Introduction to Sierra County’s Trails

Sierra County’s stunning scenery and dramatic changes in elevation, from New Mexico desert landscapes and valleys to mesas and mountains, make the area a popular destination for hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. Best of all, when it comes to trails, there’s something for everyone – easy trails for families with children; longer, more challenging hikes for those seeking a good workout with a great view; and aggressive hikes for the most adventurous of hikers. You may want to download the All Trails app as some of the more difficult-to-find trails noted below are identified on All Trails. So, let’s take a look!

Short, Easy Hikes

Fish Hatchery Park Trail

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

A super easy trail that follows the Rio Grande, Fish Hatchery Park Trail is a perfect hike for kids. Accessed off Hwy 51 just below Elephant Butte Dam, this tree-lined one-mile out-and-back trail starts from the water’s edge and continues with very slight changes in elevation. Since you can park by the river’s edge, consider bringing water toys so the kids can play and swim, although it’s important to take note of the river flow as it can be quite rapid in the spring. The added perk? Fish Hatchery Park offers delightful camping spots.

The Healing Waters Trail

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

Not your normal hike, the Healing Waters Trail is a historical, informational and culturally-enriching walk through downtown Truth or Consequences and the historic Hot Springs District, going on to Veterans Memorial Park, then through a desert area to the Rio Grande, and finally back to the city.  You’ll enjoy the diversity of this 3-mile looped trail as well as the beautiful mountain views and likely sightings of small desert creatures, such as roadrunners, jackrabbits, and lizards along the way. Maps and information are available at the Visitors’ Center in downtown Truth or Consequences.

West Lakeshore Trail at Elephant Butte Lake

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

Elephant Butte Lake offers three great hiking options, the longest of which is the 12-mile point-to-point West Lakeshore Trail. Because of the many trailheads along the 12-mile route, it’s easy to hike sections of the trail rather than the entire length. The first trailhead is located at Hot Springs Landing, with the trail extending north from there. You’ll enjoy views of the lake and the Fra Cristobal Mountains as well as sightings of small desert wildlife and birds. Other lake trails include the Luchini Trail and the Dirt Dam Trail.  

Point of Rocks Trail

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

This easy half-mile loop takes only about 15 minutes to complete and is accessed from Upham Road, which is the road that leads to Spaceport America. A rocky uphill path with a 52’ elevation gain takes you to an overlook of Jornada del Muerto (Dead Man’s Journey), which is part of El Camino Real (Royal Road). This point was a welcome site to travelers back in the 1600’s and 1700’s as it meant that they would reach water only 10 miles north of the point. You might see some wildlife, such as jackrabbits and lizards and be sure to look for informative signs as well as a petroglyph near the trail.

Yost Escarpment Trail

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

Short of the fact that there is no shade, this is a child-friendly trail with a mild elevation gain – 108 feet. Like Point of Rocks Trail, Yost Escarpment Trail is accessed from Upham Road about 10 miles north of the Point of Rocks trailhead. The 2.9 mile out-and-back trail leads you a steep, rocky escarpment where you’ll walk a portion of El Camino Real (Royal Road), traveled by Don Juan de Oñate, conquistadors, priests, Native Americans, merchants and cattle about 400 years ago. You’ll pass several interpretive signs that share interesting details regarding El Camino Real and the desolate 90-mile stretch known as Jornada del Muerto (Dead Man’s Journey), so named because it provided little to no water, no firewood and no edible plants for livestock. 

Moderate Trails

Cairn Loop

Accessed from Hwy 51 between the City of Elephant Butte and Engle, New Mexico, Cairn Loop is popular for both hiking and running. The 2.5-mile loop has an elevation gain of 341 feet with beautiful vistas which, some say, are best enjoyed by following the loop clockwise.  As you might guess from the name, you’ll find plenty of cairns along the way – likely more than 100 – all uniquely different and beautiful in their own right. You’ll also enjoy the ride along Hwy 51 to the trailhead as you’ll pass through a stunningly beautiful, rocky canyon.

Sidewinder Trail

One of many trails starting from the base of Turtleback Mountain, Sidewinder Trail is popular with locals.  The trailhead, which can be somewhat difficult to find, is accessed from Turtleback Avenue on the east side of the Rio Grande. Passing mainly through BLM land, the trail includes steep climbs, rock outcroppings, plenty of switchbacks, and a crystal-encrusted cave.

