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Backpacker Magazine – May 2012

Rip & Go: Horseshoe Lake - Pecos Wilderness, NM

Navigate a long-lost trail to a remote alpine lake.

by: Kenzi Wilbur and Rachel Zurer

PAGE 1 2
(Photo by: Bill Velasquez)
(Photo by: Bill Velasquez)

Do it
The trail’s not on any modern map (hello, solitude!), but if you know where to look, you can still travel a fading path across alpine tundra to Horseshoe Lake, a 10-acre tarn nestled at 11,750 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The 11.4-mile out-and-back is a great place to practice routefinding. Park at the end of Forest Road 161 (1) and hike .2 gravelly miles to the intersection with the Angostura Trail. Take the Serpent Lake Trail #19, climbing 1,500 feet over three miles through mixed conifer. Pass the signed trail leading north to Serpent Lake at mile 3.3. In the next 200 feet, look for your turn-off (2): A faint path heads south-southwest from an old-growth spruce; there may also be a cairn marking the turn. If you start to climb the ridge, you’ve gone too far. From here, only faint paths, small cairns, and our GPS track mark your way. Keep the Jicarita Peak ridge to the west, and when in doubt, traverse the slopes at around 11,800 feet; this route is mostly flat. Cross a dry wash at mile 3.7 (3). From here, the trail gets even trickier as you climb over dead logs; if the winter’s been wet, snow drifts can add to the challenge until late June. Look for old blazes cut into trees and evidence of one-time maintenance to help guide you into an open meadow at mile four (4). Quick-growing grasses erase all signs of a trail here; angle southeast and look for a faint path near a rocky outcrop when you reach the trees in .3 mile (5). Climb 200 feet in .3 mile to your above-treeline high point at 12,049 feet (6). Descend gently, keeping a small, unnamed pond below you to the east (7). Travel over tundra dotted with blue forget-me-nots (midsummer), wet marsh, and small creeks (highest May and June) for another .7 mile to Horseshoe Lake (8). Camp under large pines near the outlet (9), in the company of pikas (“See This,” next page) and bighorn sheep. If time permits, scramble up the scree slope west of the lake to the Ridge Divide Trail #36 for more views and exploring (“Locals Know,” next page). Return the way you came.

Trip Planner
Get there
From Santa Fe, take US 285 N to NM 68 N, NM 75 E, then NM 518 S. In 14.5 miles, turn right on FR 161 and go 1.5 miles until it dead-ends.

Gear up
Sangre De Cristo Mountain Works, 328 South Guadalupe St., Santa Fe. (505) 984-8221;

Contact (505) 757-6161;

Trip data

PAGE 1 2

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Reader Rating: -


Jul 20, 2012

Horseshoe Lake is not in the Pecos Wilderness. It is located in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, in the Carson National Forest.

Jun 14, 2012

BPer - Can you add some more specific trailhead directions--especially about the turn-off on FR 161? The forest roads in the northern Santa Fe NF are notoriously difficult to find and navigate. I used GmapsPedometer to trace 14.5 road miles on 518-South, and came up without a turn-off at that location. Is FR 161 after Moondragon Road and before La Canada road? Is it before or after FR 89? Also-I would advise hikers to leave nothing valuable visible in their car. Mischief can happen at these SFNF trail heads--often because locals don't like hikers parking near their land grants. This is especially a problem on the county roads east of Truchas, NM.
Jun 06, 2012

Horseshoe Lake


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