New Maps for the Northern New Mexico Loop


The Google Map below shows the current (2015) route layout for the conceptual Northern New Mexico Loop. Click the white ‘layers’ box at top-left on the map for an interactive list of trail segments, alternate routes, and a few points-of-interest along the way (all of which are most easily viewed in full-screen map mode; click the appropriate icon on the right side of the map header bar for this).


The main route – in red – is organized by “trail segments,” with each segment covering the distance between two resupply locations. If one were dedicated to thru-hiking the full loop in springtime, a clockwise hike out of Santa Fe would be the order of the day, which is how the loop is described. In autumn, one could probably thru-hike in either direction, although counter-clockwise would tackle the highest terrain in the first half of the trek – useful if starting on the late side.

As is evident here, the main route is also a happy slave to the best terrain along the way, convoluted at times though the journey may be. This is actually an improvement over the route as originally envisioned. It’s a mere 500 mile hike, after all, so what about all the meandering. Why not take the time to savor it? You’ll end up right back where you started regardless.

On the topic of alternate routes – depicted in blue on the map – there are a whole host of these now, which fall roughly into the following categories:

“True” alternates – hike “here” for a while, instead of “there,” for a change of pace and a different perspective.

“Cutoffs” – a favorite values-inflected talking point especially among CDT hikers, these avoid some of the convolutions in the main route, increasing efficiency, but potentially at cost in terms of making the very best memories.

“Bypasses” – i.e., to skip something, optionally, like an exposed summit in bad weather.

“Spurs” – out and back, baby, whether to town or to summit.

And finally “links.” The map shows just one of these, the Vulture Link, which connects the Northern New Mexico Loop with the Grand Enchantment Trail at Sandia Crest. This represents the biggest change, is entirely new (although a few hellbent hikers have tried various connections before), and now makes a whole bunch of stuff possible. The Vulture Link (there’s a good story behind the name, but mostly a good guy and fellow long-distance route enthusiast with vast knowledge of the region and to whom I’m indebted) really helps to anchor the Northern New Mexico Loop conceptually, lending it some additional raison d’etre, as outlined in the previous blog post here.

We think the humble little NNM Loop stands on its own, and is best experienced in full fashion out of Santa Fe Plaza. Others may disagree while possessing far greater ambition and a poignant, far-flung gaze. All well and good – the Vulture Link and NNM Loop will see these folks between the GET and CDT and onward to whatever distant horizons may beckon.

Use this Google Map for entertainment purposes and general information, but probably don’t try to hike with it. For this I’m working on a CalTopo (topographic) page-by-page mapset, along with a companion databook, available later this fall – well in time for hikers next spring with any luck.

24 comments on “New Maps for the Northern New Mexico Loop

  1. Can you post the mileages? I’m particularly interested in the mileage from Santa Fe Plaza to the Ski Basin, and then to where the route intersects highway 518. Thanks!


  2. Very interested in a clockwise hike late may/early june. Any chance you still have that caltopo mapset available? I was looking for something to fill the gap between an mid-April/May AZT and a July sobo start on the PCT. This interesting loop seems to fit the bill.

    • Hi Kat. I just sent you a link to the mapset. The databook feature remains a work in progress. Looks like a handful of folks may be on the Loop this spring. Glad to have you aboard.

  3. Just a general note, as of early April (’17) we’re out hiking and are unavailable to approve new comments or send mapsets until this summer. We have a small but healthy number of proactive-minded hikers planning to thru-hike the loop this spring / summer, the route is still in its infancy, we appreciate the interest from folks but should probably take it slow and steady for a while. Thanks to all and happy trails.

  4. Hi Brett,
    I have been hiking the nnml this June and July counter clockwise. I had completed the trail to the northern crossing of the Rio and decided to skip the crossing and hiking over to San Antonio peak (not a strong swimmer and didn’t want to invest in a raft, plus getting my dog across- red river was difficult for her). When I resumed to hike over San Antonio was met with no trespassing signs on your new route. When I contacted tres piedras ranger station they said that that route was private and you could no longer access the summit (one could only hike 3/4 of the way up). Ranger gave me very strong advice about not accessing summit. I found this very interesting as I also noted that Phil Robinson of peakbaggers website had contacted Carson nf at the end of June and he said there were no restrictions besides avoiding private property on east side. Just wondered if you were aware or had any additional info.
    Hope to continue but will circumnavigate around the peak for now.
    Thanks for the great route. I have lived in Santa Fe for 10 years and hiked many areas of the route but quite a few were new to me- It’s been beautiful and challenging. Hope to finish it at some point in near future.
    Thanks for all your research and putting route together-

    • Hi Jennie. What a nice surprise to know that you were also out on the route this spring, as Treehugger and I started clockwise in late May. We may have just missed each other somehow. We had trouble with the first Rio crossing out of Santa Fe, but by the time we reached the Rio Grande del Norte it was low enough to safely cross. As for San Antonio, I am aware of the signs but the only legal issue appears to the private parcel below the national forest boundary on the east side, which is entirely off-limits west of the first signed gate off the highway. Previously I had been told the road was a right-of-way, but this is only for official business on the mountain. Because of this closure, the entire road is effectively closed for vehicle traffic, however the road within the national forest is apparently public just like the surrounding land. It’s our public land after all. What the route needs, then, is a cross-country connection from the eastern forest boundary out to the highway, and this shouldn’t be hard to come by given the open nature of the landscape. In any case, the route has a number of changes in the works, based on our explorations this spring. (For one, we found an actual trail on the west side of San Antonio so no more need for steep cross-country travel there). I’m hoping to have maps and GPS info updated for next year. In the meantime, you should be fine with the existing maps, continuing west toward the CDT and beyond. Be prepared for a number of blowdown-intensive areas along the CDT (unless they’ve received a work crew by the time you arrive), and then again just south of the CDT in the San Pedro Parks. There was also a smallish new fire in the Jemez along the East Fork Trail, but that may be reopened again by the time you pass through. In any case, thanks again for giving the Northern Loop a go and I’m glad it’s been a rewarding adventure so far!

  5. Hi! GREAT route! I’d love to get the mapset too if that’s still available — planning on knocking out some sections this spring.

  6. Thanks folks. Leave a quick blurb here and we’ll try to hook folks up with maps. Very dry winter this year. Will probably be high fire danger and lower than normal water availability throughout northern New Mexico this spring / early summer.

  7. May I also access to the NNML map set? I’m a Norteño and I just discovered this loop while looking for summer hiking ideas. I may be able to start next week!

  8. Hi Brett,
    I’ve lived in Albuquerque my whole life and am fascinated with your Northern New Mexico Loop! I NEED to hike it next year. May I please have a link to the mapset?
    Happy hiking!

  9. Hey Brett,
    My first time seeing New Mexico was a few summers ago on a road trip when a friend and I happen to read a cool article about the mountains surrounding Toas. That was awesome. I haven’t been back to that part of NM since then and have thought about how great it would if there was route through there. Anyway I could get a copy of the NNML map set?
    Also, it seems you cut out info on the link you had mapped between Albuquerque and the Santa fe. Say it ain’t so….
    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s