Distance: ~13 miles
Water: plenty of water along route
Season: Late Spring, Summer, Fall
Trail Conditions: Moderate to Excellent
The roughly 5 mile roundtrip hike to the first big waterfall on the Rio en Medio is a popular hike, but few people venture much further up on the Rio en Medio Trail – Trail #163 and even fewer make the full loop, crossing over to the Rio Nambe and back again. This is a beautiful hike, spending most of the mileage along the two streams, and with very few other people.
NOTE: The 2020 Medio Fire burned in this area, so consult the local district office of the Santa Fe National Forest before attempting.
The trail begins from a small parking lot just past the town of En Medio on the county road that extends from NM-592. This is a small parking area and can fill up quickly. There are some pull outs earlier on the road in case the parking area is full.
From the parking area, continue up the dirt road for 200 yards where the trail begins on the right. The first 1/4 mile passes through private land, so be sure to stay on the trail and leash your dog.
After about 1/2 mile, the trail crosses the Rio en Medio for the first time, passing through a stand of cholla and prickly pear cactus. For the first 1.5 miles to the junction with the Viejo Trail – Trail #179, the Rio en Medio Trail crosses the creek a number of times.
On the whole, the trail is very easy to follow, but some of these crossings can be slightly confusing as there are often social trails that don’t cross the creek remain on the same side. The creek crossings are easy, so just follow the most well-trodden trail.
Note the junction with the Viejo Trail as this will be your return route. The loop can be done in either direction with no clear preference, but I just happened to continue straight to do the hike counter clockwise.
After about 1 mile past the junction with the Viejo Trail, you will reach a steep climb to pass a small cliff band. You will also notice a smaller trail leading into the small canyon. This dead ends after about 100 yards at the waterfall that is the hike’s main attraction. If you haven’t visited the falls before, it is well worth the short detour.
After leaving the falls, return to the main trail and continue up the steep slope. The trail then returns to stream level, but for the next mile, the trail continues to climb at a much steeper grade than the first 2.5 miles.
After crossing the creek a couple times, the trail begins to switchback on the south side of the creek, climbing more than 100 feet above the stream. Pace yourself as this is the toughest part of the hike. Also, the top of this climb offers some of the best views of the hike.
The trail quickly descends back to the stream and for the last 3/4 of a mile to the junction with the Borrego Trail – Trail #150, the trail climbs at a much more civilized grade. The canyon’s geography changes significantly as well. The first few miles were steep and featured many pour-offs. Rocky outcroppings were common and the canyon was tight and narrow. The upper part of the Rio en Medio is wider, gentler and boasts an inviting grassy meadow opposite from the trail.
After about 4.1 miles of hiking, you will reach signed junction with the Borrego Trail. Turn left to follow it uphill. After about 1/4 mile, the trail joins a dirt road. Continue to follow the road uphill to a small divide that separates the Rio en Medio from the Rio Nambe.
At the top of this divide, the trail leaves the road to the left. The junction is signed and difficult to miss. After a couple switchbacks, the trail descends to the bottom of a small drainage and for the next 1.7 miles, the trail follows this gulch to the confluence with the Rio Nambe.
This section of the route was burned in a forest fire, but surprisingly, the trail was in remarkably good condition.
The Borrego Trail hits the Rio Nambe Trail – Trail #160 on the south side of the creek before crossing it. The Borrego Trail continues north past the creek, and the Nambe Trail also continues east in the Wilderness.
But for this hike, you will go left to follow the creek downstream for about 1.8 miles. The trail crosses the creek a handful of times, and although it is not used, it is largely in good condition. There are some trees down, but not that make passage difficult. At about 1.5 miles, the trail crosses the Rio Capulin. It fades in a large meadow after crossing this tributary, but quickly picks up again on the far side.
NOTE: There should be a junction for the Rio Capulin Trail – Trail #158, but I saw no sign or trail leading up the creek.
After another .3 miles on the north side of the Rio Nambe, you will reach the signed junction for the Viejo Trail. Cross the creek and start climb up out of the valley.
After the first small climb, the Viejo Trail follows a small gulch for about 1/3 of a mile. Again, there are a few downed trees here, but none that make passage overly difficult.
After leaving the gulch, the trail contours around some smaller drainages before the final switchbacked climb to the ridge that divides the two streams. The first part of the descent into the en Medio drainage is steep and washed out but easy to follow. After that, the grade becomes easier, and the hike back to the junction with the Rio en Medio Trail is straight forward.
You will reach a signed junction once you are close to the creek. Go right, and after 1/4 mile, you will cross the creek and have completed the loop. Follow the trail downstream to return to your car.