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Straight up, the hiking in Las Cruces is spectacular. There’s so much to cover in this article that I’m dividing it into four sections to help you digest it all:
- Hiking in the Organ Mountains
- Hiking outside of the Organ Mountains
- Hiking in Lincoln National Forest
- And hiking in the National Parks around Las Cruces (there are more here than you think)
Then, I’ll wrap up with some camping tips and trips with a bonus Las Cruces camping guide as well. So, grab your boots and a big a** water bottle, and let’s get hikin’!
Dripping Springs Natural Area has a $5 entrance fee, but tons of beautiful trails to explore
Best hiking in the Organ Mountains
Las Cruces is bordered on the east by the Organ Mountains, which run north to south(ish). They are a section of the larger San Andres mountain range, which runs from El Paso to central New Mexico.
The Organs are the most beautiful part of Las Cruces, and I’m not just biased – President Obama designated them as a National Monument in 2014. There are now almost half a million protected acres to explore here, which I’m so grateful for.
I live in this adorable Airbnb just at the foot of them and can see them outside my window right now. I’m going to cover the trails from left to right across the range, starting at the San Agustin Pass (where the highway runs through the mountains from Las Cruces to Alamogordo). The trails are as follows:
- Baylor Pass (west)
- Dripping Springs
- Soledad Canyon
- Achenbach Canyon
Hiking in Achenbach Canyon, one of my favorite hiking trails in Las Cruces
Soledad Canyon (also called Bar Canyon) is one of the easiest trails (a nice short loop, which I love) and Achenbach Canyon is my favorite. It has elevation and flat hiking and takes you into a little-trafficked wonderland in the mountains that looks like Jurassic Park and feels like you’re stepping back in time to prehistoric periods. These are two of my favorite hikes in Las Cruces and I strongly recommend both of them!
Dripping Springs Natural Area is the most popular place to hike in the Organ Mountains and has a $5 entrance fee to access the many trails in this area of the park (you can also buy an annual pass if you’re a local).
In Dripping Springs, you can hike to the ruins of an old cabin and sanatorium on the Dripping Springs trail and to an old hermit’s cave on the La Cueva trail. There’s also a trail to Fillmore Canyon and, if you’re really looking for a challenge, an eight-hour climb to the summit of the Organ Needle among other treks. There are covered tables for picnics and a visitor’s center where you can get more information on all of the hikes.
Sunrise view from about halfway up the Baylor Pass west trail
Finally, the Baylor Pass west trailhead will take you up through Baylor Pass, where you can see both sides of the mountains from a phenomenal panoramic viewpoint. If you want, you can even hike down the other side (though you should plan to leave a car or have someone pick you up if you do so, going up and down Baylor twice would be an incredible challenge). It’s the only hike in the Organs that crosses to the other side like this.
However, if you drive through San Agustin Pass to the other side of the mountains, you can also hike:
- Baylor Canyon (east)
- Indian Hollow
- Pine Tree Loop
For all three of these hikes, park at the Aguirre Spring Campground. I haven’t done any of these yet, but the views over White Sands Missile Range (and White Sands National Park on a clear day) are very different from the view over Las Cruces, so it’s worth checking out both sides.
Finally, if you want views of the Organs but don’t want to climb or exert much effort, visit one of my favorite places for hiking in Las Cruces: Sierra Vista Trail.
Sierra Vista is a 29-mile flat trail that runs north to south along the Organ Mountains (on the Las Cruces side of the range), all the way to El Paso. You can start at the main trailhead or further south at the Talavera Trailhead (my personal favorite) and trek out and back as far or as short as you want. I hope to backpack all 29 miles of it someday.
Hiking near the Talavera Trailhead on the Sierra Vista Trail, one of my favorite places to hike in Las Cruces
Best hiking in Las Cruces (Outside of the Organs)
Beyond the Organ Mountains, there are plenty of other beautiful places to hike in Las Cruces.
Tortugas Mountain has a half-mile trail up to the peak for great sunset views and a 4-mile trail that goes around it. (There are tons of mountain biking trails around it as well.) It’s at the edge of the east side of town and is a good option for when you don’t want to drive all the way out to the Organs.
Picacho Peak is similar to Tortugas but on the west side of town and also has multiple trails running up it. The best time to climb Picacho and Tortugas is at sunset, when you not only get a gorgeous sky but views of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico as well.
Other small reserves for hiking and nature walks in Las Cruces include Llorona Park with a nice path along the Rio Grande River, Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park in the historic Mesilla neighborhood, and the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument with fossilized footprints of prehistoric animals.
Getting our fall fix in Lincoln National Forest
Best hiking in Lincoln National Forest
Dan and I love to go to Lincoln National Forest on the weekends for hiking and camping. The town of Cloudcroft is about 1.5 hours from Las Cruces, so it’s doable as a day trip. Ruidoso – a slightly bigger town – is about two hours away.
It’s nice to get cooler temperatures and see trees with leaves after weeks down here in the desert, and I recommend going even if you don’t spend the night.
My favorite trails near Cloudcroft are the 31-mile Rim Trail that you can get on and off at several places, the Osha Trail, and Cathey Canyon, but there are tons of options, and I’ve only done a fraction of them. Stop by the ranger station in town for a map and advice or just drive down Sunspot Highway and stop at whatever trailhead strikes your fancy.
In Ruidoso, I have the same advice. Stop by the ranger station or click around on Google maps to see what looks good. I’ve only been to Ruidoso once, but some trails I would like to hike are Monjeau Lookout and Grindstone Lake.
National Parks Near Las Cruces
White Sands National Park is the closest to Las Cruces, but you should also visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Big Bend National Park on a day or weekend trip from the city. I recommend buying an America the Beautiful annual national parks pass for $80 at the first one you go to, which will get you free entrance at all the rest.
