Spend a few days hiking to the top of towering "baldy" peaks, scrambling up canyons, marveling at ruins, and relaxing in hot springs, and you'll see why Aldo Leopold loved this wilderness. Our first designated wilderness, the Gila offers an extensive network of trails ranging across 500,000 acres. For bird's-eye views, take the 24-mile Mogollon Crest Trail, which follows ridgetops for most of the route and leads to the three tallest peaks in the Gila.
Contact: Wilderness Ranger District, Gila National Forest, (505) 536-2250; www.fs.fed.us/r3/gila.
With more than 150 miles of streams, numerous alpine lakes, wildflower-filled meadows, and several glacier-sculpted peaks above 13,000 feet, this wilderness provides a perpetual Rocky Mountain high. For the ultimate alpine experience, hike the 50-mile Skyline Trail—the longest wilderness path in New Mexico—through the Sangre de Cristo range.
Contact: Carson National Forest, (505) 758-6200; www.fs.fed.us/r3/carson.
Philmont Scout Ranch
A favorite of Backpacker's Boy Scout readers, Philmont is a "high-adventure base" owned by the Boy Scouts of America. This 137,000-acre area hosts more than 19,000 Scouts each summer on weeklong backpacking trips, the rewards of which are high-mountain splendor, new backcountry skills, and the ever-important Philmont badge. Non-Scouts can get a taste of Philmont-style New Mexico high country by hiking trails in the surrounding Carson National Forest.
Contact: Boy Scouts of America, (505) 376-2281; www.scouting.org/philmont.