West Malpais Wilderness
Guide

Introduction

As a landscape of mostly flat volcanic lava flows encompassing three main flora ecotypes, West Malpais Wilderness is a nature lover’s paradise and premier destination for outdoor enthusiasts and primitive recreation. This 62 square mile Bureau of Land Management wilderness, located west of Albuquerque, 35 miles south of Interstate 40, New Mexico, can be accessed via several highways and routes, making navigation to the park easy. Vehicles and mechanical equipment are not allowed within the wilderness boundaries.

There are no modern camping opportunities in this BLM park in New Mexico. However, amazing primitive camping experiences abound in different parts of the wilderness. Gear up and come along with all the resources you’ll need to make your stay memorable. More camping options are provided nearby at El Malpais National Monument and El Malpais NCA.

Make up your mind to visit many of the amazing spots in this wilderness area and carry your camera along because you’ll find plenty to take pictures of. Some of the places to visit around and within the wilderness include Hole-In-The-Wall, South Narrows Picnic Area, and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Other exciting activities in the park are wildlife viewing, horseback riding, hiking and flora observation.

RV Rentals in West Malpais Wilderness

Transportation

Driving

West Malpais Wilderness lies west of Albuquerque, 35 miles south of Interstate 40, New Mexico. This BLM wilderness can be reached from various ends, offering plenty of access points for travelers who would love to spend time in this wilderness. The most preferred route to access this park is from the south end of the El Malpais National Conservation Area, off New Mexico Highway 117. The wilderness can also be accessed via New Mexico 52 on to County Road 43. Be prepared to drive through rough and dirt roads on your way to wilderness, so it’s recommended that you come in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Within the boundaries of this BLM property in New Mexico, the use of motorized vehicles and other mechanized equipment is not allowed. As a result, visitors driving to the wilderness are advised to look out for signs and posts that indicate where the wilderness boundaries are. Around these spots, parking spaces are provided to places to park vehicles and cars. A parking area is located at the Hole-In-The-Wall trailhead too. Navigation within the wilderness area is either on foot or on horses. The use of wheelchairs is allowed within the wilderness.

There are no direct public transportation services to West Malpais Wilderness.

If you require RVs and trailers for developed camping opportunities nearby, visit El Malpais National Monument.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in West Malpais Wilderness

Campsites in West Malpais Wilderness

Alternate camping

Joe Skeen Campground

Joe Skeen Campground is a pet-friendly campground in the El Malpais NCA that offers free camping opportunities to visitors year-round. In this high desert campground, there are 10 campsites equipped with amenities such as covered picnic tables, space for tents, fire grills, and vault toilets. Parking spaces are also available within some of the campsites, accommodating vehicles as long as 50 feet.

The road that leads to the campground is graveled and mostly easy to negotiate. A steep arroyo at the entrance of the campground may provide an obstacle to access depending on water levels.

The maximum stay in the campground is seven days and quiet hours are from 10 pm to 6 am.

Seasonal activities in West Malpais Wilderness

Off-Season

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is a widely popular trail that passes through BLM properties located in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Known for its scenic beauty, this trail is considered the “King of Trails”, as it is more difficult to hike than other similar long-distance trails.

Hiking enthusiasts at West Malpais Wilderness usually fancy their chances testing themselves on the portion of this 389-mile long scenic trail around the wilderness area. Remember, it is more suited for experienced hikers as it is quite challenging. In spite of that, there’s fun to be had on it, regardless of your skills level.

South Narrows Picnic Area

Opportunities to enjoy a picnic and enjoy day-use area activities are available at South Narrows Picnic Area, located just off New Mexico Highway 117 to the north of the wilderness. This recreation area is tucked against sandstone cliffs within pinyon and juniper trees, creating an amazing scene for relaxation, refreshment and nature observation.

Within the area, covered picnic tables with fire grills are provided. In addition, two vault toilets are available. If you fancy hiking, you’ll find the nine-mile looped Narrows Rim Trail around the south end of the picnic area.

Flora

Beautiful flora species decorate the corridors of West Malpais Wilderness. The lava flows and countless volcanic eruptions in the area now provide the platform for the growth and survival of diverse vegetation, even of terrain that would be presumed barren. Three main flora ecotypes are present in the wilderness – grasslands in the southwestern areas; pinyon-juniper woodlands in the western areas; and ponderosa pine in the northern areas of the wilderness. Look out for cacti, fir and aspen in the wilderness too.

In-Season

Hole-In-The-Wall

One of the most popular features within West Malpais Wilderness is Hole-In-The-Wall, the largest island-like depression in the lava fields in the wilderness. The lava in this area is estimated to be about 700,000 years old.

Covering an area of 10.5 square miles, this depression has over time collected enough moisture and soil that now support the growth of beautiful ponderosa pine stands. The area is therefore referred to locally as the kipuka, meaning an island of fertile ground. This island is a popular destination for hikers, backpackers, and tourists.

Hiking

Hiking is more or the less the most popular recreational activity within West Malpais Wilderness. This is due to the fact the wilderness features lots of beautiful spots to see, explore and take photographs of, all of which are accessible by foot. Trails in the wilderness are marked by small rock cairns.

Hikers who come to the wilderness with the intention of getting around the park should have good balance to navigate the rough, sharp, and abrasive hardened lavas, and wear very good hiking shoes. It’s also advisable to have flashlights and protecting clothing if you intend to explore the lava tubes in the wilderness. Don’t forget to carry plenty of water too.

Wildlife Viewing

Wildlife observers are in for a treat at West Malpais Wilderness, owing to the rich diversity of fauna in the wilderness areas. If you spend your summer vacation in the wilderness areas, chances are that you will see antelopes as well as a large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats migrating between the caves in the park.

Other commonly seen wildlife in this property are deer, coyotes, rabbits, rabbits and red-tailed hawks. If you feel up to it, you can explore the lava tubes. However, ensure you carry several flashlights and stay out of the bat caves.