Trail Update: Hiking Report from Taos Ski Valley
September 21st, 2018
It's that time of the year when the mountains are starting to glow with Autumn colors ~ in and around our village many of the aspen glades are showing bright yellow and orange hues ~ the show has just begun and it looks like the peak will be through this weekend into early next week. Daytime temperatures are perfect for a hike on any of our area's trails ~ whether long or short, a climb into the high alpine or a mystical adventure through the forest! Fuel your adventures with snack from one of the awesome restaurants ~ The Pizza Shack is open, Bumps Market has a great breakfast burrito bar, and of course the Stray Dog Cantina is a locals' favorite for a margarita or cold brew after an awesome hike.
Kachina Vista Municipal Park
This newly designated park is one of the prime Autumn viewing spots in Taos! Incredible views along the route through aspen trees include the Longhorn ski run, Ernie's and North American glades, Kachina Peak, and across the base area village to the southerly slopes of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness. We don't know a better place with such easy access to immerse yourself in Autumn colors! To find this park, drive up Twining Road and turn left on Phoenix Switchback Road, drive another quarter mile then turn right onto Kachina Road. The park begins past a driveway where you see the gate, with several parking spots on the inside of the road. This dog-friendly trail follows the old Kachina Road for a mile above the valley. It's a great way to see the mountains without travelling far and is a popular intermediate bike ride.
Williams Lake Trail
Discover Williams Lake in all its glory as we transition to Autumn. An intermediate-level, four-mile round trip hike from The Bavarian. The trail 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. Hiking conditions are great, the trail is in excellent shape. If you haven't heard or been up here recently, the beginning of the trail is being rerouted across the Lake Fork of the Rio Hondo where it will be almost entirely on Public Land. Until this project is completed, for now follow the signs guiding trail users through 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. After about a half mile the trail reenters the forest and crosses into the Wheeler Peak Wilderness. From here hiking conditions are great, the spring near the middle is flowing and the rest of the trail was dry on our recent hike. Enjoy the stroll up through the forest, to the open meadows and boulder fields below Fairview Mountain, up to the saddle where the Wheeler Peak Trail #67 begins. Then it's a short hike through some evergreens to one of the most astonishing views in New Mexico! The lake sits in a large glacially carved basin surrounded by high alpine peaks. Soak in the views from the lake or continue on to one of the many routes leading to higher terrain.
Conquer New Mexico's highest peak. This 13,161-foot summit can be accessed by either Bull of the Woods Trail or Williams Lake Trail. Get a very 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 it climbs above treeline past the 12,163-foot Frazer Mountain summit. Follow the trail as it dips down onto the east slopes, across La Cal Basin, then up to and along the ridge towards the summit. It can get windy on this ridge so bring a jacket, temps are usually 10-20 degress cooler than in valleys.
The Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67 begins along the Williams Lake Trail #91 at the saddle just above the lake. This awesome singeltrack climbs through old growth conifer forests, across several steep avalanche chutes then makes a switchback before ascending above treeline onto a wide open glacial moraine at 12,000'. The trail is dry and clear to this point, it crosses some meadows then heads southeast towards Wheeler's towering northwest face. The route is clearly defined as this well-built trail traverses some scree fields and makes a few more switchbacks towards the summit ridge. Take some breaks to catch your breath if needed, once you're on the ridge the summit is just a short ways to the south. Incredible 360 degree views include the surrounding mountains, Rio Grande Rift Valley and distant ranges hundreds of miles away. 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 hike, and watch the clouds as the chance for afternoon monsoon showers returns through this weekend.
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 in great shape, the streams are flowing with fresh water after the recent monsoon rains. The Bull of the Woods trail is hiking nicely and Summer wildflowers are still blooming along the creek. Bull of the Woods, Long Canyon and the Goose Lake/Gold Hill trails are clear, get an early start if you plan to hike above treeline or summit Gold Hill. Did we mention Autumn colors?! The trails leading from Highway 150 into the Wilderness area travel through some amazing aspen glades, many are south facing and catch the sunlight in a way that makes it seem like you're surrounded by thousands of glowing golden lights. It's a truly unique experience that lasts only a week or two most years, any of these trails are impressive and will bring you to some beautiful locations.
Weather Coming In
As the monsoon season is ending and Autumn sets in, excellent conditions are expected through the weekend, the weather should be good for hiking and any outdoor activities through Monday. A chance for showers returns Tuesday into Wednesday with high elevation snow possible. Even as the monsoon has all but ended It's always a good idea to get an early start and watch the clouds after noon and prepare to descend if you see or hear lightning. Temperatures are seasonally mild, mornings have been cool with afternoon highs in the 50s and low 60s and lows dipping into the 30s at night, we may see the first morning frost of the season soon. Dress with layers and keep a good jacket with you especially if you plan to travel above treeline, be prepared for colder nights if you're camping and look for a tent site where any rainwater won't pool up.