Bosque del Apache NWR--Bike Trail

Tips for Birding

The Bike Trail, as its other name, Low Flow Conveyance Channel (LFCC) East Service Road, implies, is a level, gravel road rather than a trail. The trail is accessed from a parking area that also serves the Rio Viejo Trail. Vault toilets are located in the parking area, which is at the east end of the Main East-West Road. From this parking area, cross a maintenance road (closed to the public) on the west side of the unlined LFCC and then cross the bridge over the channel. Have your binoculars and/or camera ready as you approach the bridge; often, waterfowl are in the bridge shadow and will immediately paddle or fly away once you’re on the bridge. Having reached the east side of the bridge, you are on the Bike Trail proper, which extends 5.7 miles to the refuge's south boundary and 5.6 miles to the north boundary.

An earthen dike or berm extends along the whole length of the Trail, on its east side. With the notable exception of the final half mile to the south boundary, the top of this dike, while somewhat weedy, can be hiked or mountain-biked. It gets you above the willows that grow along the LFCC, allowing you a better vantage point for viewing waterfowl on the channel. On the other hand, close inspection of the willows themselves or the channel’s edge, say, for spring migrants, is best done from the Bike Trail directly and not the dike.

Do not expect to look west from the dike and see the Rio Grande; though in places only a quarter-mile away, between the river and the dike lies cottonwood bosque which, for much of the trail length, is extremely dense. The refuge does not maintain public trails to the Rio Grande, and waterfowl are rarely present on the river itself; birders attempting to reach the river through the bosque (thick with mosquitoes during warm weather) should be mindful of their footing and aware that view-obstructing brush may end abruptly at unstable banks. Cell phone coverage can be non-existent along portions of the Bike Trail; locating a lost or injured person in the area could be quite difficult. Though not encouraged by the Refuge, possibly the easiest passage through the bosque to the river is by way of what remains of a dirt road off the dike about 2.75 miles north of the Rio Viejo bridge. This unmaintained road was an access point for Bureau of Reclamation equipment working on the river and may be closed at any time. As throughout the Refuge, all signage should be strictly observed.

Cottonwood bosque, of varying depth, also lines the west side of the LFCC’s west maintenance road along almost its entire length. The bosque hides agricultural fields and seasonal wetlands from view, though during winter geese and cranes may be heard; flyovers are not uncommon.

The LFCC is one of the best places on the refuge to spot Mexican Duck. In winter and spring, other waterfowl on the channel include American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall, and Cinnamon Teal, whereas Great Blue Heron frequent the bank during this season. Early spring is the time to find Neotropic Cormorant on the channel, particularly at the wider and deeper area, 1.5 miles south of the Rio Viejo bridge, formed where a dam (referred to as the NAWCA, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Dam) backs up water, and seasonally diverts some to the southwest via a concrete ditch; walking out on the dam is prohibited, and the area directly west of the LFCC is closed to the public.

About 2.5 miles south of the Rio Viejo bridge, and east of the dike, begins a burned area, whose dead cottonwoods became a heron rookery when the river later flooded to the dike. The rookery has not been used in many years, but remnants of nests are still visible. Seasonally, American Kestrel and Red-tailed Hawk can be observed perching on the dead cottonwoods; the area, now recovering, extends about 1.5 miles southward.

Another mile south, mesquite, cottonwood, and tamarisk encroach from the west to the top of the dike, making passage there very difficult. However, from here to the south boundary, listen for the calls or drumming of woodpeckers; a scramble up the dike from the Bike Trail may reward the birder with sightings of Downy, Hairy, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, as well as Northern Flicker in cottonwoods on the west. In late winter to early spring, when the field to the west of the LFCC near the south boundary has been flooded, birders may see Great Blue Heron which have established a rookery there.

The channel north of the Rio Viejo bridge seems a bit narrower than that south, but this may be due to greater willow and tamarisk encroachment. There also appears to be more tamarisk on the east edge of the dike in the north than in the south. A dam at the north boundary diverts water into the Riverside Ditch for flooding fields throughout the refuge; again, walking out on the dam is prohibited, and the area directly west of the LFCC is closed to the public.

In addition to the species already mentioned, many others are seasonally present. Mourning Dove may be observed through all but the hottest months, along with House Finch and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. American Robin and Western Bluebird perch at the tops of cottonwood trees in winter, while Wilson’s Snipe may erupt from the channel bank during these months. Say’s and Black Phoebe hawk over the channel in late winter and early spring. Flying insects attract swallow species to the air over the channel in spring. Chipping Sparrow is typically only sighted in spring, among the willow-lined channel bank, whereas Song Sparrow and Spotted Towhee are observed in this habitat from fall into spring. White-crowned Sparrows, too, flit from dike kochia or bosque to the channel willows from late fall to early spring, with Dark-eyed Junco doing the same but generally not arriving until winter. Among spring warblers, Wilson’s favors willows along the LFCC bank, while Yellow-rumped can often be found in cottonwoods.

Birds of Interest

Seasonally, search for Common Black-hawk, American Coot, Mexican Duck, Great Egret, Pied-billed Grebe, and Twin-spotted Spiny Lizard.

About this Location

The Low Flow Conveyance Channel East Service Road offers almost eleven miles of gravel roadway with little to no motor vehicle traffic and provides a relaxing bicycle ride with the opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of the more secretive wildlife that call the refuge home. Bicyclists should be prepared to fix a flat tire; many of our plants have spines and thorns. Stay back from the steep edge of the channel.

Other portions of the refuge open to year-round bicycling include the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro – Point of Lands Overlook, the Auto Tour Loop, and the two-way road bisecting the Auto Tour Loop. The State of New Mexico allows bicycling on NM-1. Use caution on this busy road and railroad crossing.

The Bike Trail, on the Low Flow Conveyance Channel East Service Road, is open daily from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. The north route is 11 miles roundtrip; the south route is 11.3 miles roundtrip (level of difficulty: easy).

Notice wildlife and plants away from cars and crowds. Watch out for plants with spines and thorns! The habitat is Chihuahuan desert scrub, willows, salt cedar, and cottonwoods.

The trailhead and parking lot are located at the eastern end of Bosque Road.

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.


  • Restrooms on site

  • Wheelchair accessible trail

  • Entrance fee

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

Last updated March 10, 2024