Best Hikes in Carson National Forest (NM)

Overview

Carson National Forest is located in northern New Mexico between Santa Fe and the Colorado border. The magnificent mountain scenery and cool summer temperatures lure vacationers to enjoy the peace and quiet, for fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking. Many of the best hikes in Carson National Forest are described below including the trip to Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. Official Website.

StateNew Mexico
Nearest Metro AreaSanta Fe, NM
Area Size1,391,674 acres
EstablishedJuly 1, 1908
Hiking Trails330 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Carson National Forest

(*** = Best hikes in Carson National Forest)

Columbine Canyon Trail #71 – 10.6 miles out and back

The trail follows Columbine Creek, passing through several open meadows. The trail may become overgrown through the meadows, but continue south and look for small cairns in as you reenter the conifers. There are bridges at the first four stream crossings, after that hikers may have to wade through the creek. At the top the trail switches back up to the Hondo Ridge where it meets Lobo Peak Trail #57 and Gavilan Trail #60. In the winter months beware of avalanche hazards.

Devisadero Loop Trail #108 – 5.1 mile loop

The Devisadero Loop Trail will pass through two very different forest types. On the south facing slope the trail travels through pinons, juniper and some gambel oak. As the trail drops over to the north side of the mountain the environment is much darker and cooler with tall Douglas firs and white firs replacing the smaller drought resistant pinon/juniper forest. Approximately ¼ miles from the trailhead you will encounter a fork in the trail. The right-hand fork goes directly up to the Devisardero Peak, elevation 8,304 feet. The left-hand fork has switchbacks which will take you up to the ridgeline. Once on the ridgeline, you can follow the trail eastward to the Devisadero Peak.

Devisadero means a “lookout” point or place. The peak had once been used by the Taos Pueblo Indians to stand guard against the Apaches who would come down Taos Canyon to raid the pueblo. In summer, there is quite an array of beautiful wildflowers. There are several vista overlook points along this trail. Looking westward are beautiful views of the town of Taos, the Rio Grande and San Antonio Mountain. Looking northward you will see the Taos Pueblo and the Wheeler Peak Wilderness area.

Lost Lake Trail #91*** – 10.8 miles out and back

If you’re okay with more mileage than the hike to Middle Fork Lake (below), you should instead take this trail to Lost Lake. Foot and horseback travelers begin at the parking area along the Jeep road to Middle Fork Lake. Both sides of the road are fenced in this area to prevent trespassing on the surrounding land. Visitors must stay on the road. After ¼ mile the road forks at the creek crossing. The fork going straight is gated and closed to the public. Take the fork to the left (Forest Road 487) and cross the creek at the footbridge. The elevation at the creek crossing is 9,640 feet. For approximately one mile you will follow the trail along the east side of the creek. At times you follow the Jeep trail as it switches back and forth on its way to Middle Fork Lake.

You will reach the Lost Lake Trail junction at a river crossing. The trail is signed and is to your left. It switchbacks through Douglas-fir and white fir stands up the slope to some breathtaking vista points. After about two miles, the trail leaves the forest and crosses a saddle on the ridge. The country opens up into small meadows with some aspen and scattered stands of spruce. Continue up through these lovely openings across several rock outcroppings. About one-half mile before Lost Lake you will cross into the Wheeler Peak Wilderness. The lake is at an elevation of 11,495′. 

Middle Fork Lake Trail #487 – 4.4 miles out and back

Follow the Jeep road for about ¼ mile until it forks at the creek crossing. Take the fork to the left and cross the creek at the foot-bridge. The elevation at the crossing is around 9,550 feet. Continue up the Jeep road for 2 miles on switchbacks to Middle Fork Lake or follow a small trail on the east side of the creek for 1 mile until it reaches a waterfall. This is a popular choice in the winter months.

Trampas Lakes Trail #31 – 11.2 miles out and back

This is a moderately difficult trail, climbing up the canyon and ending at either of three separate lake basins. Each of these lakes is located in a beautiful setting at the base of high mountain ridges with jagged rocky peaks. From the Trampas Campground, the trail begins with a moderate to easy climb. After a couple of miles the canyon opens into a narrow, avalanche created meadow and the first view of the rugged ridge to the southeast can be seen.

The trail begins a steeper climb after this, with a few switchbacks up the more difficult sections. At about 5.5 miles, you will encounter a trail sign directing you to the different lake basin. The trail to the west travels about a mile to Hidden Lake. The trail continuing south heads upstream a short distance to the lower and upper Trampas Lakes (11,400). It is possible to climb the ridge to the west of the lakes and drop down to the San Leonardo Lakes.  This is a very steep and difficult climb. The top of the ridge provides a spectacular view in all directions. 

Wheeler Peak Trail #90*** – 14.6 out and back

The trail starts in a northeastward direction toward the Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture. The first section follows the forest boundary until you reach Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture, a distance of two and a quarter (2.25) miles. Near the pasture the trail intersects with Gold Hill Trail. Stay on the road that ascends southeast toward Bull-of-the-Wood Mountain. Please be courteous – You are on private land! From Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain you will be traveling at or above timberline. The trail is very well defined. You will come across the La Cal Basin which offers some camping areas and an opportunity to rest before you start your final ascent up Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico, elevation 13,161 feet. No technical climbing gear is needed.

On the Wheeler Peak summit, you are “at the top of the world;” on a clear day the view in all directions is spectacular. You can also come down the steep slope to Williams Lake although there is no maintained trail and this slope is very rocky. It is recommended to hike to Williams Lake on a separate direct hike rather than making this a loop; return to the trailhead the way you came.

Williams Lake Trail #62*** – 4.0 miles out and back

From the parking lot the trail passes the Bavarian Lodge at the bottom of the Kachina Chairlift, Lift No. 4, and follows the east side of Lake Fork Creek for approximately ¼ mile. Follow the old road along the east side of the creek. You are on private land for approximately another ¼ mile, please stay on the trail. The Wilderness boundary is within half a mile. The trail begins in Engelmann spruce stands and near the upper end opens up into meadowland and scattered rock fields. Williams Lake is a natural lake which does not have fish because it freezes in winter. Wheeler Peak is on the ridge line east. Although the nearby Wheeler Peak gets all of the love, this is still one of the best hikes in Carson National Forest.

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