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Los Cumbres Adventure Trail

Just a few short hours across the Texas-Mexico border lies Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. A modern industrial city with a thriving economy, Monterrey also happens to be surrounded by the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, reaching over 12,000 feet high. Just to the south of the city lies Los Cumbres de Monterrey, a national park with hundreds of miles of roads and dirt tracks that snake through the deep canyons and gorges.

Route Overview

Adventure Rating: Epic

Trip Length: 205 miles, 3 - 6 days

Season: Year round, but higher elevation roads may become impassable during the occurrence of unusually heavy snow (a rare event). There are typically go arounds using paved lower elevation roads.

Avg Technical Rating: 2

Peak Technical Rating: 4

Typical Terrain: Approx 2/3 dirt and 1/3 pavement. Expect driving through gravel washes, wide dirt roads, and narrower, unmaintained jeep tracks. Washouts are a common occurrence, so check with local regarding road conditions.

Recommended Vehicle: 4x4 with all terrain tires. Recommended Gear: n/a

Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage most of the route without issue. If you do encounter an impassable section, there are numerous paved go arounds so just backtrack until you reach pavement. You may have difficult reaching el Salto. For this, you can enter via pavement from the south near Santiago. Also consider the section from Canon del Alamo to El Pinar (wake Hwy 20 west instead).

Alternative Routes: n/a

Passports, Permits & More: You will need a passport and Mexican vehicle insurance to cross the US-Mexico border. Check Bajabound.com for the low down on vehicle travel in Mexico. Washouts are a common occurrence in this rugged landscape, so we recommend checking with locals regarding current road conditions.

 

Route Details

A thriving metropolis of 5.5 million people, the modern industrial city of Monterrey is the economic powerhouse of northern Mexico. Despite the luxuries and benefits of a thriving economy, Monterrey retains its deep cultural heritage and traditions. The city is known for its semi-arid climate, and is one of the hottest cities across Mexico. But don't worry, the warm climate typically provides year round access to even the highest elevation mountain tracks, except during periods of exceptionally high snowfall (a rare occurrence).


Upon arriving in Monterrey, one is immediately struck by the contrast of modern high rises against the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental, which seems to rise at a near vertical slope several thousand feet into the sky. The mountains to the south typically run parallel to one another running east to south, with the highest peaks often sitting well over 4,000 feet below the canon floors. In 1939, the Mexican government set aside nearly 450,000 acres to create Los Cumbres de Monterrey National Park (Peaks of Monterrey). Given its proximity to the city, it tends to see a lot of visitors. While there are definitely some out of the way tracks along this overland route, this portion of the Sierra Madre Occidental tends to be rather safe, and the closest amenities are typically never more than 20 miles away. Needless to say, you should still pack like you're heading out on a several day adventure into the bush, even though eating at local restaurants and filling up on food at neighborhood markets can easily be accomplished at least once per day while traversing the route. We begin our adventure in the suburb of Santa Catarina, gateway to Los Cumbres de Monterrey. The track starts by entering the grandiose Canon la Huasteca (DP1). The canyon's near vertical walls rise up on both sides. Take the dirt into the wash on the right, which leads to another spectacular canyon, Canon las Guitarritas (DP2). Further back, you'll encounter Caracol La Huasteca (DP3)-- does it look like a snail to you? Back within this short canyon, there are a number of campsites if you wish to be secluded from the trail traffic back on the main route. Backtrack until you're back in Canon la Huasteca. This is one of the more popular sections of the park, and given it's proximity to the city, expect a lot of trail traffic (jeeps, ATVs, motos, hikers). Follow the pavement until you reach the dam, which you'll drive up. Upon reaching the top of the dam, the road turns to dirt. The track continues to climb in elevation until reach Canon San Cristobal (DP5). The sections through the dry river bed tend to be relatively easy, but there are a few steep and rocky tracks that climb out of the river bed, especially as you get closer to El Salto (DP6). El Salto is a sizable waterfall that cuts through the rugged mountain cliffs before spilling into the Rio Santa Catarina. Most folks in off road vehicles run this as a day trip, starting near Santa Catarina to El Salto, and then back. It's no uncommon to encounter large groups at the large pool at the base of El Salto. Once you reach the pavement of Highway 20 at the small village of La Cienega de Gonzalez, follow the pavement west for approximately 4 miles. You'll continue straight when the highway veers south. The road and trail traffic give way to dirt as you enter the rugged Canon del Alamo (DP7). Canon del Alamo is one of the most remote and rugged portions of the track. Expect the trail along this section to be a bit more raw and less taken care of. There are a few scattered homesteads and farms in the canyon, but there's a good chance you'll only run into locals along this section of the route. As you make your way west, look to the north (on your right). At over 10,600 feet elevation and towering nearly 4,000 feet above the canyon floor stands Sierra San Juan Bautista (DP8).


