Rio Grande del Norte National Monument Highpoint Trip Report

Date: September 30, 2013
Author: John Mitchler

General Description: Located in north central New Mexico just south of the Colorado border, this large symmetric volcano provides a steep bushwhack through rocky meadows with open pine and aspen forest to an eastside liner highpoint at the edge of BLM and USFS property to the west.

Distance: 1.7 miles one-way
Difficulty: Steep bushwhack
Elevation gain: 1,830 feet
Summit elevation: 10,200 feet
Maps: DeLorme page 16, USGS topo
Access/permits: Open / None required
Best months: Year-round, although snow in winter and hot in summer.
Visitor Centers: Wild Rivers Recreation Area, 20 minutes from Questa (10am-6pm);
Rio Grande Gorge, one mile south of Orilla Verde Recreation Area in Pilar at
NM 570 / NM 68 junction (9am-4pm May-Oct, 10am-2pm Nov-Apr).

Highpoint Description: An open meadow on the side of a large forested volcano.

Finding the trailhead:

From Colorado, drive south on US 285, and 5.3 miles south of the CO-NM border
pass CR 118 on your right (west). Continue almost 4 more miles south to a
viewing area pullout on your left (east).
Park here at the base of San Antonio Mountain.

Trailhead coordinates are WGS84 datum (36.86267° N, 105.97111° W).

Key points along the hike:

0.0   viewing area pullout
0.0   US 285
0.5   lower tree line
1.7   highpoint

The hike:

Cross US 285, passing through an opening in the fence line, and proceed up the even slope, staying to the left (south) of the drainage. Hike up rock-strewn grassy meadows and reach the lower edge of the tree line and follow the easiest path among aspen and pines.

The highpoint is in open terrain, with sparse pines downhill and thicker aspen to the right (north). The highpoint location along the ridge at the unmarked north-south boundary of sections 4 (BLM land) and 5 (USFS land). GPS is better to use than topo map.

If you continue uphill for 40 vertical feet, you’ll come to a 500 foot wide, relatively flat nose which is obvious on the topo. Continue another 100 feet uphill in about a quarter mile and find a north-south gravel road which follows the contour to a tower facility. Turn left (south) on this road (FS 418A) for ½ mile and turn right (west) on another gravel road (FS 418) which takes you steeply to the summit of San Antonio Mountain (BM San Antone 10,908 feet, a P2k for you prominence folks). This road gains almost 500 feet over ¾ mile.

As you hike west from US 285, stay clear of the private property in section 9 to the left (south). Do not ascend FR 418 through here. Leave a wide berth around the radio tower facilities at several locations on the mountain.

It is possible to ascend the mountain's west side off FR 118 to a stock pond (shown on the topo), reach San Antonio’s summit, and descend gravel FR 418 to the southeast and contour along FR 418A to its end to the north, and bushwhack down to the highpoint, all on USFS land. The gain and distance are greater than the route directly up from US285 as described above (2,826 feet and 9 miles round-trip instead of 1,830 feet with 3.2 miles round-trip).

Summit coordinates are WGS84 datum (36.86184° N, 106.00120° W).

About the park:

This national monument was created in March 2013 and its 242,500 acres are managed by the BLM. It serves the lower San Luis Valley basin in New Mexico and offers bicycling, boating, camping, fishing, hunting, and off-highway vehicle roads.

Camping and services:

Camping is available at Wild Rivers and Orilla Verde. Limited services are available along US 285 in Tres Piedras, NM about 20 miles south and in Antonito, CO about 15 miles north. Full services are available in Alamosa, CO about 1 hour north and in Taos, NM about 1 hour southeast.