1. White Sands National Park
White Sands (1 hour from Las Cruces) was established in December 2019 and is the newest national park in the US. Entrance is $25 per car (or free with the annual pass), and the park has hiking trails through gypsum sand dunes, guided full moon night hikes, sand sledding, and backcountry camping.
White Sands was a sea bed once upon a time – many millennia ago – and the gypsum dunes still remain. It covers 275 square miles, but only a portion is accessible in the park.
You can drive through and get out to sled down the dunes anywhere you like or walk down some designated boardwalk trails with boards explaining the history and wildlife. The rolling dunes with the backdrop of mountains are picturesque anytime but go at sunset for the most beautiful photos of this unique park.
2. Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns (3 hours from Las Cruces) is my favorite of the four national parks that are accessible from here.
There’s really nothing else like it. We descended into the cave on foot and walked for about an hour to the Grand Room, which sits 75 stories underground. Then, we hiked around the Grand Room for about another hour before taking the elevator back up to fresh air.
It was humid, dark, and totally bizarre, and I loved every minute of it. If you go from May through October, you can also watch the bats swarm out of the cave at sunset.
3. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe (2.5 hours from Las Cruces) is next to Carlsbad Caverns, and we didn’t even know until we drove by and saw the signs! If I had known about it, I would have planned to visit Carlsbad Caverns over a weekend to spend time at both.
As it was, we only stopped in the visitor center and did a short one-mile hike at Guadalupe to say we’ve been. If I went back, I would climb Guadalupe Peak (the highest point in Texas at 8,751 feet) and camp at Dog Canyon (just because it looks pretty). Another time!
4. Big Bend National Park
Big Bend (5.5 hours form Las Cruces) is the farthest national park on this list, but if you visit this and Guadalupe, you can completely cross Texas off your National Park list because they’re the only two in it.
This park billed as one of the most remote in the US, and I’m heading there to hike and camp next weekend. Because it’s so far, you’re going to want at least three days, maybe four, to make the trip worthwhile from Las Cruces.
Big Bend is in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is the same landscape as around Las Cruces, so I expect it to look similar to the hiking here. I’m looking forward to the wide-open spaces, star-gazing, and stopping in Marfa, Texas – a cool hippie art town – on the way there.
Camping at the Cosmic Campground in Gila National Forest
Where to go camping in Las Cruces
Dan and I always talked about how much we would camp when we moved back to the US and could travel with our gear, and now we get to live that dream!
I love camping for a weekend and getting away from it all, and Las Cruces offers tons of nearby places to do just that. My favorite place to camp is in Lincoln National Forest near the towns of Cloudcroft or Ruidoso.
The forest is a couple thousand feet higher than Las Cruces, so it has trees, shade, and significantly cooler temperatures all year round. (There are also tons of cabins in Lincoln National Forest for you non-campers out there.)
My favorite campsite in Lincoln National Forest
We usually go to Cloudcroft because it’s slightly closer (around 1.5 hours instead of 2 to 2.5 hours). Both have plenty of maintained campsites around them, but we always do dispersed camping instead because we prefer to be a little more remote.
Unfortunately, the Southwest is full of people traveling in RVs and running their generators all day and night at campsites, so ask the rangers for tent-only campsites or remote, dispersed camping options to avoid them.
If you’re ok with driving a little further, Gila National Forest is huge and has tons of campgrounds and dispersed camping with rivers, hot springs, and ancient cliff dwellings. We camped at the Cosmic Campground (about 3.5 hours from Las Cruces) because it’s a dark sky sanctuary and the stars were phenomenal.
Close by, down here in the desert, there is also backcountry camping at White Sands National Park, dispersed camping at the Baylor Canyon west trailhead, and BLM campsites at Sierra Vista and Aguirre Springs.
View from Cathey Vista in Lincoln National Forest at sunset
What to pack for camping & hiking in Las Cruces
Whether you’re just going for a day hike in Las Cruces or camping for a long weekend, this is the gear I use and can’t live without!
Image Title Price Prime Buy
Top Osprey Farpoint 55 Men's Travel Backpack Prime Buy Now
Top YETI Seafoam Rambler Bottle, Prime Buy Now
Top OuterEQ Portable Parachute Camping Hammock Prime Buy Now
Top Kelty Salida Camping and Backpacking Tent, 2 Person Prime Buy Now
Top Timberland Women's White Ledge Boot Prime Buy Now
Remember, whether you’re camping here in the desert or up in the mountains at Lincoln National Forest, the temperature can drop significantly at night, so make sure you’re prepared with warm clothes and a sleeping bag that’s rated for the cold.
Also, bring more water than you could ever expect to need! The desert and high-altitude can dehydrate you quickly. You also need to make sure you have enough to properly put out your campfires.
Check fire restrictions before you build a campfire because they can change daily. When fire risk is high, you can easily start a forest fire if you build a campfire when you’re not allowed to.
Finally, remember that there are bears in Lincoln National Forest. Keep your food away from where you sleep so you don’t accidentally lure them to you! This is a non-exhaustive list of camping and hiking safety tips – make sure you do your own research and are prepared to venture out even if it’s just for a quick hike. You can get lost, and this climate can be deadly!
And on that note, I’ll let ya go. Bookmark this page, complete these hikes, and then comment below to tell me your favorites!
Ready to go?
Explore unique Airbnbs in Las Cruces – like this charming adobe house in historic Mesilla or this guesthouse in the mountains (that Dan and I loved living in for six months) – to book your stay. Then, check out more food, culture, and outdoors experiences in New Mexico to plan the rest of your trip!
This article is part of the Lovely Las Cruces series. Read the rest below:
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