Distance: 4 miles (round trip)
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Trail Condition: Good to Excellent
For an easy hike that provides the best opportunity to appreciate the enormity of the Valles Caldera and the Valle Grande, look no further than the 10,199 foot Cerro Grande. From the road, this hike climbs through ponderosa pine forests of Bandelier National Monument and across open, grassy slopes to the top of a peak with excellent views of the Valle Grande, which houses the visitor’s center of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The hike begins on NM-4, just before the road descends down into the Valle Grande. From the trailhead on the north side of the road, the hike starts through open ponderosa forest and grasslands. This is great elk habitat, so keep an eye out.
After less than 1/4 mile, the trail begins climbing and doesn’t stop until the peak. The pitch is consistently sporty, but never overly steep. After about 1/2 mile, it enters denser forest on an east facing slope where douglas fir join the ponderosa pines.
At about a mile, the trail approaches an open saddle, but continues uphill to the east before actually reaching the saddle. If you just can’t wait, go peak over the edge, but I’d recommend waiting until the top to let that view fully overwhelm you.
The trail then switchbacks through a lightly forested slope. The final push to the summit is on an open grassy slope. The trail gains the ridge in the final 100 yards to the peak.
To the west, you will be able to see the Valle Grande and the entire Jemez range. On a clear day, the Sangre de Cristo will be easily viewable to the east, and to the south, the unmistakable mass of the Sandias looms.
Take a long break at the peak (weather permitting), before returning via the same route.