We would like to ensure passage through this remote canyon for future visitors. We ask that you please be respectful of the locals when passing through this canyon, as most visitors tend to skip this remote canyon.


The dirt finally turns to pavement when reaching the village of El Pinar. You probably didn't notice, but along the way crossed the border from the state of Nuevo Leon into Cohuila. Unlike Canyon del Alamo, this portion of the route has numerous small pueblos, farms, and even a few vacation cabins (cabanas). The pavement gives way to dirt once again, but given the high amount of local traffic, the road tends to be in better condition than the last canyon. The dirt track once again meets the pavement of Highway 20, this time you'll jump on the highway for about 14 miles before turning left onto Ruta Los Lirios. The pavement soon gives away to dirt, and while you're far away from most tourists and park visitors, like the last canyon, this one has quite a few local residents. Making your way east, the mountains become much drier, feeling more like a desert landscape. Be sure to stop by another waterfall, Salto de Shinehah (DP11), which tends to be much less visited than El Salto.


As you make your way southwest through the mountains, the track narrows and clings to the steep mountain slopes passing through small villages like la Ventana. As you near the town of Rayones, the road eventually turns to pavement, and then a two lane road. You'll notice the mountains to the east of Rayones are much more lush and have more of a semi-tropical feel to them. The road snakes through the lush forests, but we recommend making a stop at Pico Nariz de Indio trail (DP12). A short 2-mile round trip to the top of the mountain provides awesome views of the surrounding landscape, but certainly not for the faint of heart!


Upon reaching highway 85, take it north to the city of Allende. From Allende you're back into the mountains on another dirt track. The highlight of this section is the numerous turquoise colored pools of Rio Adjuntas (DP13). You'll find a number of campsites to your left along the river if you do some exploring. Some are hike in, while others can be accessed with a 4x4 vehicles. Your adventure concludes in Santiago (DP15), designated as a Pueblo Magico by the Mexican government. With its vibrant colors, plaza, and historic cathedral, Santiago begs you to go on foot to explore its magical cobblestone caminos y paseos.

Camping Recommendations

When within Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, camping is generally permitted when on dirt trails unless marked otherwise. Expect to do a lot of dispersed camping in these sections, and we also recommend talking to locals about camping options. The Mexican people are an industrious bunch, and it's typically not difficult to find a local with a ranch who's willing to rent out his/her land as a campsite for a small fee. Some of our favorite campsites / camping areas include:

  • Canon las Guitarritas

  • Canon San Cristobal

  • Canon del Alamo (talk to locals where to camp)

  • Rio Pilon near Rayones

  • Rio Adjuntas


Discovery Points

  • DP1 - Canon la Huasteca

  • DP2 - Canon Las Guitarritas

  • DP3 - Snail La Huasteca

  • DP4 - Rio Santa Catalina

  • DP5 - Canon San Cristobal

  • DP6 - El Salto waterfall

  • DP7 - Canon del Alamo

  • DP8 - Sierra San Juan Bautista

  • DP9 - Cerro San Rafael

  • DP10 - Jame

  • DP11 - Salto de Shinehah

  • DP12 - Pico Nariz de Indio

  • DP13 - Rio Adjuntas

  • DP14 - Plaza Ocampo

  • DP15 - Santiago, Pueblo Magico

 

Maps + Navigation


Gaia GPS Recommended Map Layers

  • Gaia base layer, Mexico Topo

Download Mapping Files files



 

Resources


Land Managers


Other Resources

  • n/a

 

Gallery



Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on Overlandtrailguides.com, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by Overland Trail Guides, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.



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