Top 10 hikes around Taos

Oldies but goodies: start easy, work your way up

By Cindy Brown
Posted 6/16/20

With all the beautiful lands around Taos, the possibilities are almost endless for hiking all year-round. Where will you go? Here are 10 great hikes, some familiar, some lesser known. You can start out easy and work your way up to challenging epic hikes by next summer and fall.

Easy - to do at the beginning of the year

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Top 10 hikes around Taos

Oldies but goodies: start easy, work your way up

Posted

With all the beautiful lands around Taos, the possibilities are almost endless for hiking all year-round. Where will you go? Here are 10 great hikes, some familiar, some lesser known. You can start out easy and work your way up to challenging epic hikes by next summer and fall.

Easy - to do at the beginning of the year

West Rim

Description: This is a great hike to do along the rim of the Río Grande Gorge. It is mostly flat and the snow tends to melt quickly. There have been some recent trail improvements made by the Bureau of Land Management. Good chance of seeing big horn sheep here.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Elevation: 6,900 feet - flat

Miles round trip: A few miles out and back makes for a nice hike; total round trip possible is 16 miles.

Best season to hike/run it: Winter, spring and fall

Best feature: Views into the Río Grande Gorge and east to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Bonus tip: For more rolling hills and fewer people - try the south end of the trail.

Directions: Find the trailhead just west of the Río Grande Gorge Bridge on U.S. Highway 64 at the rest stop. For the south end, go past the rest stop and turn left onto the Rim Road. Go 8 miles and park at the trailhead on the right just before descending into the gorge. Cross the road to the trail.

Traders Trail at Taos Valley Overlook

Description: An out and back rolling trail through the sage and juniper that goes to the rim of the Río Pueblo.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Elevation: 7,000 feet - slight descent toward the rim of the gorge

Miles round trip: 3 miles round trip

Best season to hike/run it: Winter, spring and fall

Best feature: Views to the confluence of the Río Pueblo and Río Grande

Bonus tip: Trader's Trail is part of an extensive system of trails that are open for hiking and mountain biking. Connect up with the Slide Trail to the north or Picuris Trail to the south to descend toward the rivers below. Possible sightings of big horn sheep and bald eagles during the winter months.

Directions: Go 10 miles south of Taos Plaza on State Road 68. Look for the brown hiker sign on the right just past mile marker 36.

 Posi Pueblo at Ojo Caliente

Description: Short trail up to the plateau above Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring to site of the ancient Posi Pueblo

Level of difficulty: Mostly easy, with a short moderate climb at the beginning

Elevation: 6,000 feet - gains 300 feet

Miles round trip: 2 miles

Best season to hike/run it: Winter, spring and fall

Best feature: Pottery shards remain from the Pueblo civilization that existed around 1,300 CE.

Bonus tip: A hike followed by at soak at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs is a perfect New Mexico day.

Directions: Located just west of mineral springs entrance

Moderate - 

Big Arsenic

Description: Trail from the ridge of the Río Grande Gorge down to the river and Big Arsenic Springs. Check snow conditions by calling the Wild Rivers Visitor Center at (575) 586-1150.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Elevation: Begins at 7,500 feet and descends 750 feet

Miles round trip: 2 miles

Best season to hike/run it: Winter into spring, fall

Best feature: River access, cold springs

Bonus tip: Look for the nearby petroglyphs.

Directions: North of Questa - look for the Wild Rivers turnoff and turn left onto State Road 378. Follow this road 3.5 miles to the entrance of Wild Rivers. Go south another 8 miles, head right at the split to reach the trailhead.

Tsankawi at Bandelier National Monument

Description: Tsankawi (pronounced "sahn-cow-we") is an ancient Pueblo village ruin. The trail winds past petroglyphs and dwelling caves known as cavates.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Elevation: Begins at 6,500 feet - gains 200 feet

Miles round trip: 1.5 mile loop

Best season to hike/run it: Spring and fall

Best feature: Ruins on a high plateau, spiral and human figure petroglyphs; short-horned lizards

Bonus tip: Although this is not a long hike, it does require climbing three ladders and following narrow stone passageways, in addition to walking along a rock shelf. This is a less well-known site and there are fewer visitors here than on the trails near the Bandelier visitor center.

