Distance: 8 miles (out and back)
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Trail Conditions: Good, On a jeep track for majority of trail
Cerro Pedernal is a New Mexico icon. With its tilted flat top visible throughout northern New Mexico and best known as Georgia O’Keefe’s favorite subject, Pedernal is a must climb for anyone who has spent a significant time in the Land of Enchantment. A straight forward hike with a twist at the end, Pedernal holds some hidden treasures beyond the fabulous views.
From Abiquiu, follow US 84 north, climbing the steep cliff side overlooking the Rio Chama. Turn left onto NM-96 at the turnoff marked for Abiquiu Dam. Cross over the dam and continue on NM-96 until the town of Youngsville. Just before entering the town, as the speed limit is reduced to 45mph, look for the left turn onto Forest Road 100. Follow this well-graded road until just after the 5 mile mark where there will be a left turn into a small meadow. Park here, to begin the hike.
The road you have parked at is FR 160. Follow the road up the small drainage to the right. After 3/4 miles the road will cross over the drainage climb up a small bench, continuing to follow the drainage upstream.
After about 1/3 miles, the trail drops downhill the cross another small drainage to the left and continues to wrap around a second small tributary before climbing again. About half way up this small hill, pieces of flint begin to emerge in the jeep track varying in array of white, red, gray and black colors.
The trail wraps around another curve, passing an old road blocked by a dirt berm and climbs to a small saddle before dropping slightly. The trail then levels out and wraps into another side canyon, climbing slightly. Just before reaching a sharp left turn, another road comes in steeply from the right.
Take this sharp right turn to climb steeply up hill. This stretch is steep, but the trail flattens out again on a small bench that offers views of the Sange de Cristo to the southeast.
The trail climbs another steep rocky pitch before flattening out one last time in a pretty ponderosa forest that quickly gives way to a series of meadows. From this point, you will have good views of the final pitch up to Pedernal.
But first, you must wrap around to the west side of the peak where you will leave the jeep trail and make your final ascent. Continue to follow the sometimes faded jeep track through the series of meadows.
When the trail curves to the right as it climbs up, just past the west side of the summit butte, leave the trail before it reaches the top of the hill. You may be able to discern a wide, messy path that quickly narrows into an easy to follow singletrack. If it’s not immediately apparent, look for cairns that mark the lower part of the trail.
Once on this singletrack, follow it as it switchbacks steeply up this final pitch to the base of the basalt cliffs. The trail is in good condition, and despite how steep it is, the footing on this part makes the climbing easy.
As you near the base of the cliff, you will cross a small scree slope. Once at the base of the cliff, the trail follows it east on the south side of the butte for a 150 yards. Eventually, you will cross under a dead tree and pass between the cliff and a juniper tree on your right. Just past this tree is the steep scramble to the top that is the linchpin of this hike.
If you have experience boldering or rock climbing, the 15 foot pitch with plenty of hand and footholds will prove to be no obstacle. However, if you have some fear of heights, this could make a perfectly good turnaround point.
From atop the steep pitch, the trail is loose, but well defined and straight forward walking to the top.
From the peak, enjoy views looking over the red rock Abiquiu valley. Try to pick out Ghost Ranch on the opposite side of the lake and admire the view looking from the northern edge of the Valles Caldera to the snow covered peaks of southern Colorado. Also, be sure to think of Georgia O’Keefe, whose ashes were scattered atop Pedernal.
Be sure to note where you reached the summit plateau for the route down.
NOTE: Cerro Pedernal’s dirty secret is that this route can be driven nearly the entire way. With an high clearance, off-road capable vehicle, it is possible to drive the entire route until the end of the meadows.