5 Tips for Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument

If you are visiting my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, you will love spending a morning or afternoon visiting the beautiful 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!

Buddy in a blue jacket, maroon sweatshirt, and black face mask stands in front of a beige sign that says Petroglyph National Monument. Visiting the beautiful Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, NM. MPA Project Travels
Buddy visiting the Petroglyph National Monument

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The details

Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center is located at 6510 Western Trail NW in Albuquerque. The monument itself has multiple locations throughout Albuquerque. Park trails are open year round, but each trail has different hours of operation. For the most up-to-date information, visit the national park service website.

What is a petrogylph?

A petroglyph is ancient rock art, which is usually carved into volcanic rocks, that is common in the Southwest deserts.

Top 5 Tips for visiting Petroglyph National Monument

1. Most of the 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 to get to the Visitor Center, which is definitely worth the visit.

View of Albuquerque from the West Mesa of Boca Negra Canyon at Petroglyph National Monument. Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument. MPA Project Travels.
View of Albuquerque from the West Mesa including the nearby neighborhoods.

In the Southwest, where many National Parks 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
  • Volcanoes
  • And the Visitor Center

The Canyons and the Volcanoes trails range from 1.3 miles to 12.5 miles from the Visitor Center. Each point of interest has its own set of rules for pets (some do not allow dog walking), fees for use, picnic tables, and access to water and restrooms. Some areas, like Boca Negra Canyon, have multiple trails. Others like the Rinconada Canyon trail have one trail. And Volcanoes does not have any petroglyphs.

Reptile, brown lizard with white spots and turquoise tail, on the Boca Negra Mesa Point Trail at Petroglyph National Monument. Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument. MPA Project Travels.
Reptile on the Boca Negra Mesa Point Trail.

We love hiking! 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 view is breathtaking! You can see the Sandia Mountains, and the Rio Grande Valley from atop the West Mesa. The Macaw Trail and Cliff Base Trail are short and easy hikes in the area. Check out the trail below!

It is highly recommended you stop by the Visitor 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 Center

The Visitor 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 and their significance, this film is a must see.  Also, this is a great time to pick up a brochure and park map to begin your adventure. First timers, plan to spend about an hour at the Visitor Center.

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.

One of the many petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument. Black lava rock with intricate light colored carvings. Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument. MPA Project Travels.
Ancient rock art at Petroglyph National Monument.

Aside from the film, the Visitor’s Center offers water, a gift shop, and restrooms. There is no museum or exhibit at the Visitor Center and no trail heads at the area either. Therefore, the top two things to do at the Visitor Center are:

  • See the film
  • Pick up a map and brochure

Thoughts from a (former) local: I grew up across the street from the Petroglyph National Monument and have visited the site numerous times. However, my first time at the Visitor Center was in November 2021. Buddy and I went to get his National Park passport book stamped. He has been visiting the monument since he was a baby, but never received a stamp. I was pleasantly surprised by the Visitor 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.

View of Albuquerque's West Mesa from the bottom of the mesa, which you will climb at Petroglyph National Monument. Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument. MPA Project Travels.
Albuquerque’s West Mesa

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. When to Visit Petroglyph National Monument

Buddy looking at the petroglyphs in Boca Negra Canyon in the fall. Petroglyph National Monument. Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument. MPA Project Travels.
Buddy looking at the petroglyphs in Boca Negra Canyon in the fall.

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.

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.

Bonus Tip: What to bring to Petroglyph National Monument

As a former local, 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 trails, 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.

Another of the many petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument. Black volcanic rock with a light animal etched into it. Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument. MPA Project Travels.
Another of the many petroglyphs

Also, I have not found Albuquerque to be a very bike friendly city, so I do not recommend that either.

Regarding ride share, in my experience, getting an Uber or Lyft to and from Albuquerque’s West Side tends to be expensive. And there is a really 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.

Pro Tip from a former local: Always lock your car and never ever leave valuables in your car.

Renting a car in Albuquerque?
  • Good hiking shoes

My favorites are Merrell Women’s Sirens. I currently have the Siren Sport 3 Hiking Shoe. I wore them on the mesa when we filmed the Movement Postcard at Boca Negra Canyon.

  • Sunscreen

Because of Albuquerque’s altitude, sunscreen is recommended even in the winter months or on a cloudy day.

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!

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.

Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.

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Hello! We are Yvonne & Buddy and we create family travel blogs based on firsthand knowledge and experiences of a destination. Our goal is to inspire teens, parents, and families to share time together engaging in new experiences whether the destination is near or far from home. Come join us on our travels!

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20 thoughts on “5 Tips for Visiting the Beautiful Petroglyph National Monument

  1. Loved reading about the Petroglyphs! Makes me want to put my walking shoes on and go visit that beautiful area. So peaceful up there and it really does have some beautiful views! Thank you for sharing. Loved it!

  2. The petroglyphs are soooo cool to see! I like the tip to explore early in the morning before things get too hot – it would also be nice to visit in cooler months maybe!?

  3. What a neat experience! It’s good to know about the elevation. I live much closer to sea level, so I am sure I would be winded. I’ll take that into consideration if I get the chance to visit.

  4. Wow I had no idea it was so close to ABQ!! I guess my first (and only) time visiting the city was during the Balloon Fiesta, so I was a little too busy to explore much – but what little I did see I really liked so I already know I want to go back! I’m definitely going to swing by this national monument too, thanks for the tips!

  5. The petroglyphs would be fascinating to see. Thank you for all the great tips. I would probably think I was lost if I went looking for them and found myself in a subdivision. Good to know I would be close.

  6. When I was in NM this was one of the hikes that I did and it was so much fun! Great post with good information for people who have never been.

  7. How amazing that you grew up so close to this wonderful place. I would love to visit in person and do a hike to see the petroglyphs. I had no idea the region was so high in elevation. I’ll make sure to be prepared as I’ve always lived at sea level.

  8. When we visited Albuquerque we sadly missed seeing the Petroglyph National Monument. I am not sure how? But we would not have expected it within the city itself. Interesting to read that different paths had different rules. Good to remind people about the altitude. I know it took us a while to get used to.

  9. Pingback: One Weekend In Albuquerque: A 3-day Albuquerque Itinerary from a Local! - The Homebody Tourist

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