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Upper Rattlesnake Canyon Loop

A 6-mile backcountry hike off of Desert Loop Road with striking views and diverse plant life.

Hiking Moderate

9.6 km
217 m
217 m
2-3 hrs
Low Point
1.3 km
High Point
1.4 km
Upper Rattlesnake Canyon Loop Map

This loop links sections of the Rattlesnake Canyon and the Guadalupe Ridge trails, forming a moderate yet rugged backcountry hike off Desert Loop Road. Enjoy vast yet solemn canyon views along remote trails lined with a selection of juniper, mesquite, sotol, yucca, and plenty of other cactus varieties. As for native wildlife, keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, coyotes, birds, and of course - snakes.


In this trail guide by explorenm.com, the author notes how this is one of their favorite hikes in Carlsbad thanks to the "variety of cacti and other desert plants, and some history," seen along the way. "If the preceding winter had sufficient precipitation," they continue, "the flowers are likely to be stunning in the spring."

As this hike begins and ends on Desert Loop Road, you must walk along the improved dirt road to form a loop. Most visitors choose to park at the Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead, which rarely fills. You could also find a pull-off on the road and begin there. There is no preferred direction to hike the loop, and neither water nor restrooms are available along the way. The road is also not recommended for larger vehicles or passenger vehicles with low ground clearance.

As mapped, this loop is an excellent stand-alone day hike, but offers the option of a longer overnight trip along the Guadalupe Ridge Trail. Overnight use in Carlsbad, however, does require a permit "which can be obtained at the visitor center during business hours," according to the park.

Sources: https://www.explorenm.com/hikes/RattlesnakeCanyon/ https://www.nps.gov/cave/upper-rattlesnake-canyon-to-guadalupe-ridge-loop.htm



Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

all year round


  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Family friendly

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area