Once a booming coal-mining camp, New Mexico's Sugarite Canyon State Park is now home to more wildlife than people. Sugarite Canyon State Park, located near the Colorado and New Mexico border, has two small campgrounds, and eighteen miles of hiking trails that provide access through the lush oak and aspen filled canyon.
After the coal mines shut down in the 1940s, there was almost no human activity in the canyon, except for the efforts to clean up and restore the land. The restoration was very successful, and apart from the building foundations and a few pieces of heavy equipment left behind as historical markers, there is almost no sign of the previous human activity. The old mining camp is one of the main attractions in the park and is explained in the park Visitor Center. A short hike to the site is lined with interpretive signs and historical markers. The camp is the subject of several history books and a significant part of New Mexico's cultural history since most of the miners were foreigners.
The other main features in the canyon are Lake Maloya, a human-made 120-acre fishing lake stocked with rainbow and brown trout, and Little Horse Mesa, a huge exposed cliff of basaltic columns which draw rock climbers. Visitors rarely leave Sugarite without seeing many kinds of wildlife. The canyon is home to deer, black bears, raccoons, porcupines, weasels, squirrels, skunks, rabbits, and little brown bats. The hills are also covered in a variety of wildflowers in the spring and summer, to the delight of photographers.
The two campgrounds are very small, and in spite of a few reservable RV hook-up sites, the campsites are really geared toward tent campers. The Lake Alice campground is open year-round and is often used by visitors ice fishing on the small lake.
With elevations well above 6,000 feet, it never gets much hotter than 85 degrees in the middle of summer, so many visitors consider Sugarite Canyon as a place to beat the heat rather than soak it up.
Sugarite Canyon State Park is located outside of Raton, New Mexico, near the Colorado state line. The main park roads are paved to provide easy access in rain or shine, and access to the park is straightforward from Raton's city limits, just off of I-25.
The campground is very compact, and most of the spaces have just enough room for small trailers and small class C or class B motorhomes. It's comfortable enough to enjoy without air conditioning, so don't count out the primitive sites if you're capable of dry camping.
Vehicle parking is available at the campground as well as at the visitor center and near the public boat ramp area. Visitors are also welcome to enter the park on a bicycle. All bicyclists under the age of 18 must wear a helmet. The park also welcomes visitors on horseback and offers a day-use equestrian staging area with room for parking horse trailers and restrooms.
The Raton KOA Kampground is conveniently located between Colorado and New Mexico. While at the campground, guests can easily visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument, Sugarite Canyon State Park, the Boy Scout Museum, the Santa Fe Trail, the NRA Whittington Center, and the Downtown Historic District. The campground itself features Wi-Fi and cable, restrooms and showers, laundry facilities, ice, a gift shop, and a game room, and guests can take part in recreational activities, including ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts, and holiday celebrations.
There are not many campsites in Sugarite Canyon State Park, and even fewer with RV hook-ups, so you'll want to make reservations as soon as possible. The Alice Lake Campground offers eight sites with water and electric, and two sites with full hookups. The largest site accommodates RVs and trailers up to 45 feet in length. The campground has water, showers, full restrooms, and a dump station. There are picnic tables and fire rings at each site. Pets are allowed throughout the park on a leash.
The Lake Alice Campground is not just a reservation-only facility. Sugarite Canyon State Park has a select number of primitive-style, first-come, first-served campsites available within the campground, and any spaces not reserved after 4 PM roll over to first-come, first-served sites. Most of the standard sites have enough room for up to 30-foot trailers and RVs. Since the non-reservable spaces are scattered throughout the main campground, campers staying here have the same facilities as the campers who reserved their spots.
The Lake Alice Campground at Sugarite Canyon State Park features 30 tent camping sites spread throughout the park. The space between campsites allows guests to enjoy privacy from other campers and to select the location and view that fits them best. Each site features a picnic table and a fire ring. Campers also have access to water, showers, and full restrooms. Arrive early during the peak camping season. Sites are not reservable, and the best views go fast. Pets are allowed throughout the park on a leash.
