River Trail Loop

1 review
7.5 mi
3 hrs 59 min
965 ft
Elev Gain


The River Trail Loop, also known as the Dot to Dot Loop, use four trails to descend from the rim of White Rock Canyon to the Rio Grande, parallel the river for two miles, then ascend back to the rim to close out a 7+-mile loop. With a 1000-foot ascent, the trail is strenuous to many users. White Rock Canyon was carved by the Rio Grande through thick lava flows emanating from the volcanoes of the Cerros del Rio volcanic field to the east. The descent on the Blue Dot Trail utilizes many switchbacks to drop 900 feet to the river; the Red Dot Trail is like a relentless staircase on sharp-edged lava. Between the dot trails, the River Trail and the River Trail are rugged but fairly flat. Along the way are almost constant gorgeous views, a profusion of petroglyphs left by Ancestral Pueblo farmers in the canyon, and a collection of unusual plants, some of which are at the northernmost extent of their ranges. Springs near the bottom offer the rare sound of running water, and the river is home to waterfowl and occasional shorebirds.

From the Blue Dot Trailhead, take the trail heading downhill that is marked with arrows. Cross a short flat to intersect the Canyon Rim Trail where a faded sign and a blue arrow point to the trail that passes between old fence posts. Several switchbacks lead in a quarter mile to a flat, grassy meadow. Angle across the meadow and then continue the descent on broad switchbacks. Watch for snake petroglyphs carved into the black patina of the basal. A long sequence of narrower switchbacks follows, the trail tread here with many small, loose, rounded rocks that make for tricky footing. Soon enter of woodland of tall trees and grape vines, and watch for the outflow of several springs to create a lush riparian area. At a trail junction turn right onto the River Trail, which begins with a long, sandy stretch. As the river comes in view again, the trail is squeezed between the river and a long ridge. Follow the trail around the end of the ridge, climbing to a bench covered with river cobbles. The trail soon crosses the flow from Pajarito Springs. Pick up the Red Dot Trail on the other side, turn right, and head uphill, parallel to the small stream. In a few minutes, reach the pools of Pajarito Springs. The trail out of the canyon from the springs is very steep and is marked with red dots painted on the rocks. Once out of the canyon, turn left and follow the trail to the paved Piedra Loop.To return to the Blue Dot Trailhead, turn right on Piedra Loop and walk about 0.5 mile, watching for a guardrail opposite La Senda Road. A small trail leads from the guardrail to Pajarito Canyon and signs point to the White Rock Canyon Rim Trail. Turn right and follow the Rim Trail as it winds through the juniper woodlands of the mesa top. Many intersecting trails lead off in all directions; stay on the main route by heading generally east, keeping Pajarito Canyon on the right and White Rock Canyon ahead. When you reach the edge of White Rock Canyon and bear left. Follow the trail 1.5 miles along the canyon rim back to the Blue Dot Trail.

Getting Started

The Blue Dot Trailhead is located in Overlook Park in White Rock, New Mexico. From the traffic signal at the intersection of New Mexico Highway 4 and Rover Boulevard in White Rock, take Rover into White Rock. At the first intersection in a few hundred feet, turn left onto Meadow Lane. Continue 0.7 miles to the entrance to Overlook Park and turn left. Pass sports fields and in a half mile, turn right onto a paved road signed for the trailhead. Park in the large lot at the far end of the access road.

Taking Children

Adventurous children might prefer dropping to the river on the Red Dot Trail and returning by the same route. This maximizes the time near the water in Pajarito Canyon. It is quite a difficult trip for younger children.

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