“Experience the park from above ground along this loop of three trails and a short section of the Desert Loop Road.”
— Zander Göpfert
This is a moderate loop that samples the terrain found throughout the surface of the park, with easy access from Desert Loop Road only a couple miles from the visitor center.
Need to Know
This trail is dry and exposed. Bring lots of water and protection from the sun (hat, long-sleeves, and/or sunscreen).
To access the trailhead from the visitor center, head west on the Desert Loop Road for a couple miles toward marker #9. Here, you'll find a small parking area and the trailhead for the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail
in the back right corner (northwest).
Start the trail as it tracks to the northwest, descending through the desert shrubland and the numerous species of cactus, shrub, and grass. Look for the common "banana yucca" (Yucca baccata) with its rosette shape of leaf blades curving upward and inward. The common name comes from the short, green fruit that resembles small bananas, which were harvested, prepared, and eaten by the Apache and Navajo. Yuccas are also the State flower of New Mexico.
After a few hundred yards, the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail
will begin to bend to the left (west) around the contour of a canyon bluff before switchbacking down along the wall toward the wash below. This section is fairly steep and loose, but the switchbacks make it more manageable. Near the bottom of this side canyon, the trail swings to the other side and follows the contour to the canyon floor where the Upper Rattlesnake Canyon
and Rattlesnake Canyon Trail
Here, stay to the right onto the Upper Rattlesnake Canyon
trail and bear right again to head due north up the wash. Follow the wash as it snakes up the canyon until mile 2.20 where the trail heads rather steeply to the right up the toe of the canyon wall. If you miss the turn, the next bend of the wash is a big hairpin that almost completely circles back on itself, but keep an eye on your Hiking Project mobile app
and you won't miss it.
After climbing out of the canyon, continue to the north and east just above a smaller wash to your right (east), connecting back to the Guadalupe Ridge Trail
. This doubletrack is no longer open to motor vehicles but its wide tread is hard to miss and provides a nice path to hike alongside another person. Turn right onto the Guadalupe Ridge Trail
as it heads east and winds gradually downhill for two miles.
The Guadalupe Ridge Trail
ends back on the Desert Loop Road to the north of the Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead. Turn right (west, southwest) to head back along the road for just over a mile back to the starting point.
Flora & Fauna
Cactus, yucca, shrubs, forbs, grasses.