Bosque del Apache NWR--Canyon Trail

Tips for Birding

The Canyon National Recreation Trail is a 2.2-mile loop trail through the Chihuahuan Desert bajada of southwestern Bosque del Apache NWR. It provides access to the Indian Well Wilderness and Solitude Canyon. Birds observed along the trail and its immediate surroundings may be recorded for the Canyon Trail hotspot or the overall Bosque del Apache NWR hotspot; birds present elsewhere on the Refuge should not be recorded for the Canyon Trail hotspot.

Trailhead parking is located about one and a half miles south of the Refuge Visitor Center, or a bit over three miles north of the south Refuge boundary, on the west side of NM-1. Approaching the parking area from the north, the trail is announced by a “Canyon Trail 500 Feet” sign, but coming from the south, you get no warning, just a “Canyon Trail” sign directly across from the parking area.
From the parking area, walk under the train trestle to a small kiosk on the west side, where there is a box with trail guides, including a map. This is an interpretive trail, so lettered entries in the trail guide correspond to lettered markers (upright stakes) along the trail. These trail markers are excellent references for individual species’ “Details” entries in your eBird lists.

The trail begins as a sandy westward path through a wide alluvial saddle of four-wing saltbush and desert grasses (spike dropseed, black grama, fluffgrass, and more) between the east-west oriented, creosote-covered ridges of the bajada. Sparrows, especially White-crowned and Sagebrush, abound here during fall, winter, and early spring. House Finch and Gambel’s Quail frequent this lower area of the trail, as well. Greater Roadrunners are sometimes sighted.

In less than half a mile, the trail forms a “Y’ to begin its loop. Some hikers prefer to take the right (north) fork, rounding the loop counterclockwise. This direction gets hikers into the steepest part of the trail while they’re still fresh, is marginally easier to follow, and makes the slog on the sandy and gravelly wash forming the south part of the loop less tiresome as it is downhill.

The trail guide and markers, however, are sequenced for clockwise navigation of the loop. Following that sequence, at trail marker “G”, a short distance after the loop fork, the west-heading trail meets a wash. Across the wash is an even narrower and less-traveled path, which takes the visitor southwest into the Indian Well Wilderness. The Canyon Trail itself, though, is the wash, veering north into Solitude Canyon. Look for Curve-billed and Crissal Thrasher around this intersection.

Before siltstone canyon walls close int o the trail, Mourning Dove and Black-throated Sparrow may be sighted at the trail edges. As juniper becomes denser on the side canyons, Western Bluebirds are more likely, at least in winter. Within the canyon portion of the trail, Rock Wrens are not uncommon; lucky birders may encounter Peregrine Falcon in early spring.

Be on the lookout for a trail marker, a bit above the trail on its right side, pointing to the right (east). At this point, you begin a steep but short climb to the creosote-covered ridge. The trail then meanders east, later southeast, along the ridge top, offering eastward views not only of the refuge's seasonal wetlands below but on clear days as far as Sierra Blanca.

The descent trail is narrow and gratefully full of switchbacks, reducing steepness. You quickly find yourself again on a sandy/gravelly wash at the base of the ridge, soon entering vegetation dominated by grasses and three-leaf sumac, the latter being a popular cover, if not also a source of food, for sparrows and thrashers. It is but a short way back to the loop “Y”. As you return to the trestle and parking area, resist double-counting all those sparrows you saw on the way in!

A few final points…
Birders exploring side canyons should be mindful of how to return to the main trail. It may seem that you can climb up a low ridge, observe a side canyon, and take a shortcut to the main trail. Often, an even deeper side canyon will frustrate this effort, and it is easy to become disoriented.
Take plenty of water: despite possible shadows in the canyon area, this is a desert hike.

About this Location

Download a Trail Guide with descriptions corresponding to lettered markers along this trail.

The Canyon National Recreation Trail is open daily from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. The trail is 2.2 miles roundtrip (level of difficulty: moderate – strenuous).

Loop through the southern edge of the Indian Well Wilderness Unit and traverse the bottom of Solitude Canyon. The habitat is Chihuahuan desert scrub dominated by fourwing saltbush.

Seasonally, search for peregrine falcon, rock wren, sagebrush sparrow, verdin, greater roadrunner, Ord’s kangaroo rat, and desert box turtle. Summer monsoon rains often produce colorful blooms.

The trailhead and parking lot are located along the west side of NM-1, 1 mile south of the Visitor Center.

About Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

See all hotspots at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl, the refuge is well known for the thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and other waterfowl that winter here each year.

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331-acre refuge harbors a wild stretch of the Rio Grande, a ribbon of cottonwood and willow trees visible on the landscape from distant mesas.

Petroglyphs tell the story of ancient people who lived and hunted here. The river and its diversity of wildlife have drawn humans to this area for at least 11,000 years when humans migrated along this corridor, sometimes settling to hunt, fish, and farm. Artifacts and stone tools found nearby tell us that nomadic Paleo-Indian hunters pursued herds of mammoth and bison in the valley.

Today, Bosque del Apache is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife, habitat, and you.

Notable Trails

The AllTrails website has a description and map of a hike on the Canyon Trail.


  • Entrance fee

  • Restrooms on site

  • Wheelchair accessible trail

Content from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge website, Birding in New Mexico (National Audubon Society), and John Montgomery

Last updated March 10, 2024