any time of year. There are two main visitor centers supporting this monument. The first is at the southernmost tip of the monument on Route 68. It is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. May through October; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. November through April. The second is the Taos Visitor Center located at the south end of the town of Taos also on route 68 (Paseo Pueblo de Sur) and is open 9am to 5pm every day. Both center are closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Both centers offer restrooms some gifts/shopping, drinking water, and information about the monument and surrounding areas. There are also small visitor centers in some of the surrounding towns like Questa.

Pets are allowed throughout the monument.

Things To Do

Camping, backpacking, hiking, picnicking, rafting (up to Class IV), hot air ballooning, mountain biking, horseback riding, hunting, birding, fishing, off road driving and biking, and wildlife viewing.

The unique setting of the monument provides a wealth of recreational opportunities in addition to the spectacular scenery of the Rio Grande Gorge and surrounding mountain ranges. Free guided hikes in the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument are given by the Bureau of Land Management Taos Field office all through the summer (call for details).

The area has fabulous trout fishing in the Río Grande and its tributaries; fishing requires a license. There is abundant wildlife to be seen while hiking or driving the monument, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, and antelope. Hunting is allowed with a license. The river provides habitat for the recently‐reintroduced North American river otter, and the surrounding area to the river is home to Gunnison’s prairie dog, ringtail, black bear, coyote, red fox, cougars, and bobcats.

The Río Grande which flows through the stunning Río Grande Gorge, provides incredible whitewater rafting and kayaking, including the famous Taos Box Class IV (sometimes V) rapids. A hot air balloon ride may be one of the best ways to see the gorge and surrounding areas of the monument – bring your own or there are several companies that provide rides every day.

Hiking Trails

There are numerous hiking trails throughout the monument and in the surrounding areas. Additionally, you can make your own trails as the entire monument can be used for hiking/biking/horseback riding and there are many less developed trails and roads throughout.

There are numerous hiking trails (too many to list here) in both the Wild Rivers and Orillas Verde recreation areas, with a good variety of lengths and difficulties offered. Several of the trails are also open to mountain biking and horseback riding (see the BLM website for details).

The Orilla Verde area has a variety of trails, ranging from the easy Las Minas Trail from the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center and the La Senda del Medio Trail linking the campgrounds of the Orilla Verde area, to more difficult trails that climb the gorge and overlook the Taos Valley.

The West Rim Trail is an easy to moderate 9-mile one-way trail that wanders along the edges of the Rim of the Gorge and then down into the canyon. There are two access points: the north trailhead located at the rest stop on the west rim of the Rio Grande just off of US 64. The south trailhead located just off of NM 567 at the north end of the Orilla Verde Recreation Area.

Picuris Trail is about ¾ miles long (an old stock route) and is located east of Taos Junction Bridge to the east rim of the gorge.

The Slide Trail was highway 570, but was closed due to a rock slide. It’s now a 1 ¼ mile long trail in the Rio Pueblo de Taos gorge. Fabulous views from inside the canyon up to the rim of the gorge.

The Wild Rivers recreation area has trails that descend from the rim of the gorge to the banks of the river, which offer some tough but excellent hikes. There are also trails along banks of the Rio Grande and some easier trails located atop the rim of the gorge.

The Big Arsenic Springs Trail is a mile-long trail descends 680 feet from the rim to the base of the gorge, ending at a small spring which feeds into the river.

Little Arsenic Springs Trail is a steeper ¾ -mile trail, making an elevation change of 760 feet from rim to river.

La Junta Trail, which descends 800 feet over is a 1.2 mile trail from La Junta Point to the merge of the Rio Grande and the Red River. At one point this trail requires the use of stairs and a short ladder to scale the near-vertical cliffs.

Red River Fault Trail is a 5-mile loop through piñon-juniper woods and across open sage flats providing nice views of Guadalupe Mountain.

The River Trail is 2 ½ miles one-way and is relatively level providing a pleasant walk along the river. It connects with three other trails into the gorge, making a loop hike possible.

Another excellent hike in the monument offers a dip in the hot springs as your reward at the end! Manby Springs Trail leads from the rim of the gorge to a set of natural, rock-lined hot spring pools located on the banks of the Rio Grande. The springs are fairly popular, despite being quite isolated a drive out the gravel road called Tune Dr. will wind you to the trailhead (unmarked).

Camping & Lodging

The BLM manages 2 developed self-pay camping facilities in the monument, but tent camping is allowed throughout the monument. There are several other developed camping areas in the monument in small towns like Questa and Arroyo Hondo.

Wild Rivers and Orilla Verde – Open all Year

The only portions of the Monument where fees are charged are the developed campgrounds and recreation sites in the Wild Rivers and Orilla Verde recreation areas. Self-service pay stations are located in these areas.

A total of 5 campgrounds are located at the Wild Rivers area. All of the campgrounds are equipped with tables, grills, drinking water, and restroom facilities. One of the camping areas requires hiking down into the gorge where 16 primitive campsites are located. There are 2 large group camping sites. All together there are 40 campsites available.

