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  Hiking Trail or Trailhead

CDT: Chain of Craters Trail - Grants NM

Cerro Rendija Trailhead for CDT, 6 miles south of NM 53.
View south along the CDT from Cerro Rendija Trailhead on County road 42.
Cairns on the CDT, a mile west of Cerro Brillante Trailhead.
Cairns on the CDT, two miles northwest of Cerro Brillante Trailhead.
Westbound approach to Cerro Brillante Trailhead on the CDT; at County Road 42.
Gate on the 11-mile southern approach trail from NM 117, one mile east of Cerro Brillante Trailhead.
The developing CDT segment from NM 117 runs north of County Road 42; this view shows westbound approach to Cerro Brillante on the horizon.
Cairns on the 11-mile southern approach trail from NM 117; Cerro Brillante stands 3 miles to the west.

This 35-mile Section No. 20 of the Continental Divide Trail runs 25 to 60 miles south of Grants, accessed by NM state highways 53 and 117. It winds along the Divide in open ponderosa and pinon-juniper forest among a series of volcanic cinder cones up to 500 feet in height. The CDT in this area has been marked by several projects in recent years with cairns and trail posts.

The centerpiece of this trail segment is a 19-mile hiking trail with dirt road access at either end. Much of this trail segment is on BLM Wilderness or National Monument lands where dispersed camping is alllowed, but water sources are isolated.

The southern trailhead is 35 miles south of I-40. The first 11 miles west from NM 117's pavement are in open grasslands. It can be hiked (or driven) on County Road 42 (the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway). A parallel hiking trail north of this road has not been completely marked yet for the full 11 miles.

Then, the CDT leaves the road at a trailhead southeast of Cerro Brillante, a 550-foot cinder cone - the first of many, going north. It weaves through open forest among the volcanic hills along the Divide until reaching a second CR 42 trailhead west of Cerro Rendija, a low, wide ancient shield volcano. From Brillante, the off-road trail distance is 19 miles to where it rejoins CR 42, then 6 miles to pavement on Highway 53 ( 25 miles south of I-40).

This segment of the CDT can be a multi-day self-supported backpack as water sources are scarce; it can also be a 19-mile day-hike if a vehicle shuttle is done between Brillante and Rendija.  CDT through-hikers should consult the latest web or print resources as to support options and water. *County Road 42 may be impassable in the summer rainy season, and if snowy.

Between the two trailheads along CR42, hikers will find a number of named cinder cones, some with lava outcrops, rising above the trail. These volcanic features vary in height, color, and texture. Some of the trail is on rough lava outcrops but much of it is open woodlands, carpeted with pine needles. Climbing the cinder slopes, while challenging, reveals vast views in all directions of rugged black lava fields, green pine forest, and the arcing chain of cinder cones - with volcanic Mount Taylor rising 40 miles to the northeast.

The visitor to this trail will find few if any other hikers over the 19-mile single-track segment. On the 6 and 11 mile approaches, vehicles or other users are rare, although some notable features in the nearby El Malpais area draw visitors into this trail corridor.

Vertical Gain or Loss: From south to north the trail elevation rises from 7080 to 7840 feet - a 760-foot climb, not including the ups and downs of open, rolling country along the Divide.

Trail Distance: 35.8 miles, including 11 road miles south and 6 road miles north on dirt CR42.

 ADA Accessibility Notes


 Eco-Friendly Notes

Much of this CDT trail segment is in wilderness or wilderness study areas, subject to basic wilderness access and camping guidelines (no bikes). Other sections of the trail cross national conservation area and private lands.

 Pet Friendly Notes

Open range - coyotes are common, while black bear or cougar are rare but possible.

For More Information, Contact:

Bureau of Land Management

Box 846, Grants, NM 87020

Richard Atkinson, Manager New Mexico Public Lands Information Center wrote on January 20, 2011: for BLM info about the entire CDT in New Mexico, see

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Boundaries and names shown do not necessarily reflect the map policy of National Geographic.

Latitude: 35.001175000
Longitude: -108.094482000
Elevation: 7967 FT (2428 M)
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