Take a Hike in New Mexico

Some places resonate with me much more than others. I’m not always sure why or what the deciding factor might be, but when I stumble upon a unique landscape that gives me goose bumps, I know I’m some place special.

Kasha Katuwe

The blogosphere is one of my favorite venues to search and find exciting travel ideas. The moment I saw a hiking trailsphotograph of those cone-shaped tent rock formations, I knew this was a must see.

A visit was in the plans last year, but when our daughter decided to move from Denver to Phoenix, all those plans went out the window.

This year was different, and since we didn’t have any firm commitments after mid August, I knew the timing was perfect to lay eyes on this unusual landscape.

National Monuments35 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a complex and unique geological landscape called Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This relatively new monument was designated as such in 2001.

The sculpted cliffs and peaked hoodoos were formed from volcanic eruptions that occurred more than six million years ago.

There is a somewhat uniform layering of volcanic material causing bands of white, grey, beige, and pink colored rock.  It’s a fascinating and perplexing sight.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Over time, wind and water sculpt these rocks creating canyons, scooping holes, and contouring hoodoos. Mother Nature’s artistic and creative hand had me awed and smiling during the entire two plus hour hike.  I found myself hiking this fun trail several times during our two-week stay in the Santa Fe area, and trust me when I say, once is not enough.  I already look forward to returning.

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Without further adieu, let’s take a hike…..

As we approached the fee booth station, we were greeted by a ranger. There’s a $5.00 daily fee (as of Aug 2016) or free with your Annual National Park Pass (this is a Federal park after all).  From the fee station, we continued for five miles down a paved road that crosses private property owned by the Pueblo de Cochiti.  We are asked to respect the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monumenttraditions and privacy of the local Indians and thus, no stopping along the way, no photography/video, and no drawing/painting.  Also, no commercial photography within the park is allowed without a permit.

Once we neared the trailhead, there were three different gravel parking lots that can accommodate just about any size vehicle (including RV’s).  There’s a couple of vault toilets, but no water….. so be sure and bring plenty of drinking water.  You’ll need it.

Awed beyond words!

Awed beyond words!

Unlike most national parks and monuments, there are no scenic overlooks near a parking lot around here.  The only way to view the tent rocks and observe this stunning landscape is by foot; hiking via a dirt, sometimes sandy trail.  And by the way, no dogs allowed.  You won’t even be allowed through the fee station with a dog in the vehicle.


The 1.2 mile Cave Loop Trail is rated easy and partly handicap accessible.  There are some unique rock formations and a hand dug cave along this trail, but the real gem of the park is the Slot Canyon Trail …… definitely not to be missed.

Kasha-Katuwe Cave TrailKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument





The Slot Canyon Trail is a 3 mile out and back hike with a 630 foot elevation gain and connects with the Cave Loop Trail.  We hiked the combination of both trails making for a wonderful 4.2 mile hike that, for my level of hiking ability, offered me the perfect amount of challenge and visual stimulation.

Cave Loop Trail as we hike toward the Slot Canyon trail

Cave Loop Trail as we hike toward the Slot Canyon trail

the beginning of the Slot Canyon Trail

the beginning of the Slot Canyon Trail

Although from Al’s point of view, there may have been way too much visual stimulation(if there is such a thing) which resulted in an excessive amount of photo-op stops, much to his chagrin.  Perhaps that’s why my subsequent hiking visits to Kasha-Katuwe were tackled as a solo hiker 😁

Kasha KatuweKasha-Katuwe

The moment we connected with the Slot Canyon Trail, the cliff walls rose on both sides and I felt like I had entered a secret garden of sorts.

I believe, oh my gosh, was uttered by me around every bend.   As the canyon walls continued to narrow, we were greeted with obstacles along the trail.

Slot canyon hiking

Nothing we couldn’t handle … however, those that are vertically challenged or suffer from short leg syndrome, like moi, may find themselves stretching out those leg muscles just a tad.

Easy peasy!

Easy peasy!

At some points the slot canyon became very narrow, so narrow that there was only room for one foot at a time.

one foot at a time!

one foot at a time!

one hiker at a time!

one hiker at a time!

How cool is this?

How cool is this?

Fits like a glove!

