Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area — Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico

When I moved to Lakewood, I had a number of people tell me that I should visit Sitting Bull Falls. It’s about an hour’s drive from me so I said, why not, and grabbed some water and my camera and set out one morning in early October with the dog. About 30 miles into our trip, I realized that the GPS was having me definitely go the wrong way — wanting me to turn on little gravel side roads and heading north instead of south. I gave up and came home. Studied the maps and printed out directions, learned from the locals not to rely on GPS in New Mexico, and set out to try again two weeks later.

The second time was a charm, I identified the intersection where I’d made my mistake the first time, and it turned out to actually be quite an easy drive. Sitting Bull Falls Road is off Queen’s Highway (137) and I did pass about three large travel trailers coming back from somewhere along the way. However, I would not recommend driving all the way to the falls in an RV. The roads do become quite narrow and windy after you enter the National Forest.

The recreation area is only open during daylight hours and there is a $5.00 fee payable as you enter the paved parking area. If you want to hike or disperse camp in other areas, which are actually before the parking lot, I imagine you would have to get a sticker for your car and then drive back to the area you want to hike or rock climb. They accepted my National Parks Pass so I didn’t have to pay and she said they accept almost anything except New Mexico State Parks.

The picnic area and the walkway to the falls observation deck are very nicely laid out and maintained and people have been visiting here since the 1920s. It seems like a place that might get quite crowded during popular times but fortunately, there were only a handful of other people the morning I was there. I read a sign that explained that two of the picnic shelters were still standing from the 1920s, although all the others have since been rebuilt. It was fun walking around and trying to locate the original shelters and when I spoke with the camp host later, she confirmed that I had found the right ones.

It’s an easy paved walk to the falls observation deck. And if you’re more daring, there are stone steps leading down to the water. The camp host mentioned that it was okay to wade in the water although it’s quite chilling. I passed but I could hear others walking and splashing farther down as I explored. I did want to keep my dog from drinking the water because there was an abundance of algae but around the algae, the water was very clear.

There is also a trail leading up to the top of the falls and as I was on the observation deck, I did see one person up there take a quick peek over before leaving. I didn’t do the hike because it was starting to heat up for the day and my dog is elderly. It might be something I’ll consider in the future though. I also read a sign that said that permits were available for rock climbing throughout the recreation area.

This was a spectacular sight, even in late fall, for anyone who enjoys beautiful scenery or historical sights. But it really offers a lot more. If you are at all into geology, this is definitely a place you shouldn’t miss. I was not able to get a panoramic photo but as you look around you, you will notice that you are actually standing in a huge bowl. The mountains surround you on almost all sides like being inside an arena. And there are many instances of layered and tilted strata everywhere.

While there is a nice bathroom building, other than the picnic shelters, there is nothing else in this location. If you stay for the day, bring everything you will need with you, including plenty of water. The nearest campgrounds to here would probably be Dog Canyon, about 40 miles away, or something in Carlsbad, about 42 miles away. I plan to do more exploring in the future to see more of the Lincoln National Forest.

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