Directions: Near Los Alamos, off State Road 502. There is an entry fee; no pets are allowed on trails at Bandelier.

Challenging - summer

Serpent Lake

Description: Trail to high alpine lake beneath Jicarita Peak (Carson National Forest #19)

Level of difficulty: Moderate/difficult

Elevation: Begins at 10,300 feet - climbs 1,500 feet

Miles round trip: Close to 10 miles

Best season to hike/run it: Summer, fall

Best feature: Beautiful blue lake, wildflowers

Bonus tip: If we continue to have a good snow year, there may be water on the trail into early summer. Look for high alpine wildlife like the yellow-bellied marmot near the lake.

Directions: Southeast of Taos, take State Road 518 to Forest Road 161

Horseshoe Lake

Description: Horseshoe Lake sits just beyond the fringe of the forest and right below the windswept ridge that leads to Wheeler Peak from the Red River side. Hike via East Fork Trail (CNF #56)

Level of difficulty: Moderate/Difficult

Elevation: Starts 9,600 feet; lake at 11,950; gain 2,350 feet

Miles round trip: 14 miles

Best season to hike/run it: Summer, early fall

Best feature: It is a shimmering blue-green lake, surrounded by high alpine tundra and ancient bristlecone pines.

Bonus tip: Although this is a long hike, it is generally a moderate climb.

Directions: Drive through Red River and take the right fork at the edge of town to State Road 578. Travel south for about 6.5 miles. The pavement ends here. Cross the bridge and stay right on Forest Road 58A. Drive an additional 1.25 miles over a dirt road that has some rutted sections to the trailhead.

Long Canyon to Gold Hill

Description: Hike through wildflower-filled canyons to reach the summit of Gold Hill (CNF# 90/63/64)

Level of difficulty: Difficult

Elevation: Begins at 9,400 feet and ends at over 12,700; 2,700 feet of gain

Miles round trip: 9 miles

Best season to hike/run it: Summer, early fall

Best feature: Huge blue columbine bloom during June and July along the East Fork of the Río Hondo. Incredible views from the top of Gold Hill.

Bonus tip: Look for signs of the mining past.

Directions: Starts at Bull-of-the-Woods trailhead at Taos Ski Valley parking lot.

More challenging - summer into fall

Trampas Lakes

Description: Trail to two alpine lakes at the base of Truchas Peaks (CNF#31)

Level of difficulty: Difficult

Elevation: Begins at 8,900 feet and ends at over 11,400 feet - 2,500 feet of gain

Miles round trip: About 13 miles round trip

Best season to hike/run it: Summer, early fall

Best feature: Glorious wildflowers at the inlets and outlets of the lakes

Bonus tip: A great destination for backpacking

Directions: Trailhead past El Valle south of Taos

Lobo Peak - Italianos to Manzanita loop

Description: Hike up near the Italianos stream and then across the ridge to Lobo Peak and descend down Manzanita Canyon (CNF#59/57/58)

Level of difficulty: Difficult

Elevation: Begins at 8,600 feet - 3,500 feet of gain to Lobo Peak at 12,115 feet

Miles round trip: Over 11 miles

Best season to hike/run it: Summer, early fall

Best feature: Amazing views from the ridge and top of Lobo Peak; big horn sheep and deer

Bonus tip: Other options are hiking up Yerba Canyon and down Manzanita or Italianos.

Directions: Italianos trailhead at mile marker 12 Taos Ski Valley Road (NM150)

Cindy Brown writes about nature and recreation for the Taos News and is the author of the "Taos Hiking Guide." Look for more hiking stories here, along with features on rock climbing, mountain biking, rafting and other outdoor recreation in and around Taos.

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