Jemez Mountains

New Mexico > Jemez Mountains

Along with the Sangre de Cristo range, 35 miles distant across the Rio Grande valley, the Jemez Mountains form the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains which stretch over 2,000 miles north into Canada. They contain no great natural landmarks, just a large area of mostly undisturbed forested wilderness, with rocky peaks, meadows, mountain streams, lakes and waterfalls, and only occasional houses and villages. More unusual features result from past volcanic activity - there are hot springs, sulphurous vents and a caldera - a ring of hills comprising the remains of several long-extinct volcanoes. All the mountains form part of the 1.6 million acre Santa Fe National Forest, so are a good destination for free camping and many other recreational activities.

Jemez Valley

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.

The West

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.

Jemez Mountains Hotels

The nearest towns with hotels around the Jemez Mountains are Espanola, Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Taos.

Highlights: Forested mountains with lakes, meadows, streams, scattered hot springs and exposed rock formations; crossed by many tracks and a few paved roads
Nearest city with hotels: Los Alamos
Management: USFS - part of Santa Fe National Forest
Location: 35.767, -106.692 (Jemez Springs)
Seasons: All year
Grotto along the Jemez River

Soda Falls
Nearby places Similar places

Bandelier National Monument - ancient dwellings carved into volcanic cliffs

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument - fantastic volcanic rock formations
Nearby places Similar places

San Bernardino Mountains, California - steep-sided, forested mountains northeast of Los Angeles


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