Distance: 9 miles
Water: Plenty of water in Trigo Canyon
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Trail Condition: Good to Poor
Trigo Canyon is a gorgeous oasis on the west side of the Manzano’s, east of Belen, that offers surprisingly lush scenery along a beautiful canyon with a series of scenic waterfalls.
First, note, that the directions from Google Maps are horribly inaccurate. From Belen, cross the Rio Grande on NM-309 and follow it past the junction with NM 47 to where the road becomes the Manzano Expressway.
After 5.5 miles past the junction with NM 47, turn right onto an unmarked road. Turn right onto La Entrada Road after about 1 mile. Turn left after another .5 miles. After 5 miles, this road will T into Trigo Springs Road. Go right for less than a mile before taking another left at a wide junction. After making this turn, you will see a shot-up Forest Service sign announcing the defunct John F. Kennedy Campground. Follow this road for about 6.5 miles until it deadends at the campground and trailhead at the base of the mountains.
The hike up Trigo Canyon starts up the Trigo Canyon Trail – Trail #185 and immediately enters the Manzano Mountains Wilderness. The trail starts off very wide at the bottom of the canyon, close to the creek. The trail here is easy to follow and climbs gently for the first 1.5 miles.
The trail begins to climb more steeply as the canyon narrows and some impressive rock formations emerge. Because the trail stays so close to the creek and crosses it frequently, in places the crossings can be obscured by the vegetation, but have confidence that the trail does not leave the creek.
Around 2.5 miles, the canyon walls grow higher and the canyon floor becomes significantly more shaded due both to tree cover and the taller walls. This is the beginning of a series of small waterfalls, an unusual sight for central New Mexico.
Shortly after the first waterfall, the canyon forks. The trail goes to the right, but there is an impressive waterfall to the left that is worth the short detour.
There is a significant amount of debris in this confluence area that briefly obscures the trail, but as long as you say right, you will be able to pick it up again.
The right fork quickly dead ends at another waterfall, but the trail switchbacks steeply up to the left. After a short climb, the trail goes over a small saddle and contours above the canyon below, following the left fork of the canyon. There are some good views to the west, downstream above Trigo Canyon.
Eventually, the trail rejoins the stream in some pleasant ponderosa forest. The trail continues to follow the stream bed, which is much wider and shallower than it had been before climbing up and out of the canyon.
After about 1/2 mile from the point that the trail rejoins the stream, the trail passes Log Spring, the source point of the stream. From here to the ridge, the stream runs intermittently.
Also, around this point, the trail enters the area burned from the 2008 Trigo Fire. There has been regrowth in the area, but unfortunately little to no trail maintenance has taken place since the fire.
From this point on, the path is choked with downed trees and prickly bushes that have replaced the old growth forest. For anyone not up for this slog, this makes for a great turn around point and makes for additional time to enjoy the waterfalls.
But for the intrepid hiker hell-bent on making the ridge, continue to follow the creek upstream through the burn area, slowly picking your way. Be careful of your footing, and if it is windy, watch out for falling trees.
The final 1/4 mile to the ridge and the Manzano Crest Trail – Trail #170 is in a wide bowl. Because there is no longer any tree cover, the ridge is visible for this entire last push, which also makes it slightly easier to choose a good route. Still this stretch is slow going, so be patient as you make the final push.
From the junction with the Manzano Crest Trail, it is easy to access one of two peaks to the north and south. I first attempted to go north to Osha Peak, but there were far more downed trees on this stretch, so I instead opted for the unnamed peak to the south.
From the saddle, the Manzano Crest Trail climbs steeply to the small peak about 1/2 mile to the south. The trail is easy to follow and was mostly clear of any downed trees. Towards the top, as the trail enters aspen regrowth as well as some burned snags. Here, there are a few more places where you must detour around these obstacles.
From the top of the small peak, you can see Gallo Peak to the south. To the north you can see Capilla Peak Observatory as well as the dirt road that leads up to it. To the east, you can see the plains of eastern New Mexico.
Return to the trailhead the way you came.