Fits like a glove!

Loved it!


Once we exited the slot canyon, we were welcomed by those tee pee shaped hoodoos …. each uniquely sculpted by the elements and each equally as impressive.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument



It didn’t take long and we could feel the trail climbing and instead of looking up at the amazing tent rocks, we were now looking down upon them.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

We continued up the trail and stopped frequently to look back.

New Mexico hikingKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument






As we reached the top of the trail, we had temporarily hiked away from the tent rocks. The trail continued out onto a narrow mesa which provided a bird’s eye view of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

trail - drop offs on both sides. Birds eye view in all directions. The lake in the background is where we camped to be near Kasha-Katuwe; Cochiti Lake

Trail drops off on both sides. Birds eye view in all directions. The lake in the background is where we camped to be as near as possible to Kasha-Katuwe; Cochiti Lake Campground

And of course, a few more “Oh…. my…. gosh”es were uttered as I stood on the edge gazing down.

Standing on the edge gazing in awe!

Standing on the edge gazing in awe!

Sitting on the edge as I admire the view below - hey look, there's the trail

Sitting on the edge as I admire the view below – hey look, there’s the trail

We can see hikers on the trail. Since this is a out and back hike, we'll be down there shortly!

We can see hikers on the trail. Since this is an out and back hike, we’ll be down there shortly!

Heading back down the trail.

Heading back down the trail.

Easy for someone 6'3".... entertaining watching the 5'4" short legged gal

Easy for someone 6’3″…. entertaining watching the 5’4″ short legged gal

I steady myself

I steady myself

Not an obstacle I couldn't handle on my own!

Not an obstacle I couldn’t handle on my own!

This is where being short works in my favor ;-)

This is where being short works in my favor 😉

The return hike to the trailhead was every bit as amazing as it was entering.

We returned back to the trailhead via the Cave Loop Trail

We returned back to the trailhead via the Cave Loop Trail

The Pueblo de Cochiti people view Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks as a very special place and justifiably so.  After Al and I made this first hike, I returned three more times to tackle this perfect (in my book) hike.  Perfect – even when considering all the obstacles one might bump into.

Oh no, someone wasn't paying attention!

Oh no, someone wasn’t paying attention! At least I managed to stop the blood from running down my leg.  I did attract a little attention from fellow hikers…. You know, those “Are you ok?” looks and comments.

One morning, I hit the trail at 8:15 and encountered only one couple on the trail for that first hour.  It was awesome having this amazing place to myself and hiking in solitude.  All of my senses were alert.


The visual delight of the sun peaking from behind a rock was a reminder of a new day unfolding.   I listened to the light sound of a lizard moving, and the loud squawking of birds soaring overhead.  I breathed in the crisp clean air scented of pine.  There was the random sound of tiny rocks tumbling, acting as a reminder that this land is in a constant state of change.


There was the occasional touch of admiration and respect for this special and sacred place.

sitting on the edge!

sitting on the edge!

Yes indeed, some places touch my soul more than others and Kasha-Katuwe touched mine more than I ever expected.  I know I’ll return!

My church!

My church!


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132 thoughts on “Take a Hike in New Mexico

  1. Pingback: Thursday Travel: Tent Rocks | The World Is a Book...

  2. This is just such a visually stunning and well written photo/essay. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have never seen these particular formations before and what a treat! Thank you so very much. 🍁

  3. Wow, you guys are really hiking! What a place to get bruised too 🙂
    This should be on our list for next year and experience for ourself what you have given us taste of through your great photos.

    • You guys would love the hike. I want to go back next year and also take in Bandelier NM – we got rained out during our stop there 😦 Spring or fall is perfect considering the summer can get pretty hot 😉

      • It also made me think of the hoodoos in Cappadocia, Turkey, which I hasten to add I have never visited but have only seen on other people’s blogs. It really looked rather similar. 🙂

  4. It is just so awesome to come across hikes you cannot get enough off! This definitely seems like one of those. Such a magnificent landscape and so much to explore. Loved seeing all the photos from your hike.

    • Thank you Inger. It was the kind of hike and scenery I was longing for. We did manage a quick one day jaunt into Yellowstone in July but it was so crowded, it was hard to enjoy. Our Sept intention to visit got turned upside down. We’ll target next Sept. No overcrowding at Kasha which made it that much more enjoyable!

