This is a great, near-to-Las-Cruces hike that has a slightly overstated reputation for difficulty. The gain is only 3200 feet and the altitude come in fairly steady increments. The tread takes you from the Dripping Springs Natural Area, ascends Fillmore Canyon, brings you through a pretty upland forest and leaves you on a summit with fantastic views all around. There are no technical moves that have any exposure. It is woefully under-celebrated. I met no other hikers on a beautiful Sunday in mid May.
- Take Exit 1 on I25. At the end of the ramp, turn east (towards Mt A and the Organ Mountains) on University Avenue.
- Stay on University as it changes it’s name to Dripping Springs Road, turns to dirt at 4.7 miles and reacquires a paved surface at 8.0 miles (just past the junction with Baylor Canyon Drive).
- After 10.0 miles, park in the upper parking lot at Dripping Springs Natural Area.
Note: the upper parking lot is where I parked, but that is most likely a mistake. There is a paved loop below the the upper parking lot. Look for it on the north side of the Dripping Springs Road (to your left as you drive in). This loop seems to have parking spaces. If so, then parking on that lower loop would let you shave off a long excursion into the terrain above the Visitor’s Center. My guess is that you would save about a mile on the round trip that way.
The Visitor’s Center at the upper parking lot has many amenities including flush toilets and running water. The Visitor’s Center is manned and offers basic maps to casual users. The Dripping Springs Natural Area is set up as day-use only. Currently, the park opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes it’s gates at 7:00 p.m., but that changes with the seasons. See the schedule here. Slow movers (like myself) will want to be at the gates when they open.
- Starting elevation: 5640 feet
- Ending elevation: 8860 feet
- Net Gain: 3220 feet
- Distance: 5.4 miles, one way
- Maps: USGS Organ Peak
On this excursion I took the trail leading uphill from the upper parking lot and followed it southeast in the direction of Ice Canyon. About a quarter of a mile above the parking lot a major trail comes in from the left. Take that trail north towards tailings from what seems to be an old mine on the north wall of the canyon. Continue following the trail as it turns back to the northwest to arrive on the northern side of the rocky ridge behind the Visitors Center. There, at a little over one mile from the trailhead, come to a junction signed for Fillmore Canyon. Head up Fillmore.
The trail stays on the south side of the canyon initially, rising steeply in places (as it encounters ribs coming down from the canyon rim) and descending a little from time to time. After about 2.2 miles it crosses the canyon bed and begins weaving below the arroyos leading up to Organ Needle, which towers massively above and to the north. At about 3.5 miles the path passes close to a sheer cliff on the southern canyon wall and begins making a slow left-hand turn until the trail is facing directly north.
At this point the trail enters a brief defile known as The Narrows. It is a 10 to 20 foot wide cut through gray sedimentary rock formed in crumbling layers . Although barely 100 feet in length, The Narrows is a shady place that supports the growth of broad leaf trees (maples?), a hint of the pleasant greenery to come. As you come out of the canyon, watch for the Organ Needle summit that peers down on you from its immense height.
Above The Narrows the canyon makes an abrupt right hand turn to go east for a few hundred feet followed by a slower ascending left hand bend as it begins heading northeast in forested terrain. Watch for the bee tree to the right of the trail. I did not notice it in the morning, but the buzzing was daunting on return in the afternoon. Still in the forest, you will soon encounter a few sheets of badly abused aluminum and the elevator assembly from the tail of an aircraft. They are directly on the trail. One hopes that the pilot was able to bail out safely.
In less than a quarter mile from the elevator (about 4.5 miles from the trailhead) encounter a broad solid ledge made of whitish rock, three or four feet high, that spans the bottom of the canyon. Look up and to your right for cairns, indicating that this is where you leave the canyon. There is a distinct trail that climbs steeply to gain the top of a long rib. The trail follows this rib-top to gain the ridge that leads to Organ Peak. Boots have beaten a multitude of treads on this rib. All lead to the summit.
The rib broadens and steepens as it reaches the summit ridge, but eventually gentles to a wide col. To your left is an astronomical observatory that appears abandoned. Before you is Rucker’s Canyon leading down to the Tularosa Basin. On your right is the tread that leads to the summit. The trail now becomes a bit sketchy. However, some terrifically civil minded individuals have been up there with knives and stem cutters to open a way. My thanks to those folks! Stay close to the top of the ridge and look for shrub stumps.
The summit pulls into view at 5.5 miles. There is a cairn protecting a grey plastic box with the summit register inside. (You may have to shift aside some of the top rocks on the cairn). Summit views extend to the Mesilla Valley to the west, Soledad Canyon to the south, the cloud-dappled Tularosa Basin on the east, and the imposing Organ Needle to the north. Very much worth the visit!
You can return to the col below the observatory and take the rib down from there, just as on the ascent. However, there seems to be several trails in the park-like terrain below the summit ridge. It might be fun to tray an alternative route back to the forested part of the trail.
I had a great day, but the notes inside the summit register suggest that Organ Peak can be a cold and windy place. You probably want to keep some warm gear in your pack. There was no water at any point along the trail, despite the fact that there had been heavy rainfall in Las Cruces two days previously. The gully bottoms where filled with loose and dusty sands, as if none of that water reached this portion of the mountains. Bring plenty! I had three liters, which was enough for a mild May day.
This is a great distance for a get-in-shape workout, the green forest is a welcome change in pace from most Organ Mountains hiking, and the views are spectacular. It will be a routine part of my calendar! The only three things I would change is (1) my choice of parking spots and (2) remembering, next time, to bring along an actual camera rather than relying on my cell phone and (3) it looks like roaming through the park-like terrain near the summit ridge would be fun.