Orilla Verde has seven campgrounds, each with tables, fire grills and restrooms. Four of the campgrounds also have drinking water and shelters. Pilar and Rio Bravo campgrounds offer a limited number of RV campsites with water and electric hookups (no sewer). Pay showers are also available at Rio Bravo campground. Group shelters are available by reservation. Each group shelter accommodates up to 40 people.

Fees range from $3.00/day per vehicle for day use of 30 minutes or more to 15.00 per night for RVs; including water and electrical hookups but no sewer.

Taos Monte Bello RV Park – Open all Year

This campground offers tent sites and pull through RV sites with full hookups (30 and 50 amps) and plenty of room for slide-outs. Amenities include convenience store, bathrooms, showers, laundry wi-fi, dump station, Lounge, Library playground, lounge, horseshoe pits and hiking trails. Rates range from, $20/night for tent camping to $38/night for full hookups (50 amp).

The campground offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and mesa. It is located just a few miles from the Gorge River Bridge, one of the great attractions in Taos area.

Food & Gas

The monument doesn’t have any gas or food services, per se. However, all along the various roads running through and around the monument are small towns that offer a variety of food choices, and plenty of places to fill up your tank.

Taos, NM, one of the bigger towns in the area (relatively speaking), offers restaurants of all kinds and 8 grocery stores – some offering 100% organic and local food. There are alos plenty of places to get gas and other supplies. Smaller towns like Questa, Arroyo Hondo, and Ranchos de Taos each offer a place or two to eat or buy groceries and places to fill up your tank.

Best Time To Visit

Late spring to early fall.

Each season offers a different experience: budding springs, moderate summers, the golden colors of fall, and powder snow winters. This is one monument where time to visit can vary greatly by personal preference depending on what type of activities interest you – the monument has outdoor activities for every time of year. The busy season in Rio Grande Del Norte area runs from May-October.

The climate is usually dry year-round, with July and August as the rainiest months (monsoon season) with a possibility of short but intense rain each day in the mid to late afternoon. Winters can be very snowy, and really cold at night. April brings the traditional windy season when winds can get quite gusty many days during the month.

During the summer daytime highs average in the 80s (F) while nighttime lows can reach into the 50s (F). During the winter daytime highs can be in the 50s (F), while nighttime lows can reach well below the teens.

Drives & Scenic Overlooks

It is fair to say that there is almost no place to drive in this area that does not provide scenic views, overlooks, and chances to view wildlife. Some of the more well-known are:

The 13-mile, paved Wild Rivers Backcountry Byway winds its way along the rim of the Rio Grande gorge, offering the most dramatic overlooks in the state like La Junta Point. This also route offers access to the Wild Rivers recreational facilities northwest of the town of Questa.

New Mexico Highway 570 which travels alongside the Rio Grande for 6 miles north of the town of Pilar. This is accessed just north of the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center.

Highway 64 spectacularly crosses the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge west of Taos. Be sure to take a peak at the earthships (the first development created) that are about 3 miles down 64 past the bridge.

Highway 285 takes you through Tres Pierdas, NM and up to Antonito, CO, passing many of the lava cones and mountains in the areas.

A scenic loop may be driven by taking Highway 570 north of Pilar, continuing north when 570 becomes Highway 567 (upon crossing the bridge – the next 2 miles are gravel), turning right on County road 115 (West Rim Road), turning right on Highway 64, and in Taos, turning south on Highway 68 to return to Pilar.

My Trip Report

The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument is one of my favorites. I reccommend taking the time to fully explore this area; there is so much to do and see. I have a deep love for this area the beautiful landscape and town are really special! 

Have you been to Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument? Did I leave any must-dos or must-see sights off the list? Let me know in the comments below.

By The Numbers

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Not on the trail to the Cliff Dwellings

We Are The Parks - Get Involved!

We all have the responsibility to help protect and preserve this important legacy. Here are five things you can do to minimize your impact and help protect the parks for future generations:

  • Follow the Rules. A new story about bad behavior in our national parks comes out almost every day. With people regularly doing things like walking on geothermal features, getting far too close to wildlife, illegally using drones, and vandalizing priceless natural and cultural treasures, NPS resources are stretched. We can all help the NPS and protect valuable natural resources by following established rules.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles. With visitation to NPS sites at an all-time high, it is even more important for all of us to be good stewards of the places we visit. An easy way to reduce your personal impact in learning about and practicing Leave No Trace principles.
  • Petition & Vote. In addition to supporting petitions and sending letters to your congresspeople. Consider the preservation, protection, and adequate funding of public lands when voting for local, state and federal officials consider. If these things are a priority for you as well, check in with your local and national conservation organizations to see how politicians in your community view the protection of public lands before you cast your votes.
  • Get Involved. There are many ways to volunteer including artists-in-residence and citizen science programs.
  • Support. Consider making a donation to the National Park Foundation. The NPF is the official charitable partner to the National Park System.