Tent Rocks National Monument
Layers of volcanic rock create narrow canyons and domed shaped rocks at Tent Rocks National Monument. Add a gorgeous expansive view from the top of the mesa, and this makes the perfect day hike close to Albuquerque.
The area of Tent Rocks National Monument owes its remarkable geology to layers of volcanic rock and ash deposited by a volcanic explosion within the Jemez Volcanic Field that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago. Over time, weathering and erosion of these layers has created canyons and tent rocks. The tent rocks themselves are cones of soft pumice and vary in height. This makes for the perfect backdrop for kids and adults of all ages.
We had family visiting from the east coast over the winter holidays and decided to venture up to Tent Rocks one of the beautiful and sunny winter days we often see in New Mexico. We were a group of energetic school-aged kids as well as parents who were eager to get a little walk in, our cameras in hand.
The drive up from Albuquerque was quick and straightforward. We paid the guard at the gate and were given a nice map of the area. Parking was plentiful. We packed lunches in our day packs to eat at the top of mesa trail with the panorama views.
There are clean and well maintained restrooms near the parking lot as well as a few picnic tables. There is not much shade at Tent Rocks in general, except in the canyon along the first half of the trail. I honestly do not think we would visit here in the summer months due to the intense heat and sunshine (unless it was early morning when the temperatures are cooler). I have mentioned numerous times in my sidetracks that we are not early risers and that we do not like to hike in the midday New Mexico hot sun. For those reasons, I found this to be a delightful winter hike. Summers are HOT and there likely will be afternoon thunderstorms.
There are two trails in this area. The shorter, approximately 1 mile Cave Loop Trail and the approximately 3 mile round trip Slot Canyon Trail.
SLOT CANYON TRAIL
The first hike here is The Slot Canyon Trail which is approximately 3 miles round trip. You almost feel you may be on another planet or at a circus with the strange and billowy cones rising out of the canyon. The well marked Slot Canyon Trail ascends thru a narrow canyon which is a photographer’s playground. The shadows bounce from here to there and children cannot help skipping back and forth thru the narrow walls. Don’t forget to look up. The formations of the curved walls are amazing. People of all ages will enjoy the shade of the narrow canyon and do fine on this section of well maintained trail.
As the trail exits the canyon, it will ascend and be more difficult for really young walkers or those not acclimated to steep trails. It is not an over strenuously hike and we noted people of all ages along the trail. The trail eventually climbs nicely to a mesa top and the views of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains are incredible. This is approximately a 3 mile hike out and back. Stay on the trail, as this is a sacred site. Temperatures will be cooler and windy on the mesa top. This is a perfect spot for photos and a lunch/snack break.
There was some ice on the shady parts of the trail and as we reached the mesa top, but we all managed with our tennis shoes. I rarely think snow will be a problem on this trail in winter.
CAVE LOOP TRAIL
The 1.2 mile Cave Loop Trail begins right near the parking area. There are two things you will see on the Cave Loop Trail. One is a cave that takes you back in time to the areas' earliest inhabitants. The other attraction along this part of the Cave Loop Trail is this nice grouping of tent rocks that resemble teepees. This trail is an easy one to navigate.
Northwest of Albuquerque near Cochiti, NM