El Calderon Trail

El Malpais National Monument
Located 16.9 miles from Grants, New Mexico (NM)
4 Stars
3,820 Steps 1  (1.7 mi)

A visit to the El Malpais National Monument will not be a disappointment; this popular destination is a must for cavers, hikers and general backcountry exploration.

One hundred and fifteen thousand years ago a volcanic eruption formed the El Calderon Cinder Cone; Ponderosa Pine and Rocky Mountain Juniper now cover most of the volcanic terrain. The El Calderon Trail has much to offer outdoor enthusiasts; lava tubes, two sinkholes and numerous caves are located here. The trail is graveled with little elevation gain and although it's marked with cairns, the geology of the land makes this a difficult trail to follow as the cairns blend in with the surrounding volcanic rock. The use of a GPS and map are strongly recommended while hiking the trails at El Malpais. For those that prefer to use a compass, please note that due to the iron rich deposits in the lava flows, the compass will probably not function correctly.

Caving is a very popular activity at EL Malpais National Monument; the Big Tubes area has one of the largest cave systems in North America. The El Calderon cave network begins at Cave Junction near the parking lot and picnic area.

A short walk from Cave Junction leads to Double Sinks; both of these sinkholes have a depth of approximately 80 ft and there are no fences surrounding them. The first image at the top of this page shows the sinkhole on approach.

El Calderon TrailDouble SinksJunction Cave


The El Calderon Trail has a maximum elevation of 7,586 ft (2,312 m), a minimum elevation of 7,298 ft (2,225 m), and an elevation range of 288 ft (88 m).


[ A to B ] or [ B to A ]
Steps 1Length 2Min Ele 3Max Ele 4
3,8201.7 mi7,298 ft7,586 ft
[ A to B ]
Time 5Floors 6Gain 7Loss 8
49 min25.8309 ft32 ft
[ B to A ]
44 min2.732 ft309 ft

What is the length of the El Calderon Trail?

The length of the trail is 1.7 mi (2.8 km) or 3,820 steps.

How long does it take to hike the El Calderon Trail?

A person in good physical health can hike the trail in 49 min in the [ A to B ] direction, and in 44 min in the [ B to A ] direction.


The following chart shows the total calories that you may expend on the trail while hiking in the [ A to B ] and [ B to A ] direction at a typical speed and is based on gross weight (which includes anything carried), the topography, trail length and trail conditions.

Topo Maps

Download the free El Calderon Trail topo map and the adjoining quads to plan your hike. These are full-sheet, 7.5 Minute (1:24,000 scale) El Malpais National Monument topographic maps. Do you want full-sheet outdoor recreation JPEG Topo Maps?

Adjoining 7.5' Quadrangle Legend

  1. Northwest Topo Map: Valle Largo, NM
  2. North Topo Map: Paxton Springs, NM
  3. Northeast Topo Map: San Rafael, NM
  4. West Topo Map: Cerro Hueco, NM
  5. Topo Map: Ice Caves, NM
  6. East Topo Map: Arrosa Ranch, NM
  7. Southwest Topo Map: Cerro Brillante, NM
  8. South Topo Map: Ice Caves SE, NM
  9. Southeast Topo Map: North Pasture, NM

Is there an El Calderon trail map?

Yes, and it's free! The El Calderon Trail is located on the Ice Caves topo map. Use the adjoining quadrangle legend to download the map.



  1. Steps is a unit of distance equal to the sum of stride lengths that vary with the terrain.
  2. Length is the distance of the trail between the two trailheads, measured on the trail.
  3. Min Ele is the minimum elevation on the trail.
  4. Max Ele is the maximum elevation on the trail.
  5. Time is the typical total time required to hike the trail.
  6. Floors is the gain divided by twelve, the height of one floor.
  7. Gain (cumulative elevation gain) is the sum of every gain in elevation.
  8. Loss (cumulative elevation loss) is the sum of every loss in elevation.