Bisti National Wilderness is exactly what the name implies: wilderness. That means that this area doesn’t have the services offered at other parks. In fact, I think that the only service offered is a parking area at the trailhead. There is no visitor center, no restrooms, no water, no designated camping areas, and no paved scenic drives. There are no trails either, except a few cow trails that we found here and there. (No trails are a plus as far as I’m concerned.) However, the lack of services keeps away the average thrill-seekers, leaving it undisturbed for those who really want to get away from it all. I don’t think that we ever met anyone hiking, though we did see one car in the parking area the second time we visited the wilderness. This is an unknown, rusticly beautiful place to “get away” from it all.
To get to Bisti from NM 371, go 36½ miles from the San Juan River crossing, take a left turn on NCM (non-county-maintained) Road 7297 and follow a gravel road for approximately 2 miles to the Bisti parking lot. This turn is about 46 miles north of Crownpoint, NM, just past the crest of the hill after crossing the Don Gleason Bridge over De-Na-Zin Wash.
So what is there to see in Bisti? Well, it really depends on what direction you head from the parking lot. We’ve mostly walked among chalk-white rock formations and ash-colored badlands, but we saw some really pretty orange-looking hills off to the north. We’ll have to go back and explore those someday.
We visited Bisti National Wilderness area in late October, which is a good time to go because it’s not as hot as in the spring/summer months. We got there around 9 or 9:30 in the morning, got our packs on, and headed southeast across the flats. After a quarter of a mile or so (or that’s what we were told; I would have thought it closer to a mile), we reached the badlands and rock sculptures. It is like nothing else I have ever seen. I have been to Badlands, SD several times and I have also been to Brice, UT. In places, Bisti was mix of the two with one or the other becoming more apparent now and then. Sometimes it was like neither one.
Bisti has some of the neatest rock formations I’ve ever seen. Hoodoos planted on badlands with badlands in the background makes for a real unique beauty. There are no signs or fences here, either (other than the ones keeping the cows from entering the road), so there’s no one keeping you from getting as close to the badlands or hoodoos as you want. You can even climb on them, if you want. Kids love to do this, even if it does make their parents a bit nervous.
Directly east of the parking area is the best hoodoos and rock formations. To the southeast is a lot of the white badlands, and to the north are colored badlands.
When we headed back to the parking area around 1:00 pm, the flats were getting uncomfortably hot. In the badlands and rock sculptures we had not noticed the heat so much, but out on flats if was really bad. We had a lot of fun playing and exploring and plan on coming back soon. To us, the lack of trails adds to the sense of adventure as we explored.
Bisti National Wilderness is wilderness, so come prepared. In terms of equipment I would suggest a first aid kit and a compass. If you do get lost, the road is to the west, and if you go in that direction, you will hit the road at some point. Also, take plenty of water and something to eat, because once you are out there you will not want to leave soon, and there will be no one to help you if you get into trouble. It is probably best to let someone know where you are going, so that if you don’t reappear, someone will know where to look for you. There is no fee to enter Bisti National Wilderness.
In terms of camping and lodging, there really isn’t anything in Bisti itself (this is a national wilderness, after all!). You can backcountry camp in the area, but I don’t know much about the requirements. There is traditional camping and lodging in Farmington. There is also a nice (as free campgrounds go) campground at nearby Angel’s Peak National Recreation Area. (In other words, the campground is free, but it has picnic tables and pit toilets.)
Round Trip Trail Length: Varies–you can go as far as you want as there are no official trails
Facilities: None, except for two small parking areas
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Sunday Sun Aug 20 20%
Mainly cloudy. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High near 90F. SE winds at 5 to 10 mph, increasing to 15 to 25 mph.
Monday Mon Aug 21 20%
Considerable clouds early. Some decrease in clouds later in the day. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 86F. ESE winds shifting to WNW at 10 to 15 mph.
Tuesday Tue Aug 22 20%
Except for a few afternoon clouds, mainly sunny. High 88F. E winds shifting to SW at 10 to 15 mph.
Wednesday Wed Aug 23 20%
Mostly sunny skies during the morning will give way to mostly cloudy skies in the afternoon. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 87F. E winds shifting to WSW at 10 to 15 mph.
Thursday Thu Aug 24 20%
Mainly cloudy. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 81F. ENE winds shifting to WSW at 10 to 15 mph.