The one main route through the hills is NM 4 - from Los Alamos
and Bandelier National Monument
to the east, the road follows the Jemez River for most of its 74 mile route, eventually descending into the flatter land of the Jemez Indian Reservation. The most interesting section is around Jemez Springs
- here are found numerous hot springs and pools, some hidden deep in the forest but others quite close to the main road. Many are large (and safe) enough for bathing. There is a forceful waterfall, Soda Dam
, where the river drops 15 feet through a curious formation made of deposited minerals from nearby thermal springs. Several gaseous vents and tiny bubbling hot water fountains are found near the roadside opposite. Jemez Springs also has a State Monument, preserving the ruins of a 17th century Spanish mission and 13th century Indian pueblo, and the drive up or down the red rock valley is pleasantly scenic; quite winding at times but not too busy.
Another road (NM 126) branches northwards 31 miles from the west end of NM 4. This begins at the small, rather nondescript town of Cuba, on the edge of the western foothills of the Jemez Mountains, which are clearly visible for many miles - at least an hours driving time - across the bleak desert of northwest New Mexico. NM 126 is quite narrow, more steep and bendy than the main road, and is unpaved for some of its 39 miles. It climbs to a height of 8,800 feet, and passes many meadows, clear streams and inviting, open woodland, with plenty of free places to camp, along short tracks leading into the forest. There are quite a lot of scattered dwellings, but only close to the road - the land at either side has a few side roads but most is empty and can be accessed only on foot. The mountains extend a long way to the north, including a region that contains the remnants of ancient volcanoes which now rise to 11,232 feet.
A few miles before the road joins with NM 4, there is a particularly good area for camping, beside a lay-by right on the edge of a cliff high above Lake Fork Canyon, looking down on the Jemez river valley. It is out of sight of the main road, and little used. At night, the only artificial lights visible are from several campfires far below at an NFS campground near the river. Most of the Jemez Mountains area is within the Santa Fe National Forest, so back-country camping is free, and commercial
development is restricted.