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My Life Outdoors

Sitting Bull Falls, New Mexico

Since I moved out to West Texas and was introduced to the Guadalupe Mountains, I have wanted to visit Sitting Bull Falls. The Guadalupe Mountains form the highest mountains in Texas and are the focus of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The mountains extend into New Mexico creating the Guadalupe District of Lincoln National Forest. In this “forest” is a rare desert stream that cascades 130 feet over Sitting Bull Falls.

Sitting Bull Falls

 We decided we would head out for a day trip and see the falls. The Family and I woke up early and drove northwest toward Carlsbad NM. As we approached the Desert Mountains I was excited to see the National Forest come into view. As we entered the Lincoln National forest I wondered “where are all the trees?” On the Texas side of the Guadalupe Mountains the high altitudes create a sky island that supports a dense forest of pine, oaks, and maples. I expected the same along this stretch of the range, but as you head further north the trees all seems to fade away. The Guadalupe District, unlike the Sacramento and Smokey Bear districts, is hardly a forest. At least when describing the area around sitting bull falls.

The Guadalupe District of Lincoln National Forest lacks a few trees

I pushed this out of my mind and unloaded the family at the picnic area. It was barely 9:00 am when we took the short paved trail to the base of the falls. Sitting Bull spring, which feeds the falls, is a strong spring. This area has suffered extreme drought with no measurable rain fall for the last 6 months. Even with so little rain, the falls were still flowing. We played around below the falls until it was time for lunch. After which we followed Trail 68 to Sitting Bull Spring.

Sitting Bull Falls

A Cascade below the Falls

Sitting Bull Creek below the Falls
Canyon Walls across from the Falls
Small Cascade below the falls
Sitting Bull Creek below the Falls

Following the trail you climb 130 feet to the top of the falls. There you are greeted by two beautiful and deep pools of near freezing water. We stopped only for a moment before continuing along the trail. Before long we had reached a fence with an s-gate. The ranger told us about a small grotto just off trail near the gate. We went to investigate. Heading down hill from the s-gate we soon found the small grotto. We stopped to sit in the cool shade before continuing on to the spring.

Hiking up above the Falls
A few small pools above the falls
At the top of Sitting Bull Falls
Pools above the Falls
Trail 68
Looking back toward the hidden falls along Trail 68
S-Gate along Trail 68
The Grotto above Sitting Bull Falls
Investigating the Grotto
Sitting in the shade of the Grotto above Sitting Bull Falls

Not even 100 yards past the grotto we came to the spring. It was difficult to tell the exact source due to thick riparian vegetation along the creek. We stopped in the shade of the creek-side trees and dipped our feet in the cool water.

Sitting Bull Spring?
Cascade above the Falls

All in all the hike is a short enjoyable hike along a rare desert stream. The main draw is the falls at the beginning of the trail and most people will spend their time there. This is a very popular area and will be crowded on most weekends. If you wish to swim or wade, I recommend climbing above the falls to the two small pools. It is more likely you will have this area to yourself…but no guarantees. The further upstream you hike the less people you will see.

The well developed picnic area at Sitting Bull Falls
A different view of Sitting Bull Falls
Looking down from above the falls

Additional Information:
Sitting Bull Falls is Day-Use only
Open October 1 – Martch 31: 8:30am to 5:00pm
 and April 1 – September 30: 8:30am to 6:00 pm
Incoming Gate closes 30 minutes before closing time.
$5 per vehicle per day

High Quality Map of the Lincoln National Forest Guadalupe District including Sitting Bull Falls. Buy it through the link below and help support MyLifeOutdoors.

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  • Mama-Bug

    April 14, 2011

    What a beautiful place to hike. It's been a long time since I've been in that part of the country and I'd forgotten how unique it is. Great photos!

  • Griffis Family

    April 18, 2011

    Great pictures. The trees in the LNF portion of the Guads are up on top. Down in some of the canyons in the highlands are remains of Douglas fir 3 ft or more in diameter.

    Try going back to Sitting Bull Falls some time and walking up Last Chance Canyon to the springs. It's quite spectacular through there.

    I believe Sitting Bull Spring was still up a bit from where you were. It is boxed in concrete and hard to mistake.

  • Steven

    April 18, 2011


    Unique is a good word for it. Sometimes I wish I was in your part of the country.


    Thanks for the info! Knowing that kind of makes me irritated with the ranger. I asked him about the spring and he said that it could be anywhere around there. Had I known I would have kept going till I found it.

  • Eugene Smith

    April 18, 2011

    I still need to make my way to Sitting Bull, the Guadalupes are a gem.

  • ZSandmann

    April 20, 2011

    I just found your blog and it is great! We moved to Midland, TX and will be taking our first trip to the Guads this weekend for National Parks Week. Alas, Sitting Bull Falls are not on the agenda for this trip but I am sure we will be making the trip many times over the next few years. This trip will be Carlsbad Caverns and summiting Guadalupe Peak.

  • ZSandmann

    April 25, 2011

    We actually did make it up to Sitting Bull Falls but just a few minutes before they closed for the day. Also there is a $5 per vehicle entry fee. Perfectly reasonable for the spot but something I didn't know about going in. Also, also, the Last Chance Fire started up near there saturday night while we were camping in Pine Spring, sounds pretty bad and all because of some careless hikers that started a camp fire.

  • Anonymous

    April 27, 2011

    Last Chance fire appears to have run through the Sitting Bull Falls area. 40,000 acres burned to date. http://nmfireinfo.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/las-chance-fire-fact-sheet-4242011-630-pm/

  • Jean

    November 7, 2011

    I have loved the beauty of Sitting Bull Falls for over 20 years. Everytime I have been there it has looked different and even more beautiful and has always brought me such happiness. It just soothes the soul. There are so many wild animals that live near there and depend on the water and sometimes in the evening you could see them coming to the spring to drink. In April the fire that was begun by a person, who left a campfire burning, completely decimated this oasis. I did not know until June when my daughter and her husband went to New Mexico to see the falls again. The Park Ranger told them why the falls were shut down and what happened. They called me and broke the news and I have mourned the loss of this old friend. I cannot believe someone would start a campfire in a drought, when burning is banned and the whole southwest is a tenderbox. I am just heartbroken as I know so many others are. I cherish all of my photos of Sitting Bull Falls. For years the first thing I see when I turn on my computer is one of those photos as my screensaver. Your pictures are so much better than mine and I am glad to have found them and have enjoyed the story and photos so much. SBF RIP. I will miss you-Your old friend-Jean

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