If you are visiting my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, you will love spending a morning or afternoon visiting Petroglyph National Monument.
Located on Albuquerque’s West Side, Petroglyph National Monument is a must see to understand a bit more about the history and cultures of New Mexico.
I grew up across the street from Petroglyph National Monument. And Buddy and I visit the area at least every other trip home. Here are my top 5 tips for visiting the beautiful Petroglyph National Monument.
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Top 5 Tips for visiting Petroglyph National Monument
1. Most of Petroglyph National Monument is next to residential areas
If you are driving to the Petroglyph National Monument and your path takes you past Chaparral Elementary School or through a subdivision or two, no worries! You are on the correct path. The Petroglyph National Monument is almost completely surrounded by the city of Albuquerque. And you will drive through the residential areas on Albuquerque’s West Side to get to the Visitor’s Center, which is definitely worth the visit.
In the Southwest, where many National Monuments tend to be in rural areas, it can be a bit bizarre driving up to Petroglyph National Monument in the middle of Albuquerque. But rest assured, you are headed in the right direction.
2. Trails are located at multiple locations with different fees
There is a total of five different points of interest at Petroglyph National Monument.
- Boca Negra Canyon
- Rinconada Canyon
- Piedras Marcadas Canyon
- And the Visitor’s Center
The Canyons and the Volcanoes range from 1.3 miles to 12.5 miles from the Visitor’s Center. Each point of interest has its own set of rules for pets (some do not allow dog walking), fees for use, and access to water and restrooms. Some areas, like Boca Negra Canyon, have multiple trails. Others have one trail. And Volcanoes does not have any petroglyphs.
My favorite location to visit with Buddy is Boca Negra Canyon. We always hike the Mesa Point Trail. Buddy especially likes this trail. He says, “It’s really cool to see the lava rocks. Some of them have cool shapes. And the view over Albuquerque is beautiful.” The Macaw Trail and Cliff Base Trail are short and easy hikes in the area.
It is highly recommended you stop by the Visitor’s Center when you arrive to pick up a Petroglyph Viewing Trail Information brochure complete with maps and up-to-date information regarding each of the different points of interest. This information can help you decide which locations in Petroglyph National Monument best suits your needs and interests.
Speaking of the Visitor’s Center.
3. Stop by the Visitor’s Center
The Visitor’s Center has a 20-minute informational film about the petroglyphs, the history of the land and cultures of New Mexico and the history of the National Monument. If you want to understand the importance of the petroglyphs to the people of New Mexico, this film is a must see. Also, this is a great time to pick up a brochure and park map to begin your adventure.
Bonus tip: You do not need to wait for the film to start playing. There is a button under the TV that guests can press to start the film at any time.
Aside from the film, the Visitor’s Center offers water, a gift shop, and restrooms. There is no museum or exhibit at the Visitor’s Center and no trail heads at the area either. Therefore, the top two things to do at the Visitor’s Center are:
- See the film
- Pick up a map and brochure
Thoughts from a (former) local: Although I grew up across the street from the Petroglyph National Monument and have visited the site numerous times. My first time at the Visitor’s Center was in November 2021. Buddy and I went to get his passport book stamped since he has been visiting the monument since he was a baby, but never received a stamp. I was pleasantly surprised by the Visitor’s Center, especially the film. It was intriguing to me because I did not know the history of the monument and the events leading up to its creation as I was a child at the time it was founded.
4. Albuquerque’s Altitude
At 5,312 feet, Albuquerque is over a mile high in altitude. Hiking the petroglyphs, such as the popular Boca Negra Canyon, you will have to climb up the mesa. If you are from a lower altitude, chances are you will be a bit winded during your hike because of the difference in altitude.
When I travel from Tucson to Albuquerque and hike Boca Negra Canyon the next day, I feel the altitude. If you have the time to wait a few days to acclimate to the altitude before going on the hike, I recommend doing so.
5. What to bring
Here are my top recommendations for visiting Petroglyph National Monument.
- A Car
Although the Petroglyph National Monument says you can walk or bike to the trails from the Visitor Center, I would not recommend it. Some of the locations are far from one another and the roads connecting the park like Golf Course Road, Unser Boulevard, and Paseo Del Norte are major roads on Albuquerque’s West Side. Traffic is heavy and drivers tend to go very fast on these roads.
I definitely do NOT recommend walking.
I have not found Albuquerque to be a very biking friendly city, so I do not recommend that either.
Regarding ride share, in my experience, Uber and Lyft to and from Albuquerque’s West Side tend to be expensive. And there is a long wait for drivers to show up if you are on the West Side. I definitely recommend driving your own vehicle or renting a car to visit to Petroglyph National Monument.
Bonus tip: Always lock your car and never ever leave valuables in your car.
- Good hiking shoes
Because of Albuquerque’s altitude, sunscreen is recommended even in the winter months or on a cloudy day.
- A good water bottle
- Carabiner Clips of various sizes
While hiking, you can use one to secure your water bottle to your crossbody bag, or a jacket to a backpack. I use carabiner clips all the time when traveling to attach shoes or jackets to my backpack or carry on. They really come in handy!
Bonus Tip: When to Visit
It does get hot in Albuquerque in the summer. If you are there any time June-August, consider hiking in the morning to beat the heat. Buddy and I have hiked Boca Negra in the afternoon in July and it was very hot. And living in Southern Arizona, we are used to the heat! Also, be wary of monsoon storms at that time of year and take cover in the chance of severe weather including lightening.
The spring and fall can be windy in Albuquerque, especially on the mesa. A windbreaker will provide warmth on breezy days. This is a great afternoon excursion if you are in town for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. And of course, it can get cold and snowy in the winter. But the petroglyphs and mesa are beautiful with a light dusting of snow.
Petroglyph National Monument holds a special place in my and my family’s hearts. We hope that you enjoy the petroglyphs and the mesa on you next trip.
Are you planning a trip to Petroglyph National Monument? Have you visited Petroglyph National Monument? If so, what trail was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
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