Valles Caldera is a hidden gem along NM Highway 4

Hiking around Valles Caldera is hard to put into words because its history and geography are just so vast. You’re essentially walking through what was a volcano that erupted, collapsed, and evacuated. And around you are other volcanoes and mountain ridges that came up after the initial volcano exploded. It’s kind of mind boggling, but it’s fascinating and beautiful.

It’s breathtaking and cool to see a national preserve like that, with all its opportunities for fishing, camping, and hiking. Keep in mind that the ranger told us that in the busy summer months, they only have 35 permits per day available. The permits are based per vehicle not per person. It’s set up that way to preserve what’s left of Valles Caldera. But that means you’ll need to a little more planning in the summer than we did when just driving by in April.

By the way, the 2-mile dirt entrance road may look narrow and scary, but it’s not that bad and the parking is lot is relatively RV friendly.

Humans managed to clear cut most of the trees, killed most of the elk, and overgrazed the land with cattle. Between that and fires and floods, the caldera has its share of scars. But now it’s a national preserve, and rightly so. (For fans of the show Longmire, this is where part of that was filmed.)

If you’re ever in New Mexico between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, we recommend taking New Mexico State Highway 4. It involves a pretty good climb in elevation to about 8,500 feet, plus plenty of curves. So you need a rig and driver who can handle that. But it is a beautiful road through the mountains, plus you go right by Valles Caldera.

In addition, on the Albuquerque end of the route, there is Petroglyph National Monument. And on the Santa Fe end, there is Bandelier National Monument. So, NM 4 is an awesome route to see beautiful things as you’re driving the road but it also connects those three great parks.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are no services along that section of New Mexico 4. Also, cell service is very limited. We had Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T devices running and all of them lost service repeatedly during our drive.

But the views, the stops, and the experiences you can have are well worth the trek!

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