Mud Mountain

One of the advantages of hiking Mud Mountain is that there are several trails, albeit somewhat difficult to find. A trail on the south side of the mountain is quite popular, in part because of the unusual multi-colored rocks and boulders scattered over the mountainside. There’s no clear end to the south trail, giving you the option to take a short hike or one that goes on for miles. To access the trail, follow Gun Club Road to the large antenna in a flat area near a fence, park and begin your hike along the road leading west.

Aggressive Hikes

Black Range Crest Trail

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

If you’re a seasoned hiker, you’ll love this trail, which has a roughly 2,100 ft. elevation gain.  Accessed from Emery Pass, which is located about 18 miles west of Hillsboro, New Mexico on Hwy 152, the Black Range Crest Trail follows the crest of the Black Range, with views of the Gila Wilderness, Mogollon Mountains, the Rio Grande Valley and rugged canyons along the trail.  The trail offers two distinctly different hikes. The trail heading north winds its way through pine, aspen, and conifer forests and across the highest peaks in the range, culminating at Hillsboro Peak (elevation, 10,020’).  Best for hiking and horseback riding, this densely vegetated trail is about 11 miles out-and-back. The trail leading south will take you through dense forests and is over 16 miles out-and-back.  Wildlife is abundant in the area and includes deer, elk, bear, coyote, mountain lion, bobcat, turkey, falcons, owls and more.

Timber Peak Trail

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

Plan on taking 3-4 hours to complete this 4.6 mile out-and-back trail that leads to panoramic views of mountains, valleys and Elephant Butte Lake.  Located east of Caballo Lake, the trailhead is best located via the All Trails app. The trail itself can be difficult to follow and loose rocks make the 1,840 ft. elevation gain a challenge, particularly on the way down.  

Turtleback Mountain Trail

Sierra County Trails and Scenic Beauty

Accessed from Turtleback Avenue on the east side of the Rio Grande opposite Truth or Consequences, Turtleback Mountain Trail is one of several trails in the area frequented by local hikers, runners and mountain bikers. With its steep path along the northern Caballo Mountains ridgeline, this trail becomes quite challenging, particularly as you approach the peak. The views make it all worthwhile with its 360° panorama of mountains, mesas, Caballo Lake and Elephant Butte Lake. Be warned, however, that you will pass through areas marked with No Trespassing signs should you decide to hike this trail.

Conclusion

Sierra County trails will lead you through deserts, valleys, and mountains, with dramatic scenery along the way, regardless of the trail you choose. Whether you prefer historical trails, easy walks, moderate treks, or aggressive adrenaline-rushing hikes, there’s a trail that’s right for you. So what are you waiting for?  Immerse yourself in the magical beauty the permeates Sierra County, where you’ll escape from the stresses of daily life while immersing yourself in an experience you’ll remember for years to come.

Photos are courtesy of Sierra County Tourism.  For a wealth of information regarding things to see and do in Sierra County, visit Visit Sierra County New Mexico – The Home of Spaceport America!

FAQ’s

Are Sierra County’s hiking trails easily accessed from Truth or Consequences or Elephant Butte?

Yes, the majority of Sierra County’s trailheads are located less than 15 minutes from either city.

What types of trails will I find in Sierra County?

The trails range from easy walking trails to challenging hikes best reserved for only the most experienced of hikers.

How can I get information regarding hiking trails in Sierra County?  A visit to the Sierra County Visitors Center in Truth or Consequences will net you some good maps and information.  You can also download the All Trails app, which will help you find trailheads and plan your adventure.

Are some of Sierra County’s trails kid friendly?

Most definitely. Several, such as Fish Hatchery Park Trail and West Lakeshore Trail, have minimal elevation changes and are ideal for kids of all ages.

How do I best prepare for a hike in Sierra County?

It’s a good idea to take a backpack with essentials that include sunscreen, sunglasses, plenty of water, bug spray, energy snacks, a long-sleeved shirt for sun protection, and a fully-charged cell phone.  It’s also important to wear clothing appropriate for the season and weather, including a hat and tennis shoes or hiking boots.


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