      • Couldn’t agree more, if it gets to crowded part of the experience is lost I feel. September is a much better time for Yellowstone I would think, at least we enjoyed it a lot in September.

  5. Ingrid for a moment I thought you had flown off to Cappadocia in Turkey! I had no idea these kinds of formations existed in North America. Like you there would have been much stopping for photos. The image of you dangling your feet over the edge even made this adventurer take a deep breath. I will definitely keep this in mind for a future road trip!

    • It’s funny you should mention Cappadocia. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a blog and saw photos of the place. Thinking it was Kasha-Katuwe in New Mexico, I was decidedly upset that I had somehow missed a trail, but upon further review, I realized the photo was taken in Turkey. The two locations look very similar – worlds apart, yet alike!
      Road trips are the best and oh so fun. New Mexico has so many unique and remote sights… enough to fill an adventurers soul 🙂

  6. Wow, This is a must-see in my book. Your comment on one photo said it all: “My church!” I agree wholeheartedly. Beautiful photos and commentary.

    • Coming from an accomplished photography such as yourself, I appreciate the compliment, thank you. BTW… at the rate you two are rolling, I’m sure a stop in Santa Fe can be arranged LOL!

  7. I’m glad you told me about this hike. When I saw it on fb a few weeks back, I carved out a week on our return trip to AZ. We’ll be stopping there in early Oct. I hope the weather will be ok. THANKS! Looks like a very special place.

    • As we bounced back and forth from Santa Fe to Cochiti Lake, we realized the lake (located near Kasha) was any where from five to ten degrees warmer than Santa Fe. I think Oct should be perfect and you’ll love the hike. And just a reminder; big balloon fiesta in Albuquerque is in early Oct.

  8. Oh wow, this place looks wonderful ! I love the shape of these cones, very unusual. It must have been nice to walk amongst these old rocks. I think the entrance fee if very reasonable. Do you have risk of flash flood or is it relatively safe ?

    • It is an amazing place that I fell in love with. I too thought the daily fee was very reasonable. However, the land that’s open to the public is small and relatively easy to explore in a few hours. I hiked the slot canyon a couple of times the morning after heavy rainfall and it wasn’t a problem. Since I was concerned, I asked the ranger and he said it’s rarely a problem. The five mile road to the trailhead is more of a concern as flooding debris causes road hazards.

  9. Wow! This is the kind of thing I’ll miss when we’re off the road, but I guess we can still take day trips….just need to utilize motels and the like. Beautiful scenery. Just when I think I’ve seen every kind of rock you present a new one.

    • We’ve had so much the past two months that the idea of owning real estate is not setting well with me. I still have so many more places I want to see. We’re already talking about spending a month or two in New Mexico next summer. Once a gypsy, always a gypsy… you guys will still travel via a new method.

    • You’ll need to put Cochiti Lake Campground on your radar and reserve site #51 (primo spot in my book, although we stayed in #56 and were very happy). You’ll love the campground, I promise. Kasha-Katuwe is only 15 minutes away from the campground and Santa Fe 30 minutes. I’ll eventually get around to doing a post on our time in the area. In the meantime, you can always email me if you have questions.

        • Darn, I was hoping you could make it in October. Oh well, next year, right! And since the campground is a Corps of Engineer CG the length of time it is open should work for you and the reservability is a comfort.

  10. Stunning! I’d write a longer comment, but I’ve gotta go add this spot to my list of places to go…! Thanks for sharing this — and with your usual amazing, gorgeous photos!

    • I’m surprised with all your travels that you haven’t made it here. Just goes to show no matter how long we’re on the road, there’s always new sights to see. This one’s a must!

    • Wow, you sure do manage to take in a lot of great trails. So far this is one of my favorite hikes, but I’m still hoping to get to some of those trails in southern Utah that you’ve blogged about 🙂

    • Just when I think I’ve seen the most spectacular scenery (Grand Tetons), I come across this unique sight. Although vastly different than the Tetons it’s equally as impressive in a different way…. always amazing!

