The Old Spanish National Historic Trail links Santa Fe and Los Angeles across six states and 2,700 miles. It traverses red rock mesas, passes below snow-capped peaks, and fords untamed rivers, avoiding the immense depths of the Grand Canyon and skirting the continent’s harshest deserts.
The trail takes its name from the Spanish colonies in northern New Mexico and southern California that were linked by this rugged route. The Spanish outpost of Santa Fe, New Mexico was founded in the early 1600s and the pueblo of Los Angeles, California was founded in 1781. But it was not until 1829 when Santa Fe merchant Antonio Armijo led 60 men and 100 pack mules northward on the trails blazed by native peoples that a suitable land passage between these colonies was established. Armijo’s mules carried woolen goods for trade in California. On the return trip, Armijo backtracked along the route Spanish padres Dominguez and Escalante recorded as they returned to Santa Fe from southern Utah more than 50 years earlier. He and his men drove mules, horses, and donkeys obtained in California for trade in New Mexico. Some of the several Old Spanish Trail trade routes were eventually replaced by wagon roads, and many portions of the routes remain today in state highway transportation networks.
The Old Spanish Trail was designated by Congress as a National Historic Trail in December 2002. By memorandum from the Secretary of the Interior, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail is jointly administered by the BLM and the National Park Service, working in partnership with other federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as private landowners who manage or own lands along the trail route.
Access along the Old Spanish Trail is very limited. View the maps in the right-hand column for roads accessing public areas near or intersected by the Old Spanish Trail.
Opportunities include hiking, camping, and viewing scenery and wildlife. Vehicles must remain on existing roads.
The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have developed a “Passport Stamp” program for the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. Click here to see where you can get your passport stamped at more than three dozen locations along the trail.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
No permits or fees are required to visit the portions of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail that cross BLM-administered lands in New Mexico.
Due to its recent designation, few visitor facilities or services exist along the Old Spanish National Historic Trail through northern New Mexico at this time. Environmental conditions along the route in New Mexico vary considerably. Be prepared with the appropriate equipment and supplies, including sufficient water for a remote setting. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for more remote areas that access the historic route.