Zuni-Acoma and Chain of Craters, El Malpais National Monument

Description: El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area lie in the high desert southwest of Albuquerque. Spanish for “The Badlands,” the El Malpais region has figured in Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, and Ramah Navajo cultures for thousands of years. Their ancestral uses – gathering herbs and medicines, paying respect, and renewing ties – continue today. Within the National Monument, the CDT shares a path with the Zuni – Acoma Trail, an ancient route connecting the pueblos of Zuni and Acoma, which has witnessed over 1,000 years of human travel and use.

After 8 miles, the CDT enters the bordering Conservation Area and winds through the Chain of Craters a twenty-mile geological oddity built by an underground lava flow that created a rift at the surface and erected 30 cinder cones (the largest cone, Cerro Alto, stands at 8,460 feet). The cinder cones, broken ridges, and brushy flats are intermixed with conifer, pinon-juniper and aspen woodland stands providing for a depth and breadth in wildlife diversity uncommon to the surrounding area. These two segments of the CDT combine for nearly 30 miles of classic high desert backpacking. With summer temperatures, reaching the triple digits this hike is ideal for fall weather. Be sure to brush up on your desert hiking skills prior to any trip in this area.

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 30 miles

Family Friendly Option

Access the lava terrain of Zuni Acoma Trail for an out and back just a few miles southeast of the NPS El Malpais Information Center on the south side of Hwy 53. Hikers must have sturdy boots on the rugged, often sharp lava. Families can hike up to 5 miles before the lava becomes more rugged. A visit to the El Calderon area, in between the Zuni Acoma Trail and the NPS Center is also highly recommended. El Calderon has unique exploration opportunities including caves, lava flow sinks, and beautiful sandstone formations.

Directions: From Grants, travel south on NM 53 for approximately 23 miles to the El Malpais National Monument Visitor’s Center where you will be able to obtain your map, free backcountry camping permit. Zuni-Acoma Trail: The Zuni-Acoma Trail begins on State Highway 53, 16 miles south of 1-40, 1.5 miles into the park from the northern monument boundary sign. From this point, hikers follow the Zuni-Acoma Trail 15 miles to its intersection with 117. There is a parking area with interpretive signs and port-a-lets. To protect this special place, please do not disturb artifacts or the pristine terrain. Chain of Craters- From Grants, NM travel south 23 miles on NM 53 towards the El Malpais Information Center. At mile 23 travel south on NM 42 towards Cerro Bandera. From this point, hikers can travel south through the Chain of Craters area for 18 miles.

Maps: BLM – Acoma Pueblo, Zuni, Fence Lake, Grants, El Malpais Recreation Guide Map

Other Information:
El Malpais National Monument website 
El Malpais National Conservation Area 
Rio Puerco Field Office: (505) 536-2250
Grants Field Station: (505) 287-7911.