  11. As you know we love hiking slot canyons, thank you for introducing us to a new one, it’s now on our list of place to go when we get to explore NM. Beautiful pictures once again, thanks for sharing.

    • You guys would love this one. It only takes about two hours to hike the entire place, but add in a boat load of photo-ops and this gal turned it into a three hour hike. Definitely put this one on your list!

  12. This park has been on our list for awhile. Hopefully, next year we get to see all these spectacular sights. I so want to see the teepee formations. Love, love your photos from the overlook down to the trail!! Very cool:) I can so understand why you returned several times. Having a hike all to yourselves and enjoying the surrounding sounds of nature is what it is all about in our book. We rarely talk when we hike. I just love the quiet. Thanks for taking us along on the trail:) Your narrative and photos are wonderful. Great job:)

    • Thanks Pam and I so agree about loving the quiet. More than once I’d pass a young person with earbuds and felt sorry for them; they were missing out – the land talks if you listen. Lunch with a view isn’t a problem here. It won’t disappoint.

  13. I’ve never seen formations quite like those anywhere else. What a great find! I really enjoyed your photos from your amazing hikes there. I have also found that reading blogs is the best way to find special places. I have you to thank for giving me the idea to see the whoopers in Rockport!

    • So glad I could share one of my loves with a fellow blogging pal 🙂 I’m already looking forward to seeing my whoopers this January, but in the meantime, I’ve embraced Mother Nature’s artistic sculptures. A trail like this provides my favorite kind of hiking 🙂

  14. Agree with you that reading other blogs is one of the best ways to find great hikes and campgrounds. I’ve put this on the list. Thanks.

    We camped at Bandelier this spring, and loved it. Lots of interesting stuff around Los Alamos, as well as hiking in Bandelier itself to keep us happy for several days.

    Thanks for the tip.

    • When we stayed in Santa Fe we did a day trip to Bandelier and just scratched the surface. Unfortunately, we’re too big to stay within the park. Southwest of Santa Fe is Cochiti Lake CG which we loved and was only 15 minutes from Kasha-Katuwe Monument. Lots to see and do in New Mexico and never disappoints 🙂

      • I’m glad my post served as an inspiration of sorts. The west is amazing and I love sharing its beauty. When you do finally decide to roll those wheels in a westerly direction, be sure and let me know especially if you don’t have a lot of experience dealing with elevation changes. As a former Midwesterner who has called Colorado ‘home’ for over twenty years, I can offer a bunch of helpful info and steer you away from the white knuckle roads and surprise weather changes.
        Sending Beau a big cuddle hug – he’s too cute!

  15. Gorgeous header photo.
    Absolutely stunning photos. I am not sure we will get to Santa Fe this winter, but I added this to my Pinterest. What a fabulous fine.

    • Thank you Marsha. That header photo was taken at our boondock spot at the Tetons. Yep, that was home for five glorious (albeit cold) days. You’d love hiking at Kasha-Katuwe, but keep in mind, Santa Fe is at 7,000 feet, and winter is not usually the ideal time to visit. Although we enjoyed a Feb visit one year and were the only tourists taking in the sights in the 25 degree weather 😉

  16. That truly looks like an amazing place. And what a great idea to do the hike several times, also alone. That would bring me peace and awe as well. I annoyed my husband the last few days with all my photo taking in Acadia NP! Sometimes, you just are hiking in a place where every time you look around you, you feel a photo is justified! 🙂

    • I’ve always wanted to visit Acadia NP, but since it’s so far away, I’ll enjoy it via your photos. Thus, snap away 😆 Each time I did the hike at Kasha-Katuwe, I’d notice something new and interesting… so much fun. Love coming across special places! Will you be staying in the northeast for a while?

    • You won’t be disappointed. Be sure and add Bandelier to your must see list as well. So worth visiting. I look forward to reading post on Kasha-Katuwe.

  17. Wow! This place looks magical! I love the geology going on here, lots of different processes. I really liked the little 4 petal flower, kinda looks like a dogwood cactus… haha
    Beautiful photos! Thank you =-)

  18. What a gorgeous and curious place, Ingrid; and one I have never heard of. I’m impressed that you decided to go, and did; and even more impressed that you hiked through these towering structures, it looks very challenging. And lovely photos, as always. Great post!

