Valles Caldera National Preserve
Among the newest additions to the National Park System, the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve encompasses a caldera formed by volcanic eruptions 1.25 million years ago that possesses exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting massive explosive volcanic eruptions, caldera formation, and the functioning of active geothermal systems. Its distinct topographic mosaic of expansive valley meadows, or valles (va-yes) in Spanish, lush forested volcanic domes, meandering valley streams, and old growth Ponderosa pine groves are in striking contrast to the arid New Mexico landscape at lower elevations.
Patient observers can spot numerous wildlife species such as elk, coyotes, prairie dogs, black bears, bald and golden eagles, wild turkeys, and other migratory birds. History buffs can travel back in time and experience the pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer heritage and learn how the legacy of early Spanish and Mexican settlement in the region transformed the present-day American Southwest.
Recreational activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, scenic drives, as well as crosscountry skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Valles Caldera National Preserve enchants visitors with its stunning natural beauty and rich human history.
Hours of operation:
May 15 – October 31, open daily 8 am to 6 pm.
November 1 – May 14, open daily 9 am to 5 pm.
Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
Valles Caldera National Preserve is a fee park; however, at this time the entrance fee is being waived.
Los Amigos de Valles Caldera manages the Valle Grande Bookstore located within the entrance station. Visitors can find snacks, drinks, books, and souvenirs of their trip to the park.
At this time Valles Caldera does not have any established campgrounds or backcountry camping permits available. Visitor services are limited. Please come prepared with food, water and other essentials.
Valles Caldera has miles of hiking trails. They range from flat valle strolls to steep climbs. If you are new to the park consult with rangers at the Valle Grande Entrance Station. They can provide advice about which trails are appropriate to different fitness and experience levels.
Much of the Valles Caldera is over 8,000 feet in elevation. Even very fit individuals coming from lower elevations may experience altitude problems. Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. After a few days your body will have made some physiological adjustments to higher elevations, but full acclimation may take weeks. To minimize symptoms drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, don’t skip meals, and get plenty of rest.
If you have never hiked before or are traveling with children, check out the recommended shorter trails, such as the La Jara Loop Trail or the Pond Trail. Ranger-led walks can increase your confidence while you learn more about the park. Valles Caldera National Preserve is a great place to discover how traveling by foot brings you closer to nature.
Bikers can ride through shaded forests, around high mountain tops, or noodle the edge of vast green meadows. Trails vary from a heart-pumping climb to a relaxing family ride where gravity does most of the work. Whether a newbie on a bike or an experienced cyclist, it’s all here at Valles Caldera.
Horses have been part of Valles Caldera’s landscape for over 100 years. Recreational horseback riding is balanced with other recreational uses such as hiking and biking. The use of horses, mules, burros, alpacas, and llamas is available with an equestrian permit, provided that humane treatment is accorded the animal(s) at all times and all regulations related to animal use are strictly observed.
Riders will have to bring their own horses as the park does not have an equestrian concessionaire in operation. Equestrian permits are available daily at the Valle Grande Entrance Station.
Some of unique adventures take place in Valles Caldera’s backcountry. Visitors will find ample opportunities to hike, mountain bike, horseback ride, fish, crosscountry ski, snowshoe, and view wildlife.
Visitors can access the backcountry by foot, mountain bike, horseback, or personal vehicle. For those accessing by personal vehicle or horse, a backcountry vehicle permit or equestrian permit is required. A permit is not needed if accessing by foot, mountain bike, skis, or snowshoes.
At this time Valles Caldera does not have any established campgrounds or backcountry camping permits available.
Backcountry Vehicle Permit
Up to 35 backcountry vehicle permits will be available each day during the summer season (mid-May thru October) as conditions allow.
Beginning May 15, backcountry vehicle permits will be available at the Valle Grande Entrance Station on a first-come, first served basis. At this time, reservations for permits are not available.
Given the limited number of permits available each day, it is very likely the permits will be issued out early, especially on weekends.
- Backcountry vehicle access may be unavailable if the roads are unsafe for travel.
- Roads can be slick during heavy rains.
- 4WD or high clearance vehicles are strongly encouraged.
- The backcountry vehicle route is unpaved and can be heavily rutted, have a “washboard” surface, and can be quite rough in spots.
- Permit holders are allowed to travel only on designated roads and to park only in designated parking areas that have not reached the maximum vehicle capacity.
- Buses, off-road vehicles (ATVs, UTVs, etc.) and non-street legal motorcycles are not permitted.
- The backcountry vehicle pass is only valid between park operating hours on the date of access; no overnight access is granted.
- Permit holders will need to leave the backcountry in enough time to check out BEFORE the main gate closes.
- Only service animals are allowed in the backcountry, no pets (This rule applies even if you have no intention of letting your pet out of the car at any time).
- Please visit the park’s website for more information about backcountry vehicle permits.
The waters of Valles Caldera National Preserve provide some great fly fishing for beginners and experts. As the rivers meander through lush mountain meadows, they create miles of pools and overhanging banks, which are home to thousands of trout. The views and quiet serenity are well worth the fishing trip.
Those anglers who want to drive their personal vehicles into the backcountry to fish the San Antonio Creek, Rito de los Indios, or Jaramillo Creek must be able to obtain a free backcountry vehicle permit. Permits are limited and available seasonally as conditions allow. No backcountry vehicle permit is required to fish any park waters accessed by foot, bike or horse. To minimize the chance of the fatal whirling disease, waders or other footwear intended for wading are prohibited.
East Fork of the Jemez River and Jaramillo Creek
The East Fork of the Jemez River begins its journey in the eastern end of the Valle Grande and flows southwest to be joined by Jaramillo Creek. The narrow Jaramillo hides many large trout under the grass banks that overhang the crystal-clear water. The confluence of the East Fork and Jaramillo waters provides an ideal feeding area for trout and creates a near perfect fishing hole. The East Fork continues its journey under the main road into the park and then into a secluded valley as it exits the park. There the river widens, deepens, and slows, creating an excellent habitat for large trout. The East Fork presents the same challenges as the San Antonio and is home to brown and rainbow trout that grow as large at 18″.
San Antonio Creek and Rito de los Indios
The San Antonio Creek begins in the northern part of the park and runs west. The San Antonio is a tale of two rivers. The northern stretch is only two feet wide in some areas with few trees and shrubs to cover a fisherman’s approach. The river widens at the lower end and flows over long, gravel bed shallows. The crystal clear water and lack of cover require stealth and an accurate cast to catch that big brown trout. The Rito de los Indios is a small stream located in the northeast corner of the park and flows into San Antonio Creek.
Your visit can be more enjoyable when you better understand the environment around you. Valles Caldera offers interpretive programs, guided hikes, guided snowshoe hikes, and ranger talks in various locations throughout the year.
Program schedules and activities offered vary with the seasons. Valles Caldera offers the widest variety and number of ranger-led programs from mid-May through September. Ranger-led programs can be found on our calendar at https://www.nps.gov/vall/planyourvisit/calendar.htm. When you arrive, check with staff at the Valle Grande Entrance Station and bulletin board for program details or schedule changes.
Guided hikes are led by rangers or volunteers that have an in-depth knowledge of the park. In addition, each guided hike focuses on a different topic or theme. Some guided hikes are only offered once while others are offered more frequently. Please check the calendar for dates and times the guided hikes are offered.
Guided Van Tours
You are invited on a series of fun and educational tours to explore the wonders that make the park unique. Tours vary in length from one to three hours and focus on the history or wildlife of the park. Please check the calendar for dates and times the guided van tours are offered.