Our very first hike after moving to New Mexico was a trip to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument commonly just referred to as Tent Rocks. The park is managed by BLM and is about 50 miles north of Albuquerque. I would recommend this as the one place to take a visitor to New Mexico if can only do one hike.
We left at around 7am so that we made it to the park not long after it opened at 8am. I would recommend getting to Tent Rocks on the early side. New Mexico is notorious for nice mornings that quickly give way to hot afternoons but Tent Rocks also gets very crowded very quickly. There are actually signs along the route in that tell you from that point approximately how long your wait is to enter the park. The signs went out to well over an hour. However, it only took us a few minutes. There is a fee station as you enter the park where you pay your $5 entry fee and get a map and directions to the parking areas. Once we finished the short drive to the trailhead it was time to hike.
There are really only two trails in Tent Rocks and they are meant to be hiked together. The first is called Cave Loop Trail and is a 1.2 miles long loop. The second is the Slot Canyon Trail which is a point to point hike that begins about half a mile down the Cave Loop Trail. The Slot Canyon Trail is 1 mile each way so that doing both of the comes out to roughly 3.2 miles with 839 feet of elevation gain according to alltrails.com. (My favorite site for hiking routes)
The Cave Loop Trail is more or less a gravel path so it starts off pretty easy. However, once you start the Slot Canyon Trial you are in for some climbing over rocks and navigating down the narrow canyons. I wouldn’t call it an an exertion but I would definitely bring some water and appropriate clothing for a hike. The Slot Canyon Trail takes you through the canyon and past numerous lava rock formations that are the namesake of the park. They are definitely impressive to look at and very hard to capture in words or pictures.
All of the elevation gain on the hike is in a mile section that ascends to the top of the park. It definitely gets the heart rate up and makes you aware that 6,000ft above sea level is an adjustment. But the view down onto the tent rock formations is amazing. We enjoyed the view for a little bit and then began the descent back down and through the canyon. We stopped along the way for several “gram” worthy photos.
One word of warning with Tent Rocks is the crowds. Safe to say this is not a hike to enjoy a remote section of nature. Due to the proximity to Albuquerque and the sheer uniqueness of the Tent Rock formations large crowds of people come to the park. It is wonderful that so many people are taking time to experience the outdoors but many come unprepared. Probably because of the short overall distance many people neglect to bring water or wear proper clothing for a hike. Not to mention the hike does have almost 1k feet of elevation gain and tops out north of 6,000ft above sea level. So many people can be more than a tad bit rude while hiking about yielding the way or allowing faster hikers to pass. Several sections of the trail only allow for one person at a time through the canyon and require a little coordination as the trail has hikers going both directions. Either way it is a small price to pay to enjoy one of the most unique trails in New Mexico. But I would strongly recommend coming prepared for a hike even though the trail appears to be quit “easy”. It will make for a much better experience.
My GPS listed our hike as 2.9 miles but it had a BUNCH of issues maintaining a solid path through the slot canyons. Not to mention it just completely turned off for a section of the Cave Loop Trail. It showed 817ft in elevation gain in one hour and fifteen minutes of moving time. I don’t know that I would call this my favorite hike in New Mexico so far, I preferred La Luz, but from a sheer accessibility and uniqueness standpoint it is pretty unparalleled.
Let us know what you thought of Tent Rocks and follow us on instagram at day_hiker_chronicles for pictures of Tent Rocks or on All Trails: Jarred G to see our hikes.