Get off the beaten path in the New Mexico badlands, and you’ll find many interesting rock formations. One of the most famous is the King of Wings, a large rock balanced on a clay pedestal.
We skipped this one our first time in the area and opted for Valley of Dreams East instead. We decided to check it out the next time we visited the area. I didn’t expect much since it was hard to tell how big it was in photos. When we found it, it was much larger than either of us expected.
The King of Wings hike is made up of social trails through the badlands, so it’s a little bit of a scavenger hunt to find it. I’ve included photos and tips to try to make it easier to find, but you still will have to do some searching on your own to find it.
We did not take the straightest path to get there, but we found a much easier route back. Make sure to have a downloaded map (the AllTrails path was not helpful on this one) to use or a GPS device to get back to your car.
In this guide to King of Wings New Mexico, I’m sharing how to get to King of Wings, what to take with you on the hike, how to find King of Wings, and some other nearby hikes to check out.
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Table of Contents
What is King of Wings New Mexico?
King of Wings is a winged hoodoo in the New Mexico badlands in the southwestern United States. It is located in the San Juan Basin among the Bisti Badlands/De-Na-Zin Wilderness and Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area, not far from the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
The large boulder on top stretches over 10 feet beyond where it rests on top of a clay pedestal. While the rock formation is not all that tall, the way the rock balances on top of it makes it impressive. The thin and long rock that makes the giant wing stretches much further than we expected from photos.
This area also has fossilized dinosaur bones and palm trees. We met a group of retired men who go out there digging regularly and talked to them for a while about what they were doing on our way out. Because it is legal to bring back what they find, they search this area and then turn what they find into jewelry or just keep it on display at home.
I found a few interesting rocks after starting to keep an eye out on the rest of the hike, and we found them in the parking lot after the hike. They showed us the dinosaur bones and fossilized palm trees they found that day and let me know one of the rocks I found was a fossilized turtle shell and the other two were agates.
How to Get to King of Wings New Mexico
Farmington, New Mexico, is the closest city to the King of Wings hike. Getting there requires off-road driving, so make sure that it has not rained recently or the roads may become impassible.
To get to King of Wings, a 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicle is a good idea. While the dirt roads are mostly well-maintained, the last road especially is very rutted and requires a high clearance to make it back to the parking area.
While there is an alternate route to come in from US Highway 64, we prefer taking NM-371 to get there and find the dirt roads to be in better condition from this direction. If you come in from this way, you will make a left turn to get to the parking from 7650.
To get to King of Kings, take NM-371 south from Farmington. If you use Google Maps, plug in Trailhead Parking for King of Wings. This will not get you to the actual parking spot, but it will get you close and make it easier to navigate from there.
From NM-371, turn left on 7650. About 10 miles down the road, you will cross a cattle guard and make an immediate right. If you look down the road, you’ll see a windmill (see photo below) where Google Maps marks the trailhead.
This unpaved road continues past where the trailhead is marked on Google Maps. Continue past the windmill though. The first night we parked here, but it added a lot of unnecessary distance to the hike.
From this first parking area by the windmill, continue down the dirt road until you find another parking area. The actual parking area is at 36.183884, -107.97146 along the fence line.
Keep an eye out for wild horses along the way. They are beautiful but also like to block the roads at times.
How to Find King of Wings – Hike + Map
The King of Wings hike was less than a 3-mile hike for us (2.75 on my watch) even with our extra wandering to find it. Because we did not park where AllTrails showed the hike starting, we were able to cut off some time and distance.
Once you get out of your car, immediately cross over the barbed wire fence. We climbed under it to cross it. From there, AllTrails was not all that useful on this one. Because we started in a different area, having the downloaded Google Maps was much more helpful to us.
Look for a social trail leading away from the parking lot mostly straight out from the parking lot but slightly to the left.
You can see some colorful hills in the distance, and you are generally heading towards them. Keep an eye out for footprints and a small dirt trail through the grass.
Eventually, you will make your way to the colorful hills made of the same popcorn soil as the Bentonite Hills in Utah. This area reminded us of the Bentonite Hills with the soil and colors, but the colors here are not as vibrant and are more pastel.
When you reach this point, the trail is much easier to follow at first as the popcorn texture is trampled down for the trail. Once the trail seems to disappear somewhat along the top of the ridge photographed below, cut to the right (around 36.1740122, -107.9711692).
Because there are so many social trails at this point and the main one continues straight, it becomes a scavenger hunt to find the King of Wings located at 36.171208, -107.9728352. You can look at the satellite view on Google Earth before you go to get an idea of where to go.