    • Thanks Jet – yes, there were some challenging spots on the trail, but so worth tackling as you can see from the photos. I loved hearing the birds soaring overhead, but was never quick enough to capture a shot!

    • You guys would love it and the Cochiti Lake CG would accommodate your 40 footer. Bandelier is another place worth exploring but we wouldn’t fit at the NP thus we did the one hour drive from Santa Fe to visit Bandelier. Lots of cool places in NM!

    • New Mexico has so much to offer. I know, we’re hoping to spend more time exploring its unique sites, but weather will be a factor in our timing. During our two week stay, we bounced between the Elks Lodge in Santa Fe to a Corps of Engineer CG; Cochiti Lake CG and within the 30 minute drive was a 10 degree temp change. Loved our time in the area!

  19. It’s been almost 25 years since I hiked and climber there…thank you for bringing back all of the magic and amazement I experienced that day. Your photos are stunning, and now I can’t wait to get back there again!
    Thank you!

  20. You were in my neck of the woods. I’ve been going to the Tent Rocks since the late 70’s. Whenever you are in the Albuquerque area let me know. I have a place on the property to park an RV with water and electricity.

    • Wow, thank you Timothy. We just may take you up on your offer one day. New Mexico never disappoints with its unique and stunning gems. We ended up extending our stay in the area twice, and I now have a list of things I want to return to see. Our visit to Bandelier was cut short due to weather and the Tent Rocks will call me back for sure thus a return to NM is a guarantee 🙂

      • Have you been to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin wilderness area? It’s south of Farmington west of 550. If not you have to put it on your list of places to visit.

          • I did a post on Bisti/De-Na-Zin about a year and a half ago. You can search it and take a look at it again. I think you commented on that post.

            • Ah, my brain doesn’t work like it used to. I just reviewed your post and bookmarked it. YES, I definitely need to visit. Thanks for the reminder and sharing those stunning photos 🙂

  21. Wow. That was fantastic! I love slot canyons, and this one’s a beauty for sure. We’ve been enjoying mountain hiking this summer. Your pics entice me to make some winter trips when we get blanketed in snow!

    • This was my first slot canyon hike and I finally understand what the draw is – amazing. Loved it! Hopefully, you have a trip to Phoenix in your plans this winter …. hint, hint 😉

  22. Spectacular! My husband and I have yet to visit NM but we were just talking about it the other day. This lovely place will surely now be added to our exploration! Thanks for sharing!

    • Be sure and allow yourselves plenty of time to explore this under rated state. There’s a lot of really special and unique sights to be seen in New Mexico. Camping fees are reasonable, and there usually aren’t huge crowds when compared to other places. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  23. That is so cool, Ingrid!! You’ve inspired me to go there. And to get going on some blog posts of the slot canyons we’ve seen the past month. The entire southwest has so much going for it! LOVE IT! –Val and Mitch

    • I highly recommend a visit to Kasha-Katuwe. The Cochiti Lake Campground is great place to stay. There are so many fascinating sites to see in New Mexico and the southwest. If you’ve been to Lake Havasu, I’m sure you’ve hiked “Sara’s crack”. With the exception of our January Texas Gulf Coast jaunt, we have no intention of traveling east of Interstate 25. The west is our ‘home’ 🙂

  24. OH MY GOD!! Words escape me, Ingrid…What a fabulous find…Touching these rock formations is like channeling history, and I felt the same “churchlike” serenity you described..I now have this on my bucket list..before I get too darn old to hike it!! Thank you so much for the amazing tour!!!

    • I hiked this same trail four times and still didn’t get my fill. There were a few challenging spots for my short legs, but with a little crawling, scooching, and laughter – success. You’d love the Corps campground as well which I’ll do a separate post on. New Mexico seems to always surprise me!

  25. I love this hike! We went there one time and were blown away by the slot canyon trail. It was amazing! You did better than us, though. It was about 100 degrees in June so we didn’t make it to the top. What a view!

    • I obviously love it as well, but I can see it not being as pleasant during extreme heat. That’s partly why I’d start relatively early. Plus, every afternoon the storms would roll through. I did luck out with some beautiful mornings and the solitude made it all the more special.

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