The coal mining camp of Sugarite once housed over a thousand workers. After the mine closed in 1941, the mines were sealed up, and most of the equipment and buildings were relocated. Still, the remnants of the mining camp remain, and now these relics are a popular attraction for history buffs. Much of the items left behind, such as train carts and building foundations, are ideal for exploring. Interpretive signs mark the old mines and several key structures. A short hiking trail takes visitors on a tour of the camp.
At around 7,000 feet, winters are cold enough to thicken the ice on Lake Alice, making Sugarite Canyon State Park a popular spot for ice fishing. With rainbow and brown trout stocked in the park and known to often weigh in at two to three pounds, it's a big opportunity for a small lake. The Lake Alice Campground is open in winter to welcome frosty adventures. Check with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for regulations. Park rangers at the visitor center can alert ice fishers to current weather and ice conditions.
New Mexico has some of the most diverse bird populations in the country. Over five hundred species of local and migratory birds can be seen at different times of the year in Sugarite Canyon State Park. Check with the Visitor Center for special events such as the World Migratory Bird Day Festival. During the festival each May, visitors can enjoy doughnuts and coffee while keeping a watchful eye out for hawks and, of course, migrating birds. Boaters will have the best opportunity to get up close views during the spring and fall.
Every September, this biking event brings together a 20-mile cycle race, 10k trail run, three-mile paddling course, and shotgun shoot all into one rigorous race. Northern New Mexico is an active area of the country with many residents and visitors who are ready for adventure. The ordinarily quiet Sugarite Canyon buzzes with excitement for this weekend in September. Check with the Visitor Center for registration info and entry fees. Visitors are also welcome to watch the festivities and cheer on the participants.
Little Horse Mesa exposes a giant face of basaltic columns in the park called caprock. This ancient volcanic geology creates a distinct and climbable crack about every ten feet. Because the face is only about 50 feet tall, top-rope climbing is possible on nearly every climb. The rock is in excellent condition and allows for traditional and sport climbs. The high altitude makes this cooler climbing even in summer, but the cliffs do face south. So, be careful mid-day.
The 120-acre Lake Maloya is open to non-motorized boating in Sugarite Canyon State Park. The abundant scenery, peacefulness, and well-stocked fishing make this a rewarding place to paddle. The water makes classic canoeing and kayaking with abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. You might even spot a beaver around the lake. No boats are allowed on the much smaller Lake Alice. A public boat ramp is available for use on the southeast corner of Lake Maloya.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has been stocking Lake Maloya for decades. The result is some huge rainbow and brown trout hiding in the lake. There are numerous reports of three-pound fish over 25 inches long. The lake is restricted to non-motorized boats, but once you experience the quiet in Sugarite Canyon State Park, you'll want to preserve it, too. Canoes and kayaks are welcome and can be rented at many locations outside the park. Check with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for regulations.
There is no better way to explore Sugarite Canyon State Park than on horseback. The park is home to 13 miles of trails that welcome equestrians of all ages. The Ponderosa Horse Camp staging area offers a central point for parking horse trailers and preparing for your ride. Corrals are available for reservation. From this location, horses and riders can access the Ponderosa Ridge Trail, Opportunity Trail, Lake Maloya Trail, and Wapiti Trail. These trails connect to provide access to Little Horse Mesa, the shores of Lake Maloya, and the surrounding wilderness.
Hiking at Sugarite Canyon State Park is one of the area's most popular activities. More than 13 miles of trails are open to hikers for exploration. Hikers of all skill levels easily access interpretive trails at the historic coal camp. During the spring, hikers can enjoy the abundant wildflowers blooming amid scenic overlooks and along the lakeshore. The River Walk Trail is perfect for beginners, while the Little Horse Mesa Trail offers a bit more of a challenge around the park landmark. Trails like the Ponderosa Ridge Trail and Opportunity Trail connect to form loops through the northern portion of the park.