Backcountry Experience

Prairie gives way to forest as the mountains rise in the distance.
Valle Toledo is one of the large valleys in the northern stretches of the park.



The backcountry of Valles Caldera National Preserve is a world of nature, where humans are guests. Elk graze across the forests and valleys, rivers run wild, and the endemic Jemez Mountains salamander lives in the moist understory of Douglas fir forests.

We invite you to visit this natural wonder of north-central New Mexico. Remember to follow Leave No Trace principles so as to leave the place as you found it.

  • Observe the natural world, from weather patterns and wildlife moving across the landscape to plants growing and blooming to wild and scenic rivers flowing.
  • Explore the lava domes that helped prove the geologic theory of Continental Drift.
  • Step back into the Archaic Period and look for evidence of past human use.
  • Find solitude and your own way to connect with nature.
  • See ecological restoration efforts as we work to renew the landscape from past exploitative activities.
  • Explore nature through art.
  • Take in the ecosystems while going for a hike, bike-ride, or horseback ride.
  • Catch a fish in the pristine waters.

Backcountry Vehicle Route

From May 15 through November 15, you can drive into the backcountry along the backcountry vehicle route. This route takes you from the Valle Grande front-country through the central part of the park and up into Valle Toledo and Valle San Antonio in the north.

Backcountry Vehicle Pass

A backcountry vehicle pass is required to drive into the backcountry. We provide 40 passes every day from May 15 through November 15. Reservations for 35 of the passes are available on Valles Caldera's page. See the table for when passes are available for reservation.

New for 2024: The remaining 5 passes are available on a first-come, first-served basis in the Entrance Station. These passes will be available starting at 10 am each day.

Each vehicle that travels into the backcountry is required to have a pass.


Road Condition and Speed Limit

The route is a narrow gravel and rock road. Wildlife frequently cross the road. Large rocks, potholes, wash-boarding, or water may be on the road, so high-clearance vehicles are recommended.

The speed limit is 20 miles per hour (32 kph), except in posted areas where the speed is 10 miles per hour (16 kph). Remember, all wildlife has the right-of-way.

Please help protect Valles Caldera's sensitive vegetation and wildlife habitat by driving ONLY on established roadways. Off-road travel in motorized vehicles is strictly prohibited.


Parking in along the backcountry vehicle route is limited. Please pull off the road in areas that

  • Have already been disturbed,
  • Consist of bare ground (to prevent the starting of a fire),
  • Do NOT block any gates, and
  • Allows traffic to continue along the route.


The exit of the backcountry vehicle route is the same as the entrance. There is no alternative exit. Therefore, remember that the time it takes you to drive into the park is the same amount of time you'll need to exit the park.


Rules and Regulations

To help you enjoy the backcountry of Valles Caldera, here are some important rules and regulations to follow.

  • Pass-holders are required to return to New Mexico Route 4 no later than the gate closure time listed in the operating hours.
  • Pets are not permitted in the backcountry.
  • Fishing and equestrian permits do not include vehicle access to the backcountry.
  • Vehicle access may be unavailable if the roads are unsafe for travel.
  • Flash-flooding and washouts may occur during periods of heavy rains, especially during monsoon season (July-August).
  • Buses, off-road vehicles (ATVs, UTVs, etc.) and non-street legal motorcycles are not permitted.
  • Smoking is allowed only inside your personal vehicle.
  • All trash must be disposed of properly.
  • No feeding or approaching of wildlife.
  • Passes can be revoked for violations of park rules and regulations.

Last updated: May 14, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

090 Villa Louis Martin Dr.
Jemez Springs, NM 87025


Ranger Station (for general park information)

Contact Us