Every winter for a few short weeks, there are sleigh rides available in the Albuquerque area. Make a fun day's outing to the Valles Calderas National Preserve and enjoy a wintry wonderland. The preserve is available year round, but in the snow season, offers recreational activities such as snowshoeing, cross country skiing and the magic of a horse drawn sleigh.
Winter recreation normally starts in December. The sleigh rides for the season normally run from December through February.
Snow is normally plentiful at the preserve, but if there is none, the sleigh rides will become horse drawn wagon rides. Either way, it's a fun way to get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful natural wonders of the preserve.
The preserve comprises 89,000 acres and is off the beaten path, so there are no souvenir shops or crowds. It's a great place for bird watching. Wildlife is plentiful, and includes the Jemez Mountain elk herd. The elk head to lower elevations in winter, but can be spotted the rest of the year. Winter wildlife sightings include coyotes and hunting birds.
Matched draft horses pull the 12 person sleigh through the snow. When there isn't snow, a wagon takes you on the tour. A guide tells you about the history and lore of the preserve during the ride. The Valles Calderas was once the "old Baca ranch," and the tour is peppered with insights into its past, and plans for the preserve's future.
The horse-drawn tour lasts about 60 minutes. Although the ride can be a little bumpy, for the most part it is very smooth. The pace is slow and relaxing. See a photo tour of what you can expect.
The sleigh comfortably holds 12 adults. The preserve has specific dates and times available for sleigh rides, with three ride times per available day, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. for start times. Riders should arrive at least 15 minutes early to board the sleigh.
Reservations are encouraged to ensure your party gets a seat. Walk ins are accepted only if there are seats available. The preserve can make special arrangements for large groups and dates other than those listed online. Contact the preserve with an email with information about your request.
The main gate to the preserve is at mile marker 39.2 on State Highway 4. It is 20 miles east of Jemez Springs, or 18 miles west of Los Alamos. Once through the main gate, go down the road about two miles to the Vales Grande staging area. You will be shown where to park, and can then board a van that takes you to your sleigh ride.
The staging area for the sleigh rides is about two miles inside the preserve, along a north facing, unpaved road that is often snow packed and icy. The preserve plows the road when weather permits, but four wheel drive vehicles and/or chains are recommended and are sometimes required.
Sleigh rides are gentle but do have some bumps. Be sure to dress warmly. The Valles Calderas provides a checklist before you head out:
- Dress in layers
- Hat, warm gloves, boots
- Lip balm
- Binoculars (you'll want to see wildlife!)
Cost for the sleigh rides are $25 for adults, $15 for children 15 and under; 20% discount for seniors 62+.
Sleigh Ride Times
Rides begin at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Sleigh Ride Dates
December 21-23; December 26-28, December 30-31; January 2-3; 18-19; 25-26; February 8-9; 15-16; 22-23.
Be sure to contact the visitor center before heading out, as weather conditions can change anticipated dates and plans.
To schedule a sleigh ride, visit the Valles Caldera online, or call them at 1-866-382-5537.
The folks at the Valles Caldera report that the sleigh has removable steps. If getting up and down steps is a problem, it may be difficult to get on and off the sleigh, unless being carried up and down is an option.