Upper Water Canyon Trail

based on 4 tracks & routes #134 hike out of 338 in
1.6 mi
45 min
623 ft
Elev Gain


The Water Canyon Trail in the Santa Fe National Forest makes a great hike any time of year. The trail is easy to follow, has little elevation gain, has some shade, and offers some local history, wildlife viewing, flowing water, summer and fall wildflowers, and mid-summer raspberry picking—if you can get to them before the bears gobble them all up. The trail passes through a forest recovering from the Cerro Grande and Las Conchas wildfires, enters two old-growth mixed conifer stands, and continues up canyon for a four-mile out-and-back roundtrip.

The Water Canyon Trail heads downhill from the parking area and makes its first stream crossing in a few minutes. The trail parallels the stream to the left, then crosses it. The canyon has been through a lot of changes in the past 20 years. As the trail heads up the canyon, to the left note the erosion channel created to flooding that followed the wildfires and skirt through massive ponderosa pines taken down in March 2019 by "Bomb Cyclone" winds. Pass through an unburned stand of mixed conifer forest, then cross a boulder field of rocks brought in during floods after the Las Conchas fire. At the next stream crossing, the water pipe built in 1947 to carry water to Los Alamos National Laboratory is clearly visible. While the next stretch is through tall Douglas firs, beyond a small meadow the trail traverses through recovering forest, twice burned. The trail alternates between rocky hillslope and canyon bottom, with water flowing next to the trail much of the way. A switchback brings the trail up to meet Forest Road 141, which makes a good spot to turn around.

Getting Started

The trailhead is located on New Mexico Highway 501 at the bottom of the hill near its intersection with New Mexico Highway 4 about 4 miles west of Los Alamos. There is a large gravel parking area on the west side of the road at the trailhead.

Taking Children

Children will enjoy the trail to the small meadow about a mile from the trailhead. In the meadow, a short spur trail to the right quickly leads to a small dam with flowing water above and below.

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Public Tracks

There are no published trips for this hike. There are 4 private trips.

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