Capulin Volcano National Monument in northern New Mexico protects a well-preserved cinder cone volcano from a field that erupted thousands of years ago. Established in 1916, it’s one of the older monuments in the National Parks System.
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ILNP Park Review
Our Weather Clear but windy and 50 degrees.
Our Visit We visited Capulin Volcano in late March as a long day trip from Colorado.
Overall Impression Capulin Volcano National Monument is small in scope (pretty much just the volcano and Visitors Center), but it offers visitors the unique experience of driving to the top of a volcano in the continental United States. While it’s small scope keeps it from being a true “destination park,” it certainly is worth visiting if you’re driving through the area. From I-25 at Raton, NM, it would be about a 2.5 hour total time commitment off the freeway.
Visiting Plan on at least one hour in the park. In this time, you can stop in at the Visitors Center (it’s where you pay anyway) to get the latest conditions and recommendations from the friendly Rangers and drive to the top of the volcano. There’s a 10-minute video if you have the extra time, otherwise, hop back in the car and head up the road to the top of Capulin Volcano. The road does one complete spiral around the volcano. It’s not terribly steep, but the road is narrow and has a steep drop-off, so if you’re afraid of heights, be forewarned. The road ends at a small parking lot that sits on the lowest part of the rim. Even if you don’t do any hiking, you can still look down into the crater and catch some great panoramic views to the west.
At the top, you’ve got a choice of two hikes, and with a 90-120 min visit (60-90 min at the top) you can do both. Both trails are paved but fairly steep. The shorter hike is the Crater Vent Trail down into the volcano. Along the way you’ll walk through a field of lava boulders to a sign where the vent used to be. The view is interesting, but if you can only pick one climb, I recommend the ~1 mile Crater Rim Trail. This trail is steep no matter which direction you go, but it offers some spectacular views of the surrounding terrain (including other volcanoes) and the crater. The trail is also surrounded by a small forest of small, twisted pine trees that add to the interest.
If you have more time to spend in the park, there are two more trails that leave from the visitors center parking lot including the Lava Flow Trail and Boca Trail which travels to a collapsed lava tube.
Suggestions This is high country (the top of the volcano is over 8,000 feet), so there’s not as much oxygen as most people are used to–keep this in mind for hiking, and bring water to combat the dry air. The top of the volcano can be quite a bit colder and windier than the base, so I recommend bringing a jacket and hat no matter what time of year, and gloves for the fall, winter and spring.
If you’re looking for photos of the volcano set amidst its surroundings, the best shots are going to be outside the park. Once you get into the park, the volcano will be difficult to squeeze into a single shot.
Nearby Towns Capulin, Raton (NM)
Other Nearby Attractions Santa Fe National Historic Trail
Official NPS Website Capulin Volcano National Monument
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