The Fourth of July Canyon Campground is found in the Cibola National Forest just east and south of Albuquerque, in the Manzano Mountains. The area is beautiful at any time of the year and is a popular campground during the warm season. But in the fall, Fourth of July Canyon is a magnet for those looking for the deep reds and oranges associated with fall.
Driving out to the Manzano Mountains to see the changing leaves in the fall is a wonderful treat. The drive is just a little over an hour and a pleasant one. Knowing when the leaves will change is a bit difficult, and many call the ranger station to ask, but the blaze of color can begin anywhere from mid to late September into late October. It depends on the temperatures in the Manzano Mountains, since the colder the weather, the faster the leaves change. If it's a warm fall, the leaves will change later. If it's cold, they'll change sooner. If you're thinking of going to the canyon to see the changing leaves, you might want to watch the weather for a week or so to see what the temperatures are in the Manzano Mountains. If it's getting close to freezing there at night, the leaves might be changing. In general, the trees tend to be blazing around October 10. If you can coordinate visiting the leaves with picking up some fresh apples from Manzano Mountain Apple Farm and Retreat Center, all the better.
To get to the Fourth of July Canyon, take I-40 east through the Tijeras Canyon and exit at Tijeras. Take NM 337 south through the pinon and juniper-dotted hills of the Manzanos. You'll pass small farming villages that date back to the Spanish Land Grants. When you reach the T intersection of NM 55, take a right, which takes you west and into the small town of Tajique. Once you've gone through Tajique, look for a sign for FS 55, a forest service road which takes you into the Fourth of July campground. The campground itself has 24 sites, but there are no water hookups. There is a trailhead at the campground. The road is not paved but is accessible for most cars and RVs.
The area has the largest and densest stand of bigtooth maples found in the area. They blaze red and the scrub oaks turn yellow, making for a spectacular display. Most people who go to visit take one of the trails into the forest and hike up the mountain. The grade isn't too steep until you get closer to the top. The one-mile hiking trail is fairly easy and leads through the best part of the canyon for seeing the changing leaves. Once you reach the canyon head, you can turn around or continue on a loop that is 6.5 miles. One spur leads to the top of the ridge where you can see the valleys below.
If you do decide to go up for the day, take water and sturdy hiking shoes. There are picnic tables with grills (bring your own kindling or charcoal). There are also restrooms. Again, there is no water, so be sure to bring your own.
The area is maintained by the Forest Service.
Visit the Tinkertown Museum to the north, and further north, the small village of Madrid.