Big Tubes Trail is a 1.9 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near San Rafael, New Mexico that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.

Length1.9 miElevation gain78 ftRoute typeLoop
Kid friendlyHikingNature tripsWalkingBird watchingRunningCaveForestViewsWildflowersWildlifeRockyNo dogs
Description
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Getting There

A rough but fairly level hike to and around two collapsed lava tubes. This trail takes you through an open forest containing a variety of trees such as aspen, ponderosa pine, pion and juniper. The lava tubes to which you hike are large and long (one of the longest in North America). They are unlike anything else you will see while hiking. The trail takes off from the east side of the parking lot This trail is a cairn trail. It is easy to follow, as the cairns are large and there are plenty of them.

Take exit 81 from I-40 and head south for a total of 23.9 miles. This is the El Malpais visitor center. It is a good idea to stop in here and inquire about getting to the trailhead. If it has rained recently, the road can be impassible. Also, check the forecast to see if rain is likely. Continue from the visitor center 3.6 miles to the junction with County road 42. Turn left onto 42. A sign indicating that this road takes you past the Chain of Craters will help you know you have found the right road. Drive about 4.1 miles down 42. You will see a sign indicating a left turn to get to the Big Tubes area. Go left (this may be indicated as NPS road 300).

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Reviews (38)
Photos (99)
Activities (31)
Completed (67)
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Anna Larson
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HikingGreat!

It's lava, wear good boots. Awesome views and wildlife. Once saw a ringtail cat out here. Monitor road conditions before coming out.

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Lauryn Spohn
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Hiking
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Jessica Bergen
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Nathan Scott
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Hiking

Pretty it is rough and rocky, the snow is pretty but makes some spots very slow going. it's two miles I think I did almost three going up the middle and to Caterpillar Collapse, then to Seven Bridges, then down the middle. Some of the the smaller crains have had vegetation grow between them.

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Austin Lesher
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HikingRocky

We brought our dog but it definitely wasn’t easy for her. Lots of jagged volcanic rock and plenty of cacti. Awesome views

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Aundrea Bentley
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HikingRocky

Cool hike over lava rocks! Got lost a few times so highly recommend downloading the map. Cairns mark the path but become a little scarce at the back path. Took about an hr and a half with no journey to the cave (i was alone and after reading some warnings decided i should come back with a friend). Encountered no one. Ill be back to cave!

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Raul Rodriguez
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Adam Peacock
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Hiking

Really neat trail and the tubes are huge. Wear good boots the lava rocks can be rough. Road going to trailhead was in great condition I’ve tried to go twice before and couldn’t make it in a 4wd due to mud.

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Rick Carvin
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HikingNo shadeRocky
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Karen Marez
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The pics don't do justice for how amazing the caves are. Unfortunately we were unable to go into the caves due to the closure for covid19.

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$15 $40
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarNovember 2, 2019
Hiking

The terrain got pretty tedious pretty quick. If you don't have proper footwear, you'll be regretting it. The road was not difficult when I drove it in dry conditions. The guy at the visitor center was emphasizing the need for high clearance, but I saw a passenger sedan out there. It was pretty quiet out there on the perfect fall afternoon on a Saturday when I went. The collapsed lava tubes are pretty cool.

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Donald Williams
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Hiking

Beautiful Hike! Warm day, the loop is bigger than All Trails description. Wear good shoes or boots. Rough walking on lava flow break down.

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Johnny Dorigo Jones
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Hiking

Awesome being in the cave. Would definitely recommend putting on your flashlights and going farther into the darkness (:

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Marlayna Williams
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HikingOff trailRocky
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Lisa Callarman
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Hiking

Well-marked trail along a lava flow and into the lava tubes. Special care was taken to mark the safest route into the depths of the caves with reflective tape. Bring a headlamp and a back-up per person. Although a short hike to the Tubes, our group spent way more time than intended scrambling through and exploring the Ives. This is a great place to escape the heat. The parking lot is grated gravel and nicely maintained; pleasantly surprised to find the cleanest, least smelly outhouse I’ve ever used near the trailhead. Several picnic tables under the trees provided a nice setting for our picnic.

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Richard Sotkovsky
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Hiking

Long dirt road to get there but worth it. No body else was there so we had the trail all to ourselves. We came on a Tuesday so the ranger office was closed so we couldn’t get a permit but we still looked at the caves a little bit. Awesome!!!

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Matt Pargett
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Hiking

Definitely get the free caving permits from the ranger station and check the caves out. Take a helmet and a light!

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Doug Neidholdt
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Hiking

Returned and hiked again. Entered one of the caves (permit required). El Malpais is a great area. Must keep sight of the cairns, very uneven lava rock is the trail. Really not much harder than many rocky trails.

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Teresa Ross
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Hiking

Easy trail. Nice to look at the flows without having to get off trail. Lava is hard on boots! Watch for mountain lions. There were a couple of sightings shortly before we arrived.

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Gaven Michael
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Awesome hike!

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Steve Ancik
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First to Review

Quite interesting - the trail itself is not that much fun - it's kind of hard to find (look for cairns) and walking on hardened lava isn't that interesting - it's the tubes that are so cool (literally). Once you get to the lava tubes, you can go down into them and then explore back into them quite a way. Dark, cool temps, and 'wow factor' make this hike worth it.

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William Dominguez
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Robert Neal
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Ashley Balogh
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Dustin Green
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$15 $40
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Wes Schlenker
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Drew Myers
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