Once you turn off at the coordinates above, stay along the high point of the ridge. We continued straight on the way out and ended up doing a lot of ups and downs that made it a much more difficult hike than it needed to be. If you want to explore the area, it is worth the time to walk around, but you also want to make sure you get to King of Wings.
Unfortunately, you can’t see the King of Wings until you are right on top of it. You can see it, but you can’t tell it is what you are looking for because the wing extends away from you. Once you get to 36.172190, -107.971452, you can see it if you look southwest, but you can’t see the wing part yet.
I’ve included a picture below with the path we followed drawn on it. Keep in mind this is the general path we followed but not exact. This was a much easier route than the one we took to get there. Just stay high on the ridge until you have to drop down right at the King of Wings.
Alien Throne Rock, Valley of Dreams & Other Nearby Hikes
If you have more time to explore the Bisti Wilderness area and Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness area, there are countless trails to follow. It’s also easy to get off of the trail and get lost, so make sure to have maps downloaded and a GPS of some sort.
Some of the other hikes we enjoyed in the area are close to King of Wings. You can hike from King of Wings to Valley of Dreams, but we decided to drive around. We were at Valley of Dreams to watch the annular eclipse, so we drove around to King of Wings after the eclipse.
The most famous place in Valley of Dreams is Alien Throne Rock, but there are also a lot of other incredible rock formations to enjoy on your hike. Valley of Dreams East is another spot to check out not far from Valley of Dreams.
It also is covered in petrified wood and unique hoodoos that make you feel like you are on the moon. Plus, you can drive up to it and then explore from there.
Tips for the King of Wings Hike
This was the only hike in the badlands where we got out our drone from where we parked. We did not take it with us because there was not a good way to tell where the lines were for Navajo land (requires a permit) and BLM land.
On the way out, we spoke to the men looking for fossils who let us know it is a checkerboard with each square mile belonging to a different managing agency. The area where we parked and the area near the beginning of the hike was BLM land, so when we got back to the car, we decided to drone that area since no one else was around at that point.
It’s important to make sure you know where you can and cannot fly and to be respectful of the Navajo Nation rules around drones, so check a map and make sure you know where you can fly. We did not drone near King of Wings itself since we were not sure if that was still BLM land, and we did not want to disturb others who were hiking in that area.
If you decide to hike to King of Wings, bring plenty of water. This New Mexico trail is completely exposed the entire time without any shade. The best times to go in the summer months are in the morning or later in the evening to avoid overheating.
You might want snacks on the hike, but you should bring snacks for the trip. If you decide to hike Valley of Dreams or Valley of Dreams East in addition to King of Wings, you can easily spend the whole day in remote areas on unpaved roads without bathrooms, gas stations, or restaurants. Bring enough food to last you until you get back to town.
You’ll also want some sun protection due to the lack of shade. We spent about 2 hours exploring the area which is a lot of time exposed to the direct sunlight.
For shoes, even regular tennis shoes are fine for this hike. We both were in hiking shoes and had no issues and did not find that we needed shoes with grip for the hike.
There were a lot of thorny plants that kept getting into our socks on the first part of the hike when we followed AllTrails. It was not as much of an issue when we parked further up on the bigger social trails through the grass.
Check your gas tank before you leave Farmington. Once you leave the city, you won’t find gas until you get back. While it is not a massive amount of miles to put on a tank of gas, you don’t want to chance running out of gas while you are out there either.
Always make sure to pack out everything you bring in with you. There are no trashcans or bathrooms in the middle of nowhere, so bring in what you need and take it back out of the wilderness with you.
Where to Stay Near King of Wings
Farmington is the best location to stay to explore this part of northwestern New Mexico. We typically stay at the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Farmington when we are in the area.
You can also take a day trip up from Albuquerque. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa there and loved it. With lots of activities and great restaurants on-site, it’s a great spot for a weekend getaway.
If you need a place to eat after adventuring all day, check out the Three Rivers Eatery in Farmington. They had delicious fries, wings, and burgers.
Is King of Wings New Mexico Worth It?
While the formation is impressive and a fairly easy hike, it was not one of my favorite hikes in the southwest. I liked Valley of Dreams and Valley of Dreams East both more than King of Wings because they have more to see.
I’m glad we did the King of Wings hike, but it’s not something that is a priority for us to do again in the near future. If we did it again, I would try to be there closer to sunrise or sunset to see it with a pretty sky as a backdrop instead of in the middle of the day. Because of the eclipse, we were limited on when we could visit.
Overall, I’d say go for it if you have the time but don’t go out of your way just to see this one. If you are already going to do Valley of Dreams, it makes sense to stop by while you are in the area. If you only have a short time though, I would choose Valley of Dreams.
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