The long-closed JFK Campground at the western base of the Manzano Mountains is a jumping-off point for three hiking trails: the Comanche Canyon Trail (182), the Salas Trail (184), and the Trigo Canyon Trail (185). I’ll describe two ways to get there:
1) A “scenic route” that takes you past Cerro Tomé. My recommended route if you’re coming from Los Lunas or points north, and willing to follow detailed directions.
2) A route that makes more sense if you’re coming from Belen and points south. Also, if the “scenic route” sounds too complicated, take this route instead.
Both routes use the same road during the final approach to the Manzano Mountains. That road is in bad shape in places, and should be attempted by high clearance vehicles only. Also, once you leave the Rio Grande valley bottom, you’re mostly on gravel or dirt roads. I recommend against using either route when the roads could be muddy.
Option 1: The “Scenic Route” via Los Lunas and Cerro Tomé
Take I-25 south from Albuquerque and get off at the Los Lunas Exit (NM 6). Head east on NM 6, through Los Lunas and across the river. Turn right (south) on NM 263, following the signs to Tomé. After NM 263 curls east, turn right (south) again, this time on NM 47. As Tomé Hill looms to your left, look for and turn left (east) on Tomé Hill Road. Drive to the base of Cerro Tomé, then bear right and skirt the south side of the hill (La Entrada Road).
At 34 deg. 45.143 min. N, 106 deg. 42.386 min. W, you will reach a T intersection where you can go straight or turn right. If you’d like to walk to the top of Cerro Tomé, turn right (La Entrada Road), then left into the parking lot. Follow the loop path out of the parking lot and across the paved road to your north, using the marked crosswalk. You are now on a commonly used path to the top of the hill.
If you are instead headed to the old JFK campground, continue straight at the T intersection. Stay on this road as it curls away from the hill and heads southeast. Cross the Manzano Expressway (a two-lane rural road, despite its grandiose name) and continue on Rio del Oro Loop N. As soon as you have passed between two solar energy farms, turn right (south). The road curls left behind the back of Valencia High School, then right. At the southeast corner of the high school, turn left (east) at 34 deg. 43.979 min. N, 106 deg. 38.543 min. W and reset your tip meter.
About 3.7 miles later, turn right at 34 deg. 43.590 min. N, 106 deg. 34.627 min. W and reset your trip meter. About 0.4 miles later, take the much better used left turn instead of continuing straight. At 0.8 miles take the right turn, which is at 34 deg. 43.146 min. N, 106 deg. 34.233 min. W and again reset your trip meter. Continue 2.5 miles south, then turn left onto the access road to the campground (see below).
Option 2: the “simple” route via Belén
If traveling to Belén from either the north or the south, use the second (Camino del Llano) exit and head east into town (a left turn from the north, a right turn from the south). Turn left (north) on Main Street (Business I-25, NM 314), then right (east) on East Reinken Avenue (NM 309). As soon as you cross the Rio Grande, turn right on NM 47. At 34 deg. 37.685 min. N, 106 deg. 42.901 min. W, turn left (northeast) onto S. Navajo Loop. This road will soon curve to the right, past a solar power farm, and continue east. At 34 deg. 38.224 min. N, 106 deg. 34.348 min. W, reset your trip meter and turn left (north). Follow this road about 3.1 miles, then turn right onto the access road to the campground (see below).
The final approach
Whether you take the “scenic” route or the “simple” one, you need to turn east (toward the mountains) at 34 deg. 40.957 min. N, 106 deg. 34.356 min. W. After a straight section the road will suddenly jog left (north) past a cattle guard, then curve east and south. At
JFK park: 34 deg. 40.626 min. N, 106 deg. 28.150 min. W
turn left (north) and park in the parking area. The Comanche Springs Trail begins here, heading north to Comanche Canyon. To do the Trigo Canyon Trail or Salas Trail, head past the locked gate into the old campground. The Trigo Canyon Trail heads straight up the canyon of the same name, while the Salas Trail follows the base of the mountains southward.