El Malpais National Conservation Area

Quick Facts

El Malpais National Conservation Area

New Mexico

(505) 280-2918

Map Directions

Things To Do


El Malpais translates to "the badlands" in Spanish and is pronounced Mal-(rhymes with wall)-pie-ees. El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) was established to protect nationally significant geological, archaeological, ecological, cultural, scenic, scientific, and wilderness resources surrounding the Grants Lava Flows. In addition to the two wilderness areas, the National Conservation Area includes dramatic sandstone cliffs, canyons, La Ventana Natural Arch, the Chain of Craters Back Country Byway and the Narrows Picnic Area. There are many opportunities for photography, hiking, camping and wildlife viewing within this unique area.

For more than 10,000 years people have interacted with the El Malpais landscape. Historic and prehistoric sites provide connections to past times. More than mere artifacts, these cultural resources are kept alive by the spiritual and physical presence of contemporary Indian groups, including the Puebloan peoples of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, and the Ramah Navajo. These tribes continue their ancestral uses of El Malpais including gathering plant materials, paying respect, and renewing ties.

The El Malpais National Conservation Area was established in 1987 and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The adjoining El Malpais National Monument was also established at the same time and is managed by the National Park Service. The 263,000 acre NCA includes two wilderness areas -- West Malpais and Cebolla -- covering almost 100,000 acres.

Map of El Malpais NCA

Latitude, Longitude: 34.954056, -107.947540



  • Bicycling

    Mountain bikes are permitted on any of the backcountry roads, however, like motorized vehicles, mechanical bikes or equipment are prohibited from wilderness areas.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    Visitors can take in the spectacular sightseeing with an auto tour.

  • Camping

    The Joe Skeen Campground has 12 primitive sites for campers. Private campgrounds and other lodging are available in and near Grants, five miles northeast of El Malpais. Most of the developed campgrounds are RV accessible.

  • Hiking

    There are five designated trails in the El Malpais NCA, which offer great hiking opportunities and scenic views. For experienced hikers, the Narrows Rim Trail outlines the edge of a cliff along a rim of sandstone with spectacular vistas. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail follows the continental divide and winds among the Chain of Craters for a dry but gorgeous multi-day hike. Ranger guided walks and history talks are available for groups or school tours at the Ranger Station Nature Trail. Keep in mind lava is sharp; wear appropriate footwear and gear and bring plenty of water.

  • Historic Sites

    Rangers can provide natural and cultural history talks for organized groups. Education groups are welcome and activities can be conducted with school groups if arrangements are made in advance.

  • Horseback Riding

    There are numerous places for travel by horse or other stock animal.

  • Off Highway Vehicles

    The condition of backcountry roads recommends high ground clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles, and the condition of some primitive roads requires such vehicles. Mountain bikes, ATVs, dirt bikes and horse travel are also allowed on these roads. Travel with any of the motorized or mechanized equipment must be on designated roads, no cross country travel is allowed except by stock animals or foot. In wilderness areas, access is limited to stock animals and foot traffic.

  • Picnicking

    The Narrows Picnic Area has five picnic table sites, one of which is accessible, and two vault toilets. At Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, a picnic table and a vault toilet are available. Each visitor center also has one picnic table, water, and restrooms. La Ventana Natural Arch also has a picnic table and two vault toilets.

  • RVing

    RVs are welcome in the campground, though only mostly primitive campsites are available with no hookups.


The area is open year-round. Visitors should be cautious during the monsoon season because unpredictable weather may occur and cause flooding.



Visitors should begin their visit at this facility, located off NM 117, nine miles south of Interstate 40. From I-40 take exit 89 and travel south through the northern end of the National Conservation Area.


The closest major airport to the conservation area is Albuquerque International Sunport.

Phone Numbers


(505) 280-2918