“This is archetypal foothills running in the Sacramento Mountains with steep, rocky climbs and tremendous views.”
— Eric Borer
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park requires a $5 day use fee for all vehicles. Cash or check only. The trail is accessible from behind the visitor center just past the front entrance.
Features: Birding — River/Creek — Spring — Views — Wildlife
This is a steep desert run. Hydration and nutrition are paramount when embarking on this one. There is no water available after the visitor center unless the stream is running at the Line Cabin (use a filter).
Temperatures can vary depending on the time of year so be prepared for the season you are choosing to run in. May-September are likely going to be very hot unless you are up with the sun. November-February can be very cold and even wet with snow on the upper portions of the trail. Spring and fall are the most tame, but check the forecast anyway.
Rattlesnakes, elk, and mountain lions have all been reported on or near the trail. Keep your eyes and ears open. Running with a partner or group is safest.
This trail is the first leg of the Cactus to Cloud 50k that takes place in May. This race begins at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and ends in the village of Cloudcroft, NM by way of mostly the Rim Trail.
This trail winds through the most scenic canyon in the Sacramento Mountains. The trail can be split into two sections as both of these sections have their own characteristics. The first section from Oliver Lee State Park climbs quickly on steep, rocky switchbacks and some rocky, rolling hard pack 2.9 miles through National Forest land up to a bench (2.5mi) that holds grasslands and some sizeable boulders. The cliffs to the south of this section are incredible. From here, the trail drops into the canyon to the old Line Cabin deep in Dog Canyon at 2.9 miles where there is a stream and respite from the harsher environs of the desert. The trail is marked every 1/4 mile with brown trail stakes. This portion of the trail is well traveled and easy to navigate.
The upper portion of the trail begins at the Line Cabin and climbs up out of the canyon on the north side and skirts a cliff face, with amazing views of the basin, for a couple hundred feet. Steeper grades are found on this section and slowing down is usually a must. As the trail climbs, the vegetation and trail changes a bit. Although still rocky and steep, there are areas of high desert dirt with piñon and juniper lining the trail as you close in on FR-90B and the upper trailhead. The last 0.75 miles to 90B flattens out some and it is not uncommon to spot elk in this section.
Runners are scarce in Dog Canyon, especially during the week. Weekend visitors are common and are usually terrific on the trail. Climbing 3,300 ft in 5.5 miles demands some steep grades of 25%-45% in some spots.
Running this trail is challenging, but the views of the Tularosa Basin, White Sands National Monument, and Organ Mountains are unparalleled and are visible for nearly the entirety of this trail. Enjoy the climbs and the solitude!
Flora & Fauna
The wildlife on this trail varies widely due to the elevation gain. You start with desert vegetation like yucca, ocotillo, and prickly pear and move into piñion and juniper as you climb. There are even some cottonwoods among other trees near the stream.
For catching a glimpse of wildlife, this trail is terrific as you may spot lizards, many birds, hawks and vultures, rattlesnakes, mule deer, and elk. Runners have spotted Barbary sheep near the bench as well as mountain lions.