Looking for a quick outing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for your active family? Try Petroglyph National Monument, a National Park Service urban site. With one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs, or rock carvings, your kids will be scrambling over volcanic boulders discovering drawings from over 700 years ago.

Petroglyph National Monument is an urban park perfect for Albuquerque residents and road trippers alike in northern New Mexico.

Petroglyph National Monument is an urban park perfect for Albuquerque residents and road trippers alike in northern New Mexico. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

Explore Petroglyph National Monument to discover rock carvings that date back over 700 years. The Pueblo Indians and then the Spanish explorers used the chocolate-brown volcanic rock to carve cultural images in stone. With its convenient location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s a quick park to explore in a few hours for residents as well as road trippers who need a stop along Interstates 25 or 40.

History of Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument has one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in North America. With 25,000 individual petroglyphs carved into the dark basalt rock of the West Mesa Escarpment, we spot hundreds of drawings as we hike the rugged foot path.

Six volcanic eruptions occurred 200,000 years ago and the lava flow created this unique landscape. The soil below the lava eroded and the basalt boulders crumbled into piles.

Keeping the kids happy on a road trip can be hard, a quick hike can help. Petroglyph National Monument

Keep the kids happy on a road trip with a quick hike. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

Native American people carved birds and animals in the rock 700 years ago. Then the Spanish explorers added crosses and livestock brands 400 years ago. Some of the petroglyphs are thought to be 3,000-years-old since people have lived in the area for 10,000 years.

The area was designated as a National Monument in 1990.

What to Do in Two Hours at Petroglyph National Monument

The best place to start is at the visitor center (open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), where my kids watch a short introductory movie about petroglyphs. I pick up the Junior Ranger booklets.

A two mile drive from the Visitor Center is the easiest petroglyph site for families, Boca Negra Canyon. This site has a parking fee ($1 to $2) and offers three different trails along with restrooms and covered picnic tables.

Start at the Petroglyph National Monument's Visitor Center. I find maps along with New Mexico's red chilis.

Start at the Petroglyph National Monument’s Visitor Center. I find maps along with New Mexico’s red chilis. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

My kids (ages 8, 11 and 13) love the Mesa Point Trail that switchbacks among basalt boulders on a paved footpath. It takes about 30 minutes to hike.

This hike is rocky and best for school-age kids. It’s not suitable for strollers or people uncomfortable rambling along rocky trails with uneven steps.

My boys challenge each other to a petroglyph I spy game. Petroglyph National Monument

My boys challenge each other to a petroglyph I spy game. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks Traveling Mom

The Cliff Base Trail and the Macaw Trail are shorter and take less than 15 minutes to hike. Both are conveniently located next to the restrooms and picnic tables.

The Volcanoes area doesn’t have petroglyphs but interesting geology. The Piedras Marcadas and Rinconada canyons offer more petroglyphs to discover and longer hikes. All three areas are a quick drive away.

Kids at Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument is a Junior Ranger site, so your kids can earn a badge there. It requires hiking one of the trails to hunt for the petroglyphs and completing the Junior Ranger booklet.

My school-age kids love climbing and discovering the petroglyphs. A game of I Spy starts within minutes as my kids try to stump each other.

The Boca Negra Canyon hike is a quick, yet challenging hike for school-age kids. Petroglyph National Monument

The Boca Negra Canyon hike is a quick, yet challenging hike for school-age kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

The Petroglyph National Monument is engaging for the entire family and a quick park to explore.

Other Nearby National Park Service Sites

For those planning a road trip through the Southwest visiting National Park sites, Interstate 40 has several, like Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon national parks.

Kids that love dinosaurs will love Petrified Forest National Park. It’s another quick park that can be explored in a few hours.

My 8-year-old is finding his park for the National Park Service's Centennial. Petroglyph National Monument

My 8-year-old is finding his park for the National Park Service’s Centennial. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

If Grand Canyon National Park is on your family’s bucket list, I suggest staying more than a few hours. During a recent stay in a cabin along the rim, I enjoyed discovering a quieter Grand Canyon without the day visitors.

Getting to Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument is conveniently located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, off of Interstate 40 using the Unser Road exit (#54). The Visitor Center is located about three miles north at the intersection of Unser Blvd. NW at Western Trail NW.

The petroglyphs aren’t located at the Visitor Center. Check in with the park ranger to get a map and more information.

My kids zip along the paths at the Boca Nega Canyon. Petroglyph National Monument

My kids zip along the paths at the Boca Nega Canyon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

Getting Around Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument is free and open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. It’s a day-use park and the Visitors Center and the petroglyph sites are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The parking fee for the Boca Negra Canyon site is $1 for weekdays and $2 for weekends—Cash Only.

Petroglyph National Monument is an urban site. It doesn’t offer camping or food service, though both can be found close by.

Tips from a Traveling Mom:

  • Wear hiking or athletic shoes if you intend to see the petroglyphs.
  • There are no petroglyphs at the Visitor Center.
  • Don’t touch the petroglyphs; body oils can destroy them.
  • Watch for rattlesnakes.
  • Take water for your hike.
  • Dogs are not allowed at the Boca Negra Canyon site.

 

Do you have a favorite urban National Park Service site? I’d love to hear about it.