Distance: 8 miles
Water: Water available in Red Canyon and from Spruce Spring
Season: Spring, Summer Fall
Trail Condition: Good
Few hikes in the Manzanos are all that spectacular, and this is no exception, but it does offer a pleasant loop hike with some good views over the Rio Grande Valley.
From the Moriarty exit on I-40, take NM-41 south to Estancia. On the south side of Estancia, turn right (west) on NM-55. Follow NM-55 to the small town of Manzano where you will bear right onto NM-131. From here, you can follow signs to Red Canyon. Take a right at the sign for Manzano State Park, and after three miles, there will be another fork. Go right. This road will soon dead end at the campground. Park in the trailhead lot and begin your hike from there.
Pick up the trail on the west side of the parking lot. Follow this trail, passing the campground below you. Once past the campground, you will reach a junction for Red Canyon Trail – Trail #89 and Spruce Spring Trail #189. You can do the loop in either direction, but I have always opted for counter clockwise, following Trail #189 to the right.
The Spruce Spring Trail acts as one large switchback, slowly climbing to the small saddle at the junction with the Manzano Crest Trail – Trail #170. Over the first mile, the trail climbs slowly, if at all. It wraps around into a canyon to the north, at which point it begins to climb at a slightly steeper clip, but is still relatively easy walking.
You will enter the Wilderness after about 2 miles, marked by a small metal sign. The first 2.5 miles of the trail are in very good condition. Over the final mile to the crest, there are a few trees down, but they are fairly easy to bypass.
Just as the first downed trees appear, you will also pass Spruce Spring to the right. A new sign marks the 50 yard trail that ends at the spring. This is the only water source until you reach Red Canyon.
After passing the spring, it is about 1/2 mile to the grassy saddle where the Spruce Spring Trail meets the Crest Trail. At the junction, turn left onto Trail #170 at the signed junction.
The next mile is one of the steepest of the entire hike as you climb the northern flanks toward Gallo Peak. Be sure to look back to get views of Trigo Canyon, just a few miles to the north. Also, enjoy the subalpine fir forest that has replaced the pinyon and oak forest from earlier in the hike. Unfortunately, there are a number of downed trees in this section. Most of them are fairly easy to bypass, but at least one required getting on hands and knees.
After some switchbacks, the grade eases a bit as it wraps around the east side of the peak to the north. This is where you can leave the trail to make the final climb up to Gallo Peak. Where the trail bypasses the peak and before it descends toward Red Canyon is the easiest place to access Gallo Peak.
There is no official trail, but at points a faint path appears and disappears. It is a steep 1/3 mile to reach the grass open peak. These are the best views of the hike. To the west, is the Rio Grande Valley. To the north, the Capilla Peak Observatory and to the east, the plains of eastern New Mexico.
Returning to the trail, try to stay on a similar path, but because the Crest Trail wraps around the peak on the east and west, you should have no problem hitting the trail even if your route down becomes a little askew.
Once back on the trail, it slowly descends to another grassy saddle and sign marking the junction with the Red Canyon Trail – Trail #89, which cuts back hard to the left. Trail #89 descends steeply toward the bottom of the canyon – much steeper and more sustained than any other section of trail. After descending for a short while, the trail turns south and switchbacks down to the bottom of the canyon. Shortly after water will begin flowing and for the majority of the rest of the trail will be a good, reliable source.
You will cross out of the Wilderness after 1.5 miles. Soon after that, you’ll pass a series of cascades along the trail, and not much longer, the creek goes dry. After making a final crossing to the north side of the wash, you will be on the final stretch
The trail will pop out at the top of the campground. From here it’s just about 100 yards back to the parking lot.