Updated: Apr 23, 2021
Jemez Mountains in General – The western Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) is fully open. In the Jemez Mountains fishing, camping, hiking and scenic drives are all available – some exceptions being Fenton Lake State Park and all group campgrounds in the Jemez. Forest roads are open and all SFNF trails are open. We are in a drought, but recent rains lowered fire risk and Stage II fire restrictions have ended. Stream levels dropped precipitously this last month and water levels are low. The Table below summarizes access to Jemez public lands destinations:
Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic please respect New Mexico's outdoor guidance and wear a mask if near other people, don't congregate, keep a 6+ ft. personal distance, and carry and use hand sanitizer. Crowds in the Jemez are the largest in years – if you can make your trip during the week and/or early in the day do so. If I had to pick a Jemez adventure this August/September it would include a scenic drive and some river wading. Fishing is "Covid-19 average" (no stocked fish this year & heavily pressured natives) and primitive camping is widely available.
Hiking – This is a great time to hike in the Jemez, particularly in the morning when its cool. Some short hike highlights from the last month:
Trail #121 Spur provides access to the East Fork Jemez River just below the Valles Caldera and is in good shape. Parking is on the north side of NM 4 about a mile south of the Valle entrance. The key to this trail is to take the Spur going left just after the turnstile. Steep canyon is a beautiful riparian area, make sure to save enough energy to climb out. Round trip is ~2 miles, trail is steep.
FR 376 above NM 126 opened July 1, but the big news is the road is in the best shape its been in years. It’s a 4.3-mile 4WD drive to the San Antonio Hot Spring parking area, and a nice forest walk of ~1/2 mile to the spring.
In the Porter area trails leading to the Rio Guadalupe are great for taking a short hike to a fun wade in the river. All paths lead to the river between mile markers (MMs) 1 – 3, a good trail is found at MM 4, and trails from MM 7 – 9 lead to the Rio – all without a big climb and easy entry to the water.
Camping – All SFNF Jemez campgrounds (CGs) are open, with exception of group CGs. Dispersed (primitive) camping is available throughout the forest, and backpacking venues (wilderness areas and SFNF) are all open. Fire restrictions were lifted in mid-August, but we are heading into a new drought situation - please be careful with campfires. Some highlights from the last month:
Redondo Campground is open for tent and RV camping. Water and Vault toilets are on site and most southern Jemez points of interest (e.g. the VCNP) are very close.
Primitive camping is available throughout the forest, some great areas with good road access include; FR 36 near the FR 289 intersection, FR 100 near the FR 99 intersection, FR 144 above NM 126 for about 5 miles before the road gets rough, FR 378 above NM 126 for about 3 miles before the road gets rough, and FR 10 from 2 miles above Ponderosa to NM 4.
Backpacking is open throughout the Jemez’ public lands. As always camp at least 200 feet from trails or water and pack out what you pack in. Some trail areas are day use only – check signs at the trailhead to be sure. The northern trailheads on the SPPW have now all opened (e.g. San Jose Trail).
Scenic Drives – this is a great time to do a scenic drive in the Jemez – forest roads
are generally dry so some 2WD options are open, and its warm enough to get out
of the vehicle in short sleeves and tromp around or wade in Jemez waters. I have
been working on a Jemez Scenic Drives Map-Pac and verifying drives as I write.
Some that I would recommend for next month:
NM 4 from Jemez Springs to White Rock or Los Alamos is the best paved drive in the Jemez with many points of interest (e.g. San Diego Overlook, Jemez Falls, VCNP, Cerro Grande, East Fork Trailheads, BNM, Tsankawi ruins, and fishing/recreation access sites). Weekend traffic is heavy - most parking areas are full by 1 PM, plan accordingly
NM 96 across the northern edge of the Jemez Mountains from Cuba to Abiquiu is a gorgeous paved drive with access to northern forest roads such as FR 76. FR 103, FR 316, FR 100, RAC 194 and connecting to US 84. There are very few services (gas, food) after leaving Cuba or Abiquiu so go prepared. Enjoy the solace of the forest, there is little traffic here, even weekends are quiet in some northern Jemez areas.
FR-10 from Ponderosa to Sierra Los Pinos (at NM 4//FR 10 intersection) is a dirt road that is passable by 2WD vehicles except in wet or snowy conditions. Don’t try the side roads in 2WD, but FR 10 itself is a super drive with many places to get out of the car to explore and play.
As noted earlier the 4.3-mile drive to San Antonio Hot Springs on FR 376 (and the ½ mile walk) are well worth it. Beware of weekend crowds! As always go slow when it looks rough. Road is in better than usual condition.
NM 485 & FR 376 from NM 4 to NM 126 is Beth and my calibration drive – we do it 3-4 times a year! It is in excellent shape (with some washboard), and has some fenced conservation areas. It is always a pretty drive with lots of fun stops and wildflowers but can be crowded on weekends and holidays. Also a good area for primitive camping. 2WD vehicles drive it when dry - go slow.
FR-100 & FR-99 parallel Canones Creek canyon and are excellent forest roads that can be passed in 2WD in good weather. They can be used to access the Canones National Recreation Trail #82, eastern FR 144 to the Chihuahuenos and Polvadera watersheds, lots of primitive camping, and a totally open forest ready to discover.
The only targets are wild fish as there has still been no stocking of Jemez streams and Fenton Lake is still closed. This has made fishing more challenging as pressure increases with summer and Covid-dodging crowds. Its dry fly season and the brown and cutthroat trout are feeding on top. Some recent highlights/notes:
Rio San Antonio - continues to fish well for brown trout in the 8 - 13" range. Hot spots would include the Rincon to Dark Canyon section (rugged) on NM 4, above the NM 126 Bridge, and the Hot Springs area both up to the VCNP and down into the canyon. To fish the hot spring area take FR 376 (above NM 126) to the trailhead - the road is in the best shape I've seen it in 10 years. The river is a pleasant 1/2 mile walk. Michael and I fished it above NM 126 twice in late July and it fished well both times - go early and stay with the summer low water go-to - dry flies and short (6 - 12 inches) unweighted nymph or emerger droppers.
East Fork Jemez - is fishing fair from Battleship to just below the VCNP. Fish are particularly spooky in the low water – especially at Las Conchas Rec Area which gets a lot of pressure but still produces some nice browns. Michael and I fished it at the Trail #121 spur that leads to the river in about a 3/4 mile on August 4 (Tip - turn left immediately after the turnstile to reach the river). The river is very low and the few trout I saw were running away from me at light speed! There are lots of minnows - both trout and chubs - and the canyon is beautiful. The trailhead is on the NW side of NM 4 about a mi. below the VCNP.
Rio Guadalupe - like all Jemez streams, is VERY low. Fishing on August 6 was slow despite an early start in the Porter area. I got a few fish on a mayfly emerger used as a dropper behind a humpy dry fly, one was just under 12". Around 10 AM fishing waned so we decided to try the area impacted by the Peggy Mesa fire two years ago downstream of mile marker 7. Water was clear and cold (low 60's) and had better flows than at Porter, but there was lots of ash silt and no fish or insects were active. I think the lower Guadalupe (mile markers 2 - 7) is still recovering. Upstream of mile marker 7 the fishing right now is typical of the dog days of summer in a drought – fish early with dries and short droppers and focus on deeper (over a foot) water - the browns are there!
Regarding the two major Guadalupe tributaries:
The Rio Cebolla has fished well above the junction with the Guadalupe and is accessible for 1.8 miles upstream before the first conservation fencing. It looks like the beavers are back!
The Rio de Las Vacas below the Girl Scout Camp is on the verge of drying out for the first 2 – 3 miles above its’ Guadalupe junction. It can be fished from the GSA camp downstream for about 2 miles before the water gets to skinny to fish.
As always have a great day in the Jemez Mountains – you deserve it!