Lobo Peak is one of the tallest mountains near Taos and among the most challenging to reach. The trail to the top crosses a rushing creek many times and climbs almost 4,000 feet. From the top of the peak, there are expansive views of the summer sky and to Wheeler Peak.
One way to approach Lobo Peak is to begin on Yerba Canyon Trail (Carson National Forest #61) and make a loop by returning on the Manzanita Canyon Trail (Carson National Forest #58).
Yerba Canyon is the first trail you reach when headed toward Taos Ski Valley from town. The trailhead is located at just over 8,200 feet.
The first section of the hike passes through rock cliffs and crosses the creek 16 times. The creek banks are full of wildflowers such as the red Indian Paintbrush, the purple chiming bells, and wild geraniums and roses. The rushing sound of the creek dominates the canyon. This part of the trail is appropriate for most hikers, but the next sections are best done by experienced hikers who are acclimated to the altitude.
After the creek crossings, the trail climbs up to the right of the stream through wet green meadows, while the sound of the creek grows fainter. The path becomes narrow in sections and can be slippery due to the rain. The steepness of the trail increases here. Follow the switch backs into the woods, crossing some downed trees. Look for the spring just to the right of the trail here.
As you approach Lobo Ridge, the trail becomes more vertical, climbing straight up a rocky ravine. You may find you often need to stop and catch your breath in this section.
Finally, the sky begins to show through the trees on the top of the ridge at 11,800 feet. After reaching the ridge, continue south up a moderate incline. Soon there is an intersection with Manzanita Canyon Trail and the conjunction with the Lobo Peak Trail that heads east to Gold Hill. Continue straight on for a moderate climb through the pine trees until a rocky outcropping is visible up ahead. This is the summit at 12,115 feet.
From the top, there are views in every direction, including southeast to Wheeler and Lake Fork Peaks and north to Flag Mountain and the Columbine Creek Trail that begins near Questa. The summit is a great spot for lunch and a good vantage point to see the summer sky and to look for storms that may be approaching.
I accompanied the Lost Boys Hiking Group for a recent outing to the top. Fifteen people were on the hike and they eventually split into two primary groups. The fastest group took under six hours for the entire trip. The group I was in took just under four hours to reach the top with the return trip down on Manzanita taking about three hours for a total of seven hours and 8 1/2 miles of hiking.
Counting the 16 creek crossings on Yerba Canyon Trail and 11 on Manzanita, there were a total of 27 crossings. Some of those on Manzanita have downed trees which adds to the challenge.
Craig Saum, recreation planner with the Carson National Forest, points out that the run-off is very high this year and the crossings can be slippery. Saum says there are plans to clear some of the downed trees, but the trail crews have had to spend time working on many trails impacted by high water.
An unusually wet early summer season has caused conditions to be very damp and humid. Thunderstorms are quite typical, especially in the afternoon. For the best chance to reach the top before the weather turns, start early. Our hiking group was on the trail by 8 a.m. and down before 3:30 p.m