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Backpacker Magazine – September 2009

Rip & Go: Wheeler Peak Loop - Wheeler Peak Wilderness, NM

Connect alpine lakes and tag three summits on this wildflower- and wildlife-packed loop.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

50 feet from Wheeler Peak's Summit (Tom Till)
50 feet from Wheeler Peak's Summit (Tom Till)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Do it
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 (1), dive into the woods and track along the East Fork of the Red River. Keep right at the junction with the Sawmill Park Trail (2) 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 (3)–a perch overlooking the East Fork valley 1,000 feet below.

Enter the Wheeler Peak Wilderness (4) just beyond and cruise .5 mile through conifer forest to a junction (5) for the spur trail to Horseshoe Lake. Go left and head .5 mile to a treeline campsite with peak views (6). Rise by seven to beat Wheeler's frequent summer lightning storms. With a summit pack, hike .3 mile to Horseshoe Lake (7), a curved pool sitting directly under the high point. Then ascend 1.3 miles to the 12,900-foot saddle (8) between Wheeler and Simpson Peaks. Go right to bag Wheeler (9) 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 (10), then continue another half-mile to 13,113-foot Old Mike Peak (11). 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 (12). On day three, traverse talus slopes before descending through evergreens to reach the Middle Fork trailhead (13); roadwalk 2.6 miles east on Forest Roads 487 and 58A to your car.

Trip Planner
Driving From Red River, 35 miles northeast of Taos, take NM 578 six miles south to where the pavement ends at the Middle Fork/East Fork junction. Turn east on FR 58A (it's a rough road) and drive 1.2 miles to the trailhead sign.

To skip the two-mile road walk to close this loop, drop a bike at the Middle Fork Lake trailhead, just west of the East Fork trailhead on FR 58.

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

(575) 758-6200

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Reader Rating: -


Jun 04, 2011

im going on this trail for the first time hopefully itll be fun....looking foward to it

Jun 04, 2011

im going on this trail for the first time hopefully itll be fun....looking foward to it

Traveling bags
Jan 27, 2011

Nice review ! I like your article and i will definitely look again.

Traveling bags
Jan 24, 2011

Nice review ! I like your article and i will definitely look again..........................................

Jonathan Patten
Oct 05, 2009

Awesome trail, been there 3 times! Twice as an overnighter, and once as a day hike, from bottom to the top!


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