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Hiking Fort Union

Distance1.67 mi
Elevation Gain39 ft
My Time37 min
Closest TownWatrous
Food NearbyN/A

Hiking Fort Union

Fort Union National Monument is located just a few miles off of I-25 in New Mexico but it can take you back the frontier in no time. I spent some time hiking Fort Union and learning a bit more about this fort that so crucial to the west.

Getting Started

Once you make it to Fort Union, the first thing you want to do is stop into the visitor center. The center has some amazing information graphics and a small museum that is done really well. I will have more about that on another post but trust me it is really worth it to take a few minutes to learn about what you are about to see. It is one of the best displays at a visitor center I have ever seen. (Also, shout out to the Ranger on duty. He took the time to explain the camp to me and we chatted for about 10-15 minutes since it was a little slow.)

After the visitors center, head out the back door and onto the trail that leads you to the ruins of the fort. One of the first things that you will see is a sign close to the ground pointing out the Santa Fe Trail. This historic trail is really the reason for the fort in the first place. It is pretty amazing to see this trail, overgrown with grass, which used to be the lifeline for the American west.

The sign for the Santa Fe Trail visible from the trail while hiking Fort Union.
A bit overgrown now but the Santa Fe Trail runs through the middle of Fort Union.

Fort Union Canon

After passing the marker for the Santa Fe Trail, my next stop was the large canon on the southwest side of the fort grounds. The canon looked like it was still standing guard, ready to protect the long crumbled fort. While the fort was a hub for trade and transport, it was a fort first and the vision of the canon was proof of this.

A Napoleon 12 pound canon on the outskirts of Fort Union.
A Napoleon 12 pound canon on the outskirts of Fort Union.

The West Flank (Military)

After visiting the canon I made my way down the western side of the fort. The western side of the fort was where the military was housed. Now, nothing more than a few walls and some chimneys, was once a thriving military complex. Barracks for the enlisted men. Nicer quarters for the officers. Armories and training grounds rounded out the area. Fort Union was unique for its time in that the soldiers could have their wives with them at the fort. The officers wives would set up social events like dances and balls. There were schools for the children and even a bowling alley available.

Ruins including fireplaces and some walls on the western portion of Fort Union.
Ruins including fireplaces and some walls on the western portion of Fort Union.

The East Flank (Civilian)

The eastern flank of Fort Union is where the many support workers and civilians lived and worked. There was a wagon repair shop, Transportation corral, and storehouses. The fort was the central supply hub for the American Southwest and 30-100 wagon trains, each up to 200 wagons long, would pass through this area each day. From there civilian workers would process the loads and get them ready to ship to over 46 regional posts that relied on Fort Union for supplies.

Ruins of the Eastern side of the Fort Union National Monument.
Ruins of the Eastern side of the Fort Union National Monument.

This area of the fort had a bit more when it came to the ruins but they were mostly propped up by wood supports against the relentless winds of the New Mexico lands. I wonder how much longer this area will be around to tell its stories of the past.

The Hospital

The biggest building left standing on the Fort Union grounds was the hospital. You see it right away from the parking lot but I made it the last stop on my hiking loop. The hospital not only supported the soldiers but the large civilian population of the fort as well. In fact, it was the best medical care available for 500 miles!

The remains of the hospital at Fort Union.
The remains of the hospital at Fort Union.

My visit to Fort Union physically ended at the hospital as I made my way back to the visitor center. But my journey continued in my mind for as I got back in my car and headed south. This once thriving military and civilian fort, that protected the most important trail in the southwest, is now barely remnants. I couldn’t help but imagine what the dark nights and hot days were like for those who called this place home. Men, women, and children running up to great the wagons as they came up from the south or in from the north. What a sight this must have been.

Video of hiking Fort Union

I put together a quick time-lapse video of my hike around Fort Union to give folks an idea of what to expect on a visit. I really suggest seeing it for yourself if you are in the area though! If you enjoy this video, please make sure subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free to subscribe and you will get updates for all the latest outdoor content.

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 2.1 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 305 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 7,101 feet. I was also moving for a total of 50 minutes.

I am a Pro member of Alltrails and love it. If you are interested in the platform, please consider using my affiliate link for AllTrails. It gives me a small commission with no extra cost to you.


This is a really nice and easy walk that covers over a mile and half. The trail is mostly flat and there are plenty of informational graphics to stop and read the history of the area. Most people should be able to handle this monument. I am going to rank this hike as an easy hike.


The trails around the Fort Union monument are well maintained and wide. Trails connect the entire park and solid dirt paths that are very easy to navigate. The weather is a bigger concern. Fort Union was nicknamed “Fort Windy” for a reason. The wind really whips around the monument and the track is completely exposed to the sun. Make sure to bring a wind breaker and sun screen on your visit.


The Fort Union National Monument is located near Watrous New Mexico and is just 8 miles off of I-25. It is pretty easy to find following the signs when you exit the highway. There is a visitor center and plenty of parking at the monument as well as a bit of a museum in the visitor center. There is no fee to visit Fort Union but the monument is only open from 8am – 4pm in winter and 8am – 5pm in summer.

Wrapping up Fort Union National Monument

I really enjoyed my time at Fort Union National Monument. I admit, there really isn’t too much left of the buildings and your imagination will have to do some of the heavy lifting. But there is a ton of information that is available. I really enjoy the history so I was fascinated by the stories and thinking back on what it must have been like to live here.

As far as the hike, it is really simple and not much too it. The trail is an easy to follow and well defined square. There is nothing special there either but it should be accessible to a large number of guests who would be interested.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at Or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

3 thoughts on “Hiking Fort Union”

  1. Pingback: Fort Union National Monument Overview - Fat Man Little Trail

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