- South of Grants
El Malpais means the badlands but this volcanic area holds many surprises. Lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges and complex lava tubes dominate the landscape. A closer look reveals high desert environments where animals and plants thrive. Prehistoric ruins, ancient cairns, rock structures, and homesteads remind us of past times. Visitors need to be prepared for exploring this rugged place.
The jagged volcanic terrain influences a variety of activities such as hiking, spelunking and primitive camping. Very few trails exist at El Malpais National Monument. Rather, cairned routes lead hikers to interesting features. These piles of rocks blend in well with the lava flows and are often difficult to sight. Hikers need to be prepared to apply route-finding skills to avoid becoming lost.
Exploring by Car
The monument is bordered by two state highways and a dirt county road. NM117 on the eastern boundary provides a scenic drive along the McCarty's Lava Flow. This is the youngest flow within El Malpais and is dated between 2000-3000 years old.
NM53 is a scenic byway that follows the northern boundary of the monument. It parallels the El Calderon Lava Flow which is estimated to be 115,000 years old and is the oldest lava flow withing El Malpais.
County Road 42 is also known as the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway. This is a 32 mile dirt road that provides access to the western portion of the monument. High clearance vehicles are recommended for traveling this road.
Hours + Fees
Map + Directions
El Malpais is located south of Grants, NM. Two major state highways border the monument and conservation area and both are accessed via Interstate 40. Exit 89, east of Grants, will take you along NM 117 which forms the eastern boundary. BLM’‘s El Malpais Ranger Station is located 9 miles south of this exit and is open daily. Exit 85 at Grants will take you to the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center, a multi-agency facility, located south of exit 85 and is open daily. Exit 81, west of Grants, will take you along NM 53 which forms the northwestern boundary. NPS’‘s El Malpais Information Center is located 23 miles south of this exit and is open daily.