Great Hikes: Hop Canyon Tour, Magdalena, NM
A Word of Warning
This hike comes with a couple of warnings. Firstly, this is a 10 mile hike with lots of elevation gain. Even if you think you are up for it, you will be starting out at nearly 8,000 feet and topping out at around 9,500 feet. If you are visiting from a lower elevation, you WILL feel the difference. Know the symptoms of altitude sickness and turn around immediately if you or anyone in your party begin to experience these symptoms.
Think twice about taking your dog. This trail is dog friendly, but only for the most hardy of canines. I took Ella the Brown Wonder with me and she really enjoyed it. But it should be noted that Ella is 6 years old, an excellent and experienced hiker and in great shape. That said, she was totally beat at the end. Also, rattlesnakes inhabit this area. If your dog has not had a rattlesnake venom vaccination, leave your buddy at home.
Speaking of critters, bears and mountain lions also live here. Bears rarely bother hikers, but the mountain lions in this area have attacked and even killed dogs. Do not let your pet stray out of sight. I have seen bears, but not the lions. I HAVE seen game cam footage of the lions very near this area.
There are no water sources on this trail most of the year. Take as much water as you think you will need, and then take extra.
The Quick and Dirty
DISTANCE: 10 miles
TIME: 7-8 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: difficult
DOG FRIENDLY: maybe
Getting to the trailhead is fairly straightforward. From Magdalena, turn onto Kelly Road at the Ranger station. Follow the road to a junction and bear right onto Hop Canyon Road. Hop Canyon Road starts out paved, turns into a hard packed dirt road and then a forest road. Most vehicles will get to the trailhead without much difficulty, but driver gingerly as you near your starting point.
The trailhead is clearly marked and has a turnout where you can safely park your vehicle. Look for the signed with the big "25" on it. There are two trailheads here, 25A and 25B.
The hike begins on trail 25B, that is the trail on the west side of the road. You will immediately begin an uphill walk through ponderosa pines. About and hour into the hike, you will cross an large rockslide that looks like a someone spilled a giant box of Grapenuts cereal down the mountain. The rockslide is stable, but your dog may need some assistance or reassurance to traverse it.
Near the rockslide area, you will be greeted with fantastic westerly views. In the distance, you will be able to see the Very Large Array (VLA). The VLA is a conglomeration of a dozen or more large radio astronomy antennas. The antennas are on railroad tracks and are occasionally moved about in different configurations.
Not long after these splendid views comes the only confusing point along the trail. The actual path will pass through a fence via a shoddy, barbed wire gate. You can see the trail beyond the gate, but another path continues up the hill and is more prominent, often luring hikers the wrong way. There is NO sign at this junction.
Pressing on for another hour or so and you will finally be rewarded with some flat trail. This portion runs along a wide ridge on the western side of Hop Canyon, although you will not see either the eastern or western slope. It is along this portion that you will come to a junction. If you veer right you will end up on top of South Baldy Mountain. You need to continue straight, there is a sign that will direct you towards Hop Canyon Trail. After this point, you are technically on trail #8 (on some maps, but not all), but it is never marked as such after this point. It will eventually link up with trail 25A.
The trail that runs across the back (south) end of Hop Canyon will at first come upon a large open meadow. This is a great place to watch for wildlife as they come here to graze, and an awesome place to have your lunch as it marks the halfway point of the hike.
If you are hiking with a dog, take note of how much it is drinking. Dehydration can affect them too. Carrying your own water is difficult enough, but ensure you have enough for your pooch. Ella likes to carry her own water. On this trip we used an old Kelty dog pack for her to carry two bottles of water. It makes her feel just like her humans when she has her own pack. Unfortunately, the Kelty is no longer being produced. On other trips the have used a comparable and efficient from Outward Hound that is affordable and Ella approved. substitute pack
After the meadow, the traverse on the back side is mostly flat. This trail is seldom used so it is not so easily followed. In the summer, the brush can cover up the trail. After the leaves have fallen navigation is simpler. There are also some interesting blazes on the trees to help. Instead of using paint that is easily visible, the caretakers of the trail used a hatchet to mark what looks like a large, upside down exclamation point. The problem is, many of the tress are healing themselves and the bark is growing over the blazes.
Also be careful not to stray too far south of the trail. The backside of the mountain is a sheer drop off.
As you come to an end of the backside traverse, there is a wide, rocky saddle to cross and then up a smooth, stony mount. Beyond this, the trail is uphill and marked with cairns. Follow the cairns until you see a sign and pick up an obvious path. From here, you are now on trail 25A.
The rest of the hike is mostly downhill, losing the elevation you worked so hard to gain. But, it will be worth it. The views from the saddle are breathtaking. It will take at least another nearly two hours to reach the end of trail 25A, but it will deposit you exactly where you parked your vehicle.
The combined length, elevation and altitude make for a challenging, but rewarding, hike. This adventure is a great introduction to the Cibola National Forest and located in some of the less explored areas of New Mexico.
Be sure to check out the town of Magdalena while you are there. It is small, but very unique with lots of character. Treat yourself to a beer in the only bar in town after you get off of the mountain; you have earned it.