Best Hikes in Lincoln National Forest (NM)

Lincoln National Forest Overview

Lincoln National Forest is located in southern New Mexico. Lincoln consists of three ranger districts: Sacramento, Smokey Bear and Guadalupe. There are three major mountain ranges: Sacramento, Guadalupe and Capitan. The Sacramento Ranger District is just east of White Sands National Park while the Guadalupe Ranger District borders Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Ranging from the floor of the Chihuahuan Desert to the forested peaks of the Sacramento and White Mountains, the Lincoln National Forest is a popular destination for year-around recreation. The best hikes in Lincoln National Forest are described below.

StateNew Mexico
Nearest Metro AreaLas Cruces, NM
Area Size1,103,441 acres
EstablishedJuly 26, 1902
Hiking Trails509 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Lincoln National Forest

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

Argentina Peak Loop – 6.0 mile loop

This is a fun trail with some moderately difficult uphill sections on its way to spectacular views atop the crest of Argentina Peak. The trailhead is found at the Argentina/Bonito trail at the end of Forest Road 107. Take Argentina Canyon #39 to Crest Trail #25; then head south before looping back towards the trailhead on Little Bonito Trail #37.

Dog Canyon Trail #106 – 11.0 miles out and back
Slowly climbing Dog Canyon
Slowly Climbing Dog Canyon, Photo by Samat Jain

The National Recreation Dog Canyon Trail begins at Oliver Lee State Park and ends at Forest Road 90B. This beautiful trail traverses up from the desert to elevations over 2000′ above its starting point and as a result is recommended to the experienced hiker. 

Grindstone Lake Loop – 10.6 mile loop
Grindstone Lake, Photo by Robert Nunnally

This is a well maintained and busy trail system near Ruidoso, NM that departs from the lake and loops around with gorgeous views. There are several different routes to take but the most recommended would be around the outer perimeter.  Take Grindstone Canyon Loop to Alfred Hale Connector before hitting the Grindstone Mesa Loop. Plan your route ahead of time although the trails are not very difficult to differentiate. Grindstone Lake has five trails totaling 18 miles for hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders to enjoy.

Nogal Peak Trail #26 – 2.2 miles out and back
Nogal Peak from the Crest Trail, Photo by Samat Jain

The Nogal Peak trail is 1.1 miles long. It begins at the Crest Trail (T25) and dead ends at Nogal Peak. Taking a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to the trailhead is definitely recommended since the road is in poor condition. The climb is challenging though most all skill levels should be able to handle the short distance to the top. The panoramic views are worth it!

Osha Trail #10*** – 2.2 mile loop
Osha Trail near Cloudcroft
Osha Trail near Cloudcroft, Photo by Patrick Alexander

The Osha begins and ends at Us Hwy 82, just north of the Village of Cloudcroft  A great beginning hike for all ages. The trail first loops through a beautiful fir forest and then has views of White Sands National Park to the west once you reach the ridge.

Perk Canyon #93 + Perk Ridge #92 Loop – 5.4 mile loop

Great views that come with a decent incline. Take the loop clockwise for a more gradual climb than you would get going the other direction. It begins at Thunderbird Drive just west of the village of Ruidoso.

Rim Trail #105*** – 31.2 miles one-way
Rim Trail, Photo by Samat Jain

The National Recreation Rim Trail is 31.2 miles long. It begins at the southern end of the Village Of Cloudcroft along NM130 and ends 31.2 miles later at the Sacramento River Road south of Sunspot. It is best fully completed by leaving a retrieval vehicle at either terminal and taking it one-way. However, the most popular section of the trail is the first 10-12 miles heading south to Karr Canyon and returning to the northern Cloudcroft-area trailhead. There are multiple trailheads along the route so smaller day-hikes are easily planned. 

Salado Canyon #128 + Bridal Veil Falls #129 Trails – 6.0 miles out and back

This is a great hike for everyone to enjoy the repurposed railroad in Fresnal Canyon. There are multiple trailheads to begin from and one can also add the Grand View Trail for an extended distance.

Sitting Bull Falls Trail #68 – 1.5 miles out and back
Sitting Bull Falls
Sitting Bull Falls, Photo by Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico

The Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area is certainly a rare gem in the hot desert, this oasis offers cool pools of water and the awesome Sitting Bull Falls. The actual trail is nothing to write home about but hiking the short distance to the falls is still recommended. The trail begins at Sitting Bull Falls parking area and ends at Forest Road 68. There are caves around the falls to be explored and you can venture up to the top as well.

Trestle Recreation Area Trails*** – 3.2 mile loop
Near Cloudcroft, Photo by Luke Jones

There are a multitude of short trails in this area just west of Cloudcroft that can be combined into one exciting circuit loop. All in all, there are 6 trails within the Trestle Recreation Complex ranging from a ¼ mile accessible trail, to an 8 mile loop. T5001 ends at the southern vista (viewing area) of the Mexican Canyon Trestle which is visible from US82. Trails average an elevation of approximately 8,000’ which can make hiking difficult. The railroad arrived in Cloudcroft in 1899 and stayed in operation until WWII being finally dismantled in 1947. The Mexican Canyon Trestle is the largest trestle constructed and still stands today. The Cloud-climbing Trestle Trail (T5001) was originally the path of the Cloud-climbing Railroad. The Old Cloudcroft Highway (T5002) and a few new connections make up the remaining system of trails.

Featured Image: Lincoln National Forest – New Mexico, Photo by Wctr2019

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