Wildlife Watching & Nature Trails

Gallinas Nature Trail / Gordon Warrick ©

Enjoy the auto tour loop, trails, and overlook!  Amazing views and outdoor adventure awaits you.


The Fall Flight Festival/Wildlife Drive (November, Sundays only)
Visit the wildlife drive open only on Sundays in November. At this time of year, the five miles of back roads are open so visitors can get a closer look at some of the exciting birds that visit the refuge during the fall migration.  Restrictions apply to minimize disturbance to wildlife.  For more information, see the Events Calendar.

Scenic Auto Loop (8 miles)
Driving the eight-mile horseshoe loop along CR 22C and Hwy 281 allows visitors to enjoy scenic views and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities in a diversity of habitats, including ponds, lakes, marshes, grasslands, cottonwood stands and brush thickets.  The loop is accessible year-round, although occasionally some parts of County Road 22C become difficult to drive after heavy rain.  Informational leaflets, including a map of the refuge and the bird species list, are available during office hours (Monday-Thursday, 8 am to 4:30 pm; and Fridays from 8 am to 3:30 pm - if refuge staff are in) or outside the main entrance, at the kiosk. Due to a smaller staff, an employee may not be available within the hours above.  You may call the refuge at 505-425-3581 to assure that a staff member is in.

As you drive the loop, take a moment to enjoy the view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west, and be sure to stop at the Fred Quintana Overlook at Crane Lake, one of the best areas from which to view wildlife.

The Gallinas Nature Trail (1.75 miles)
This self-guided nature trail meanders through fields of native grasses and wildflowers, past historic ruins, and descends approximately 250 feet into one of the many box canyons that surround the refuge.  As you descend into the canyon, you will find an oasis in this arid zone - a small seep, surrounded by vegetation, which provides habitat for an assortment of small fish, amphibians, crustaceans and aquatic insects.  Continuing on the loop trail, on the western side of the canyon, enjoy being surrounded by the sweet smell of piñon, juniper and ponderosa. Along this walk, listen for the call of a canyon wren and keep a look out for wild turkey ahead or American kestrel up above.

The trail is open from sunup to sundown 7 days a week and is self-guided.

The Meadowlark Trail (.5 miles)
The short self-guided nature trail is an ADA loop at the refuge headquarters.  The trail meanders through short-grass prairie, around an acequia (a traditional water delivery canal), wetland, and a wooded wind shelter belt area with opportunities to see diverse bird life.  This trail includes interpretive signs designed to enhance your experience.

The Meadowlark Trail begins at the refuge office entrance gate.  Visitors are welcome to walk the Prairie Trail at any time during daylight hours.  If you are visiting the Refuge at a time when the office and entrance gate will be closed, please visit the kiosk located at the gate where you will find refuge brochures.

Fred Quintana Overlook at Crane Lake
Enjoy some of the best wildlife viewing from the observation deck or capture that perfect photograph. Interpretive panels provide information about some of the wildlife you might see from this vantage point.  Excellent viewing opportunities exist here year-round.

In addition to the many birds on Crane Lake, elk may also be visible from the observation platform.  Use your binoculars or our mounted spotting scope to get a closer look!