Distance: 7.8 miles
Water: springs near the bottom of Red Dot and Blue Dot trails
Season: Fall, Winter, Spring
Trail Condition: Good
The Red Dot and Blue Dot Trails offer a pleasant loop that starts in the town of White Rock and descends to the Rio Grande. The loop includes 2 miles along the river before returning to the rim. There are petroglyphs visible along the trail in addition to opportunities to soak in Pajarito Spring on the Red Dot Trail. It’s hard to imagine a better hike that begins from a town park.
From NM-502, take the exit for White Rock on NM-4. Upon entering the town of White Rock, take the left at the first light onto Rover Boulevard. Then, almost immediately, take the first left onto Meadow Lane. At .8 miles, take a left onto Overlook Road.
After passing by a number of baseball and softball fields, look for a blue sign indicating a right hand turn for parking for the Blue Dot Trail. The parking lot is at the end of this short road on the right.
From the parking lot, hike toward the rim of the canyon where there is a trailhead sign and follow the trail toward the rim. You will pass a sign post indicating a junction with the Canyon Rim Trail. Take note because this is how you will return if you are doing the full loop.
Upon breaching the edge of the canyon, the trail descends steeply through the basalt cliffs that guard access to the river. The trail is rocky and narrow, but easy to follow.
To the north, a view of Buckman Mesa is easily visible. The top of the trail also offers views of the river, but these quickly become obscured.
The trail switchbacks as it slowly descends 1,000 feet to the river over 1.2 miles. The top of the trail has little cover and is very exposed on sunny days, but near the bottom enters some dense vegetation inspired by a small, clear spring.
After 1.2 miles, the Blue Dot trail ends at a junction with the River Trail. To do the loop, take a right. However, much of the river trail remains above the river on a bench, so to access the river go left for about 1/4 mile to where the trail dead ends on a small beach.
After enjoying some time by the river, return on the River Trail and pass back over the Blue Dot Trail. The first 1/4 mile of the River trail is shaded by lush vegetation, but eventually emerges from this cover to exposed, sunny desert scrub.
For the next two miles, the trail parallels the river downstream. The trail throughout this section is well marked and easy to follow.
Shortly before reaching the Red Dot Trail, the River Trail crosses through another shady riparian area before emerging into desert again.
The trail crosses the fast flowing Pajarito spring creek a stone’s throw from the junction with the Red Dot Trail. Take a right to follow the Red Dot Trail upstream along the small creek.
Less than 100 hundred yards up the Red Dot Trail, there is a large swimming hole on the right formed by a small rock structure. This is a great place to stop and soak on a hot day.
After enjoying the cool water, continue to follow the Red Dot Trail on the south side of the stream. Shortly after the swimming hole, the trail crosses back to the north side of the creek and begins to climb steeply uphill. After about a quarter mile, the trail crosses back to the south side of the stream and leaves it for the last time.
Once the trail crosses the creek for the last time, it begins the big climb back to the rim.
NOTE: Theoretically, this loop can be accomplished in either direction. However, the Red Dot Trail is far steeper and rockier than the Blue Dot Trail, and in my experience, this kind of terrain is much easier to go up than to come down, so the described route is preferred.
Although this part of the loop is extremely steep, hopping boulder to boulder is less monotonous than many uphill slogs and can be quite fun. Feel free to use your hands to help balance yourself on the steep climb.
Also, be watchful for the red dots that mark the trail. While the Blue Dot Trail is relatively easy to follow, the Red Dot Trail can be slightly trickier. Luckily there are many red paint marks, so as long as you are keeping an eye out, it will not be difficult to remain on trail.
After .5 miles, the trail reaches a small, flat bench. Enjoy the brief respite before the final ascent to the rim. This final part of the trail, climbs through a break in the basalt cliff, traversing up to the north. The final push requires the use of your hands so enjoy this final challenge before reaching the rim.
From the rim, follow the trail back to the road. If you have not dropped a car at the Red Dot Trailhead, you will need to do a short road walk before reaching the Canyon Rim Trail.
Take a right upon reaching the road. After about .4 miles, there will be an unmarked trail to the right, across from La Senda Drive. The trail crosses between two houses, crossing an arroyo before rejoining the Canyon Rim Trail proper.
If you miss this trail, continue to walk along the road until you hit Sherwood Drive. Take a right on Sherwood, and just after the road crosses over a shallow arroyo, there will be some boulders on the right side of the road with a faint trail leading back into the pinyon-juniper forest. Follow this trail, which leads back to the rim of the canyon.
For the 3 miles along the Canyon Rim Trail, there will be a number of braided social paths that fade in and out. This trail runs behind a number of neighborhoods and is well-used by locals.
As a general rule, stay along the most well-worn paths closest to the canyon rim and choose a path that best parallels the rim. Fortunately, the trees are well-spaced, so if you choose a trail that begins to take you too far from the rim, it is easy to navigate back toward the main trail.
After about 2.5 miles, you can start to see the lights from the baseball and softball fields. This is positive indication that you are close. Upon reaching the junction with the Blue Dot Trail, go left to return to the parking lot.