Jemez Mountains in General – The western Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF)
entered Stage 1 Fire Restrictions in late May. Fire Danger is HIGH. The biggest
man-made cause of forest fires is poorly extinguished campfires. Over Mother’s
Day the Forest Service found 30 campfires still burning after they were vacated!
The following are NOT ALLOWED during Stage 1 Fire Restrictions:
Non-permissible fireworks as defined by State and County ordinances at your home, public or County land or open space(s) are prohibited.
Sky lanterns are prohibited.
Campfires at all dispersed camping sites and undeveloped campgrounds or any County open space(s) and or public lands are prohibited.
Normally the following activities require an approved permit of use through the Fire Marshal. The following permits WILL NOT be issued:
1) Open burning (slash piles, yard waste).
2) Bonfire permits.
The Jemez Mountains are too beautiful to burn due to human carelessness – please do not be a forest destroyer – be a forest friend and be fire-conscious.
Recent and coming highlights/overview in the Jemez outdoors:
The dry (dispersed) camping season is here! Park along a forest road and set up camp! Leave no trace, pack out what you pack in, and stay for less than 14 days. NO CAMPFIRES while dry camping in Stage 1.
Stocked trout fishing in the Jemez in June was fair to good. The only stocked stream is currently the Rio Cebolla, and this will probably be the case until fall. Fenton Lake is fishing poor to fair but expect weed growth as summer progresses. The lake was last stocked in early June. As weather warms fishing early and late in the day will help.
San Gregorio Lake, sadly, will not be stocked this year.
Fishing for wild brown and cutthroat trout should be good through most of July thanks to recent rains but will probably get tougher unless we get a strong monsoon in July.
Most organized Jemez SFNF campgrounds (CGs) are open, the exception being Cochiti Lake campgrounds which remain closed due to Covid.
Scenic drives are at their early summer best. FR 376 north of NM 126 (the route to San Antonio Hot Springs) opened July 1. This cuts the hike to the hot springs from 5-miles down to 1/2 mile.
NM 126 is open and graded, but still should be avoided when wet.
The Table below summarizes access to popular Jemez public lands:
Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic please respect New Mexico's outdoor guidance. Crowds in the Jemez are growing as summer weather begins in earnest. If you can make your trip during the week and/or early in the day do so – you will be amazed by the quiet.
Alan’s July Picks:
If I were to pick a Jemez adventure for July it would include a scenic drive in the central Jemez such as FR 103, FR 376, or FR 144 (4WD). For a hike try the San Antonio Hot Springs trail - its only a mile round trip with the opening of FR 376 above NM 126. This hike provides hot spring soaks and access to fishing and hiking above and below the hot springs. Another hike would be the Hal Baxter Memorial trail in Fenton Lake State Park.
A fishing adventure would center on the RioGuadalupe – particularly through mid-month. The Rio San Antonio above and below San Antonio Hot Springs should fish well
all month. The Rio Puerco is a fun fishing stop along FR 103 - but stay low and make no sudden moves – these wild browns are spooky. Dry flies are the best bet in these drainages in July, and fishing early or late in the day can make a big difference. Try #14 adult caddis or a #14 or #16 Humpy or Stimulator with an unweighted #16 Hare’s Ear dropper of about 12 – 16”. Tricos are hatching early mornings on most streams, size #20- #24.
Hiking – I tried the Hal Baxter Memorial Trail in Fenton State Park at the end of June.
Keeping to the trail sections below the dam it is a beautiful mixed forest and meadow trail that follows the Rio Cebolla. There are two trail access points below the dam:
Parking near the Boat Launch take the trail to the dam.
Crossing the dam and going through the Group Camping Area leads to the Lake Fork Road – turn right and in less than1/2 mile and see sign in photo at right on the right side of road. Take it – this the forest branch of the trail.
Go over/around the dam and see a trail below the front of the dam that crosses the outflow of the Cebolla. Turn right shortly after crossing the outflow to follow the upper meadow branch.
Both Branches meet at a small bridge over a spring run which is shown in the photo below.
One can also park on Lake Fork Road to access the forest branch. There are parking areas at 0.2- and 0.3-miles from NM 126 (photo right below). The trailhead is at 0.4 miles on the right (sign photo above. This is a 4WD road.
Hot Springs are open:
Commercial – The Bath House and Jemez Hot Springs are both open in Jemez Springs. These fee hot springs are the Jemez’ hottest.
Spence Hot Springs. This spring has good parking off NM 4 and a maintained steep trail of about 0.6 miles one way. Can be crowded.
Mc Cauley Warm Springs can be reached by hiking the East Fork Trail from Battleship or the Falls Trail in Jemez Falls Park, both are 3+ mi.
San Antonio Hot Springs – reached from FR-376 (north of NM 126). Parking is 4.4 miles in (4WD) on right. From here the trail to the hot springs is an easy (and beautiful)1/2 mile walk one-way.
Scenic Drives – A cool 4WD scenic drive is up FR 144 north of NM 126. This 4WD road typically has some washboard in the first few miles but smooths out a bit after that. There are many pullouts to dispersed camp sites and/or scenic overlooks. My favorite stop on FR 144 is at 6.5 miles in where an overlook on the right provides a view of the VCNP and the Rio San Antonio at a point about 1 – 2 miles above its namesake hot spring – one of the best scenic views in the Jemez Spence Hot Spring (this is the back cover photo of the Famous Jemez Drives map-pack). FR 144 continues to the northwest corner of the VCNP then turns east to high country. A few miles after this point the road turns BAD - I do not recommend going further. There is a side road of interest – FR 378 goes southwest from FR 144 at about 2 –
3 miles in from NM 126. This is a SERIOUS 4WD road, but if you are confident in your 4WD driving it can be a fun route. It crosses the Rio Cebolla at a bridge just before it intersects NM 126 about a mile above Fenton Lake and has a lot of dry (dispersed) camping.
Another great scenic drive in the central Jemez Mountains is FR-103. It is most easily reached
from Cuba on the paved portion of NM 126 – the left turn (north) to FR 103 is well marked and 2WD. It can also be reached from La Cueva but involves a 4WD section of NM 126. At 10.3 miles up FR-103 Teakettle rock is on the right – please be respectful – this is private land
and access is generously granted by the owners.
Continuing up FR-103 the Rio Puerco is a great picnic spot with decent fishing for brown trout. There is an interesting loop drive on FR 93 that can be accessed above the campground on the left – this
is a 4WD road – but worth it for the Resumidero waterfall and the access to SPPW trailheads.
Fishing – Stocking of triploid Rainbow trout will wind down in July as water warms from summer heat and drought. The Rio Cebolla may be stocked in July if water temperatures permit, but most other Jemez streams will not be stocked again until fall.
Fenton Lake gets cold water from the Rio Cebolla and will fish poor to fair for remnant stockers (last rainbow stocking in early June, some Rio Grande Cutthroats were stoked June 30) ) and a few browns through mid-July thanks to recent rains. Weed growth and the New Mexico sun typically take their toll on the fishing by the end of the month. Fenton is typically too warm to stock in July and August, but if the rains keep coming this could change – watch the stocking report at jemezcentral.com or the NMDGF site. Sadly, it has been announced that San Gregorio Lake will not be stocked this year – effectively cutting lake fishing options in the Jemez in half!
The best stream fishing in July will be for Brown trout – particularly in the Rio Guadalupe drainage The Guadalupe itself will be the star in July. The lower river is recovering from the Peggy Mesa fire below mile-marker 7, and fishing is slowly improving in the lower river. The upper river is fishing well and should stay that way through July. This is some of the best dry fly fishing in the Jemez in high summer. Fish early with #14 - #16 attractor patterns (Humpies, Adams, elk hair caddis, etc.) and if you are being reasonably stealthy the fish will cooperate. I do not fish much in the late PM but would expect it to be good also.
The upper Rio de Las Vacas along FR 20 will fish fair for a while yet – it fished well in June with decent water levels, but its fishing will start to wane without strong summer rainfall. The lower Cebolla (below the lake) will fish fair to good in July with lots of brown trout looking up. The restricted area on the lower Cebolla starts 1.8 miles upstream from the Guadalupe/Cebolla junction at Porter. This section has some nice beaver ponds and fishes well during the week but gets crowded some weekends. Accurate casting counts as the Rio is narrow (2’-3’) and deep (2’-3’) but produces some nice brown trout for the stealthy angler.
Fishing for Cutthroats in the upper Rio Cebolla, the Rio Frijoles, Capulin, Cañones, Chihuahueños, the Polvadera creeks, and San Pedro Parks Wilderness (SPPW) streams will slow in July and fish spookiness will increase if water levels are low. Our recent rains have been very encouraging and may signal a good summer for cutthroats – let us hope!
Some recent fishing trips:
The Rio Guadalupe had good water levels in June and was clear. Brown trout fishing in the upper Rio (above mile-marker 7) was fair to good in mid-June. I started with a dropper in early AM but cut it off by 8:30 AM as all hits were on the dry. My approach here is to start at Porter and walk downstream for a mile or so using the gate access on the right about 200 yards above (north) of Porter bridge. The trail is on an old roadbed and easy to walk. This often involves some bushwhacking to go the 15 – 50 feet from the road to the river – watch for thorn bushes. Once in the river I start flicking dry flies to every spot with any depth (e.g., over a foot deep) and I keep moving, skipping shallow water and the frog water created by tourist-made rock dams. Occasionally there are a few Rio Grande cutthroats in this upper river area – please be gentle to them. I usually fish up to and under the Porter bridge finishing near the Cebolla Junction.
Michael and I fished the Rio San Antonio above NM 126 in late June, hiking in about 2 miles north. Fishing was fair to good with any dry fly in the #14 - #16 range. Tricos were hatching in the early morning with a lot of fish rising – I had not changed back to my Jemez fly boxes after a trip to the Gila Wilderness and had no small dries. I like to fish a #20 - #24 House and Lot when Tricos are out – but not that day! Between us we caught around a dozen small browns between 7:30 and 11 AM, but none over 11 inches.
Camping – As noted earlier dry camping is open along most forest roads. Perennial dry/dispersed camping favorites include FR 376 south of NM 126, FR- 20, FR 10, FR 100, FR 99, FR 534, FR 533, FR 289, and FR 36. Notes:
Organized SFNF campgrounds are now all open, and Fenton Lake State Park campground is also open.
Fenton Lake campground – reservations at https://newmexicostateparks.reserveamerica.com/.
SFNF and COE campgrounds: Redondo, Jemez Falls, San Antonio, Vista Linda, Paliza, Corps of Engineers (COE) campground Riana (Abiquiu Lake). Reservations at www.fs.usda.gov/santafe and select recreation.
COE campgrounds at Cochiti Lake (Cochiti and Tetilla Peak) continue to be closed due to Covid, but this could change in July – check the website.
Backpacking in SFNF is open, also in the SPPW. Bandelier National Monument backcountry permits can be obtained by phone (505-672-3861 Ext 0), which is also a good number for trail conditions in the Bandelier Wilderness.
As always have a great day in the Jemez Mountains – you deserve it!