Williams Lake to Wheeler Peak: Find Easy Hikes in Taos or Challenge Yourself on New Mexico's Highest Peak
Taos Hiking Trail Maps and Trail Condition Updates
February 2020 Update
Recent storms have brought several feet of fresh snow to our mountains, with season totals so far between 12 and 15 feet, average snow depth is about 70 inches on February 15th. Most of the higher elevation trails are packed by snowshoers and skiers, expect to encounter a seasonally deep snowpack in the mountains, while the lower trails along the Rio Grande gorge are more suitable for a casual hike with amazing scenery.
Williams Lake Trail
For information about avalanche conditions in the Wheeler Peak and Columbine-Hondo Wilderness areas, the Taos Avalanche Center is back up an running this season. They're posting regular conditions updates - find their forecast at www.taosavalanchecenter.org
Discover Williams Lake in all its snowy glory! This popular intermediate-level, four-mile round trip hike from The Bavarian follows a beautiful valley forested with aspen, Engelmann and blue spruce, western white fir, and rarely seen red fir and bristlecone pines can be found in the higher elevations.
The trail is covered with packed snow, conditions are great for snowshoeing and cross country skiing! If you're hiking make sure your boots are sturdy with good tread, stay towards the middle of the trail to avoid sinking into unconsolidated snow near the edges. Several side trails used by backcountry skiers may be encountered, to stay on the actual trail follow the blue blazes on the trees, and/or use a gps app such as Hiking Project
to stay on track.
If you're a winter peak-bagger, conquer New Mexico's highest peak ~ this 13,161-foot summit can be accessed by either the Bull of the Woods (Wheeler Peak Trail #90) or Williams Lake trails. Get an early start for this expert level tour. Snowshoes and climbing skis with skins may be necessary along the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67 and may be usefull along some sections of the Bull of the Woods route. Winter backcountry camping is allowed, please stay at least 300 feet away from streams and lakes. Keep your eyes peeled for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer and elk, and smaller forest critters like pine marten and ermin.
From the Bull of the Woods trailhead
by the Twining Campground (at the top of the main parking lot in the village) 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. This route is popular among seasoned alpinists and peak-baggers, it's a challenge to take on with determination and experience. You'll encounter deep snow along much of the first four miles and some sections of the ridge where It can get quite windy, dress warm and bring your sense of adventure! Avoid walking onto cornices overhanging off the ridges.
The Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67
begins along the Williams Lake Trail at the saddle just above the lake. The route climbs through old growth conifer forests, crosses several steep avalanche chutes then ascends above treeline onto a wide open glacial moraine at 12,000'. The trail makes some switchbacks up the steep western slope towards the ridge between Mount Walter and Wheeler, through snow and scattered rock fields across open slopes. On a clear day you'll be treated to incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, the Rio Grande Rift Valley and distant mountain ranges such as the San Juans in Colorado. As much of the actual trail is currently snowbound, route finding experience may be necessary, as well as recognizing and avoiding potential avalanche terrain - check www.taosavalanchecenter.org
for updates on current snowpack conditions.
The trails within the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness offer excellent potential for day hikes, backcountry skiing and overnight or multi-day backpacking adventures for extreme winter enthusiasts! These trails include the Yerba, Manzanita, Italianos and Gavilan Canyon trails. You'll find everything from low-angle packed snowshoe and ski tracks to untracked powder snow, snow bridges across streams, steep-walled traverses, open meadows and high ridges with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. An early start is recommended if you plan to travel above treeline or summit any of the high alpine peaks such as Lobo or Gavilan Peaks bring plenty of food and water - any water from the streams or melted snow should be boiled and/or filtered before drinking. Many of these trails cross avalanche paths especially in the higher elevations - some are obvious and some are hidden in the forests. Know before you go and stay within your ability levels if you're ski touring. If you're hiking, the Yerba and Manzanita trails are lower down and provide easier access, and they usually have less snow than the others.
Weather Coming In
February is one of the snowiest months of the year, we've gotten about 4 feet so far this month, providing excellent opportunities to enjoy winter scenes and powder snow - but also with nice, sunny northern New Mexico weather mixed in between snow storms with beautiful bluebird days. This pattern is expected to continue going into the Spring. When you're planning a trip or hike check the National Weather Service forecast for Taos Ski Valley
for an idea of what to expect.