Trail Update: Hiking Report from Taos Ski Valley 

November 1st, 2018

It's that time of the year when snow is flying and it's starting to look like a Winter wonderland up here!  The mountains are beautiful with a blanket of pristine snow and provide awesome opportunites for recreation, fitness and quiet solitude as well as amazing views to enjoy.  As you explore this area of the Carson National Forest, keep in mind Winter routes can vary from the established trails and change with every snowfall.  There may be different trails branching off to the sides where backcountry skiers are touring ~ if you're not yet familiar with this area, a map and gps device can be helpful, and please feel welcome to stop by our visitor center for info and recommendations!

Williams Lake Trail

Discover Williams Lake in all its glory!  This popular intermediate-level, four-mile round trip hike from The Bavarian follows a valley forested with aspen, Englemann and blue spruce, western white fir, and rarely seen red fir and bristlecone pine can be found in the higher elevations. If you haven't heard yet, the beginning of the trail is being rerouted off private property and across the Lake Fork of the Rio Hondo where it will be almost entirely on National Forest land.  Until this project is completed, for now follow the signs guiding trail users along the old trail to where a new neighborhood is being built.  Many trees have been cleared, the route follows an old singletrack through this area to the Wilderness boundary. A few significant snowstorms during October brought decent accumulations to our mountains, there's a couple feet on the lower trail and it gets deeper as you get closer to the lake.  Conditions are great for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.  If you're hiking wear sturdy boots with good tread and dress with warm layers to accomodate changing temperatures during the morning and afternoon.  We recommend using hiking poles and watch for areas where the snow is soft and where it may become icy.  As the trail becomes packed down from use be cautious around the edges where the snow is softer and less consolidated.  While avalanches are not likely most of the time, be aware that the trail crosses a few avalanche paths and assess the current conditions as you hike, especially as more snow accumulates with each storm.

Wheeler Peak

Conquer New Mexico's highest peak ~ this 13,161-foot summit can be accessed by either the Bull of the Woods or Williams Lake trails. Get an early start for this expert level hike. Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit, at least 300 feet away from streams and lakes.  Keep your eyes peeled for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer and elk.  From the Bull of the Woods trailhead by the Twining Campground it's an 8 mile hike through a steep canyon, across an old mining road on Bull of the Woods Mountain's north slopes, then the route climbs above treeline past the 12,163-foot Frazer Mountain summit.  Follow the trail along the ridge before it dips down onto the east facing slopes across La Cal Basin, then up to and along the ridge towards the Mount Walter then Wheeler's summit.  This route is popular for Winter alpinists and peak-baggers, it's a challenge to take on with determination and experience.  It can get windy on this ridge especially as Winter storms approach, dress warm and bring your sense of adventure!

The Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67 begins along the Williams Lake Trail at the saddle just above the lake.  Currently the trail is snowed-in and it's recommended to have alpine climbing skills including route-finding experience to attempt this one.  The route climbs through old growth conifer forests, across several steep avalanche chutes then ascends above treeline onto a wide open glacial moraine at 12,000'.  From here cross an open snowfield then head southeast towards Wheeler's towering northwest face, climbing the steep western slopes towards the ridge between Mount Walter and Wheeler.  Take some breaks to catch your breath as needed, once you're on the ridge the summit is just a short ways to the south.  On a clear day there's incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, Rio Grande Rift and distant ranges where the San Juan mountains begin.  The 14,345' Blanca massif above the Great Sand Dunes National Park can be seen to the north, and the Truchas Peaks above Santa Fe to the south.  We recommend an early start for this route, as well as knowledge of snowpack and avalanche hazard assessment.

Columbine-Hondo Wilderness

The trails within the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness offer excellent potential for day hikes as well as overnight and multi-day backpacking adventures! Yerba, Manzanita, Italianos and Gavilan are all navagible with snow and become packed down from use after a storm clears out, be cautious where the trails traverse steep banks above the streams. Get an early start if you plan to hike above treeline or summit any of the high alpine peaks, and be able to recognize avalanche terrain as you travel into the higher elevations.

Weather Coming In

El Nino is kicking in as we get closer to Winter, unsettled weather and snow showers are in the forecast intermittently through the first two weeks of November.  Temperatures will be in the 20s and 30s during the day and drop well below freezing at night.  Dress with layers, on the sunny days this time of year it can warm up or cool down quickly in the mountains.


Waterproof boots and hiking poles are recommended for these high elevation hikes, with many trails still holding snow up at higher elevation into early summer. Temperatures can vary greatly, bring layers to accomodate changing temperatures and wind.  Be prepared for cool weather and rain, and always carry extra water. Beware of lightning and stay off the ridges if thunderclouds are overhead. Depart for hikes early in the morning to avoid afternoon lightning and showers.

Maps are available at the Information Booth in the main hiker parking lot of Taos Ski Valley Resort. Open 9-5pm each day.

Carson National Forest - Taos Ski Valley Hiking Trails

Name of Trail Print Map
one way
Hiking Trail Horse Trail Cross Country Ski Trail Snowshoeing
Wilderness Area
Degree of Difficulty
Gavilan Trail
3.3miles X
X Intermediate/Expert
Italianos Canyon Trail 59
3.6 miles  X X   X X Intermediate
Long Canyon/Bull-Of-The-Woods
3.6 miles X X X X X Expert
Manzanita Canyon Trail 58
4.2 miles X X   X x Expert
Wheeler Peak Summit 67
2.2 miles X       X Expert
Wheeler Peak Trail 90
8 miles X X X X X Expert
Williams Lake Trail 62
2 miles X X X X X Novice/Intermediate
Yerba Canyon Trail
4 miles X     x X Expert


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