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Wheeler Peak Wilderness, NM: Wheeler Peak Loop


Star Star Star Star Star

Distance: 19.2 miles

Connect alpine lakes and tag three summits on this wildflower- and wildlife-packed loop.
  • 3D: Horseshoe Lake to Wheeler Peak
  • East Fork Red River
  • Creek Crossing
  • Trail Views

Singleminded highpointers flock to 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak (New Mexico’s highest) via two short trails from Taos Ski Valley, west of the peak. Let them. Climb from the east on this three-day, 19.1-mile loop and get the same bragging rights—plus a chance to summit two more 13,000-foot peaks.

From the East Fork trailhead, dive into the woods and track along the East Fork of the Red River. Keep right at the junction with the Sawmill Park Trail at mile .9, continuing the mellow ascent as the flame-colored Sangre de Cristo Range peeks above the trees.

In 3.2 miles you’ll reach the first big vista--a perch overlooking the East Fork valley 1,000 feet below.Enter the Wheeler Peak Wilderness just beyond and cruise .5 mile through conifer forest to a junction for the spur trail to Horseshoe Lake. Go left and head .5 mile to a treeline campsite with peak views.

Rise by seven to beat Wheeler’s frequent summer lightning storms. With a summit pack, hike .3 mile to Horseshoe Lake, a curved pool sitting directly under the high point. Then ascend 1.3 miles to the 12,900-foot saddle between Wheeler and Simpson Peaks. Go right to bag Wheeler and savor views of glassy tarns radiating below your feet.

Now bag two more peaks before lunch: Return to the saddle and head .2 mile southeast to 12,976-foot Simpson, then continue another half-mile to 13,113-foot Old Mike Peak. Backtrack to Horseshoe Lake, retrieve your gear, and hike less than a mile on the Lost Lake Trail to reach your next campsite, on Lost’s north shore.

On day three, traverse talus slopes before descending through evergreens to reach the Middle Fork trailhead; roadwalk 2.6 miles east on Forest Roads 487 and 58A to your car.

Gear Up:
Get batteries and fuel at Climates: 307 E. Main St., Red River, NM; (575) 754-1756

Contact: (575) 758-6200

-Mapped by Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Trail Reviews & Comments


Star Star Star Star Star
Aug 29, 2013

My wife and I read the article and knew we might not make to the peak top, but one of the lakes below Wheeler Peak. Here is our take on the trip up. Leaving Red River you travel a paved road toward the national forest trailhead that ends up being a one lane dirt rough road. Ok, just go slow. Arrive early am to get a parking spot. The trail is slightly up, all the way into the wilderness area. There are camping areas at two stream crossing. At a trail junction before Horseshoe Lake you can go north toward LOST LAKE which we did. It is about 1+ miles. Lost Lake is a beautiful lake with a view of an open mountain side to the west, view of Wheeler south and east you can see Baldy Mt on Philmont Scout Ranch (12,441). The elevation at Lost Lake is just at 11,500. There were several nice camping spots just off the trail. Some areas close to the lake are plainly marked on't camp here. Being older, 60 and 62 it took us 4.5 hours up and 3.5 hours back down the next day. There are some open areas where cross loose type rocks, so be cautious. We opted this route and not the Taos side as we understand it was steeper.


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