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Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico – Crater Rim Hike

Capulin Volcano National Monument is located in the High Plains of New Mexico in the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field. While driving home from Colorado my family and I stopped in to see this once active volcano and do some light hiking. From the visitor center you can drive up the 2 mile long paved road to the lower volcano rim. From there two paved hiking trails invite you to explore the volcano’s crater.

At the entrance to Capulin Volcano National Monument

 When I was little my family would drive past Capulin Volcano on our way to Colorado to ski. I always remember watching out the window of the car…dreaming of what the volcano was like. My dad, somewhat misleadingly, would always tell me “they let you go inside.” I imagined climbing down into the volcano’s shaft and standing on a ledge as I stared at the bubbling lava below. What my father really meant is you can hike down into the volcano’s crater. Which is just what my family and I did this trip.

This is exactly how I remember Capulin Volcano from my youth

 Once at the upper parking lot two trails let you explore the volcano. My family and I bundled up to protect us from the cold wind on top of the volcano. We hiked down the short (2/10 of a mile) paved Vent Trail to the bottom of the volcano’s crater. There we could see large deposits of lava rock that have plugged up the extinct volcano’s vent. My children were unimpressed, but my wife and I knew just how cool this was. We took in 360 degree views of the crater walls towering above us.

Hiking down the Vent Trail
View of the upper crater rim, and the plugged volcano vent in the lower right
Large deposits of lava rock and my cold wife
My youngest and me standing next to the volcano’s vent at the bottom of the crater

We hiked back up to parking lot were the rest of my family abandoned me for the warm car. I decided I would hike the Crater Rim Trail which promised a different 360 degree view of the surrounding area. The crater Rim Trail is a slightly longer (1 mile) paved trail that follows the upper ridge of the volcano’s crater. The rim is lower on one side because prevailing easterly winds blew volcanic debris westward building up the crater rim on that side. The parking lot rests on at the rims lowest point (7877 feet) from which the trail climbs 230 feet to the top of the rim (8107 feet). From the top you can see 8720 foot Sierra Grande, another volcano to the southeast, volcanic pressure ridges, which were formed when lava flowed underground rippling the ground above, and the distant Sangre de Cristo Mountain range in Colorado. It took me only 26 mins to hike the entire trail which occasional photo brakes.

The parking lot is at the lowest point along the craters rim at 7877 feet. This is were I began the Crater Rim Trail
Crater Rim Trail
Crater Rim Trail
Looking across to the north end of the Crater Rim
Looking down into the Crater from the rim. Sangre de Cristo Mountain range in the far distance
Another view of the Crater from above. You can see the plugged volcano vent
Great views along the Crater Rim Trail
Presure Ridges down below. These were formed when lava flowed under the hardened surface
Sierra Grande 8720 feet. Another volcano to the southeast.
One of the many views from the top of the rim. Snow capped Sangre de Cristo Mountain range in the distance

 Capulin Volcano has a total of 5 miles of trails with some of the trails following the volcano’s base. You won’t spend all day at Capulin Volcano..but if you ever happen to be passing by…it’s a wonderful short trip.

Crater Rim Trail

The Hike:
0.79 Miles (according to my GPS)
Starting Elevation: 7877 feet
Highest Elevation: 8,107 feet
Elevation Gain: 230 feet
Location: 36.781737º N 103.972193º W

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  • DeanO

    January 27, 2011

    What a beautiful hike and pictures

  • gumo

    January 28, 2011

    What a great hike. I've been to the area many times but never took the time to check it out. Next time I will, because of this post. Nice photos, to boot!

  • Griffis Family

    January 28, 2011

    We always stopped at Capulin on drives to/from CO and the northern Sangres of NM. The rim trail makes a nice, quick little jog when you've been cooped up in the car too long. In the late summer/early fall masses of ladybugs can sometimes be seen completely covering the rocks, juniper and pinyon.

  • Mama-Bug

    January 29, 2011

    Awesome photos. Haven't been to New Mexico since the late 60's. Maybe a future vacation destination after hubby retires.

  • Greg

    January 30, 2011

    That's a unique looking walk. Great photos as well!

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