Canyons and Longer Hikes

These are the more physically demanding birding options in the Los Alamos Region. The canyons that divide up the urban and residential areas of Los Alamos, including Pueblo Canyon, Bayo Canyon, Walnut Canyon, and Acid Canyon are some of the best birding in the area, but you have to work for it. This is particularly true in winter, when snow and ice can often be found on the north-facing slopes of the canyons. Luckily, Los Alamos County has an extensive network of well-maintained trails that provide straightforward access to these excellent birding spots. There is more to do here than one team can reasonably be expected to cover effectively in one day, so the trails outline below are generally split up among several field teams. Explore the interactive map, below, to see the trailheads and trails recommended for this region. Descriptions of the trails can be found below the map.

The Confluence of Acid and Pueblo Canyons
Starting from the Nature Center, follow the trail that parallels the fence line from south of the gardens and wraps around behind the Aquatic Center.  This trail intersects with the Ranch School Trail just past the Aquatic Center and and makes a hard right heading down into the ravine to the north.  After switchbacking down all the way to the bottom of the ravine and crossing a small bridge, the trail forks; go right.  Follow this bench trail north for about a quarter mile, then look for the Ranch School Trail to cut back hard to the left and down into lower Acid Canyon.  Follow this trail until it crosses the Upper Pueblo Canyon stream and ends at the Pueblo Canyon dirt road.  Turn left and follow the stream upstream as far as you can.  You’ll have to cross the stream after about 200’, but the trail continues for another half mile until the canyon narrows.  Turn back and go past the Acid Canyon confluence.  A major road forks off to the left and heads steeply up into Walnut Canyon. Ignore this road but look for a trail heading off the left side of the Pueblo Canyon Road just after the Walnut Canyon Road and before the road crosses the stream. Take this trail for about 0.3 miles until the vegetation becomes less dense and the trail re-joins the road.  Turn back and follow the road back to the Acid Canyon/Pueblo Canyon confluence.  From here, either follow the Ranch School Trail back out to upper Acid Canyon or, for more effort and reward, take the steep road up into Walnut Canyon and find your way onto the Pueblo Canyon bench trails. These bench trails can be followed around the perimeter of Upper Pueblo Canyon, across one of two foot bridges, and back around into upper Acid Canyon.   

Once in the ponderosa woodland of upper Acid Canyon, find and follow the loop trail that makes a counter-clockwise circuit of the upper canyon and ends up back at the Aquatic Center. Find your way back onto the trail to the Nature center and back to the car.  

Graduation Canyon
Just west of East Park, turn north off of 502 onto Sombrillo Ct. and turn left at the cul de sac into a small parking lot for the First Assembly of God church.   Walk between the church and the Aspen Ridge Retirement Home, to the right of the dumpsters, to find a gravel road leading down into Graduation Canyon.  Follow the gravel road to its end (0.25 mile) and then look for trails heading west up the canyon (the best trail is on the north side of the canyon). Go as far as you feel comfortable up the trail (it ends at the Pine St. Trailhead, 0.5 miles after the gravel road ends), then return the way you came. If more hiking is desired, look for a the Pueblo Canyon Rim Trail on the north side of the downstream end of Graduation Canyon. This trial wraps around the mesa to the north and then follows Pueblo Canyon’s south side upstream for over a mile.

Walnut and Woodland Canyons
Park on 35th St. just south of Diamond Dr. Walk back to Diamond and head east towards the golf course.  Just before the golf course crosswalk, look for a trail entrance on the right that goes down into this upper arm of Walnut Canyon. Follow this trail into Walnut Canyon.  There is a trail that stays on the rim just at the edge of the golf course and one that drops down into the canyon itself; the lower trail is likely to be more birdy, if there isn’t too much snow in the shady canyon.  Follow this canyon downstream until it meets with the east fork of Walnut Canyon.  Wrap around the southern tip of the golf course and start heading upstream in the east fork of the canyon.  At the head of this canyon, the trail exits the canyon on the right side (or, if you stayed on the upper trail the whole time, the trail wraps around the north end of the canyon and joins the trail coming up out of the canyon.  Keep following the trail east and north until it pops out on San Ildefonso Rd., just south of the round-about.  Proceed to the round-about, then cross the streets in a counter-clockwise manner until you’re near the Bayo Canyon trailhead and the tunnel beneath the part of San Ildefonso Rd. that heads up to Barranca Mesa.  Go through the tunnel and follow the paved trail towards the fire station (along Diamond Drive).  At Range Rd., turn right and look for a trail that starts just after the entrance to the fire station.  Follow this trail behind the firehouse and it will pop back out at the intersection of Diamond Dr. and Club Rd.  The Woodland Canyon trail begins just opposite Club Dr. from here.  Follow this trail down into Woodland Canyon, keeping the deepest part of the canyon on your right.  At the head of Woodland Canyon, the trail works steeply up to the Woodland Trailhead.  Instead of going up this steep hill, find a fork in the trail that turns south and heads towards the golf course. Find the northern-most point of the golf course (the green of the 14th hole) and the golf cart track that runs around its perimeter.  Follow the golf cart track counter-clockwise around the 14th and 15th holes heading generally south and downhill until it deposits you back on Diamond Drive at the crosswalk just east of your car.

Bayo Canyon
Park at the Bayo Canyon Trailhead just off of North Mesa Road, immediately east of the round-about. Follow the North Bayo Bench Trail east into the canyon.  You should end up on a flat trail that stays on the north side of the canyon and eventually is on a bench above the lower canyon.  Follow this bench until the mesa finger to the north ends and a fork in the trail allows you to wrap around to the north side of the mesa finger.  This puts you into Gonzales Canyon and on the Gonzales Canyon Trail. Follow this trail upstream to the head of the canyon (just below Barranca Road and across from the Aspen School. For the shortest possible hike, pre-stage a car on Camino Encatado just off of Barranca Rd., about 300′ to the west (left) of where you exit Gonzales Canyon. FOr more hiking, turn back and hike down through Gonzales Canyon. Now you can either walk back to the car along the North Bayo Bench Trail or you can add extra mileage by finding the trail that heads down into the bottom of Bayo Canyon and keep taking right forks in the trail until you find yourself in the bottom of Bayo Canyon on a trail that slowly ascends the southern slope of the Canyon.  Follow this trail all the way back to the head of the canyon, the trailhead, and your car. 

 

Lower Pueblo Canyon
Park at the bottom of the main hill road next to the county gate on the dirt road that goes to the Los Alamos wastewater treatment plant. Follow the road for 1.25 miles to the marsh area alongside the road. Bird this marsh as it continues for another third of a mile to the small bridge over the stream that feeds the marsh. Turn off the road and follow the stream up-stream for another mile to the wastewater plant. From here, find the dirt road just south of the stream.  Heading downstream on this road will take you back to the marsh for the quickest exit.  If you’d like to do more birding, head upstream on this road for 0.75 miles before it intersects with a more significant dirt road. Turn right here to head back towards the marsh.  The full loop will be about 7 miles, all flat. Only the mile of stream following is not on a dirt road.

A more adventurous route would be to leave a car at the trailhead at the bottom of the main hill road, then drive up to the airport and hike the Zipline Trail down into Pueblo Canyon, finding your way to the dirt road at the bottom of the canyon.  Turn right onto this road and follow it to the point where another dirt road forks off to the right just after crossing the stream bed.  Follow the right-hand road to the wastewater plant, then find and follow the effluent stream downstream all the way to the marsh. Follow the dirt road that runs along the side of the marsh downstream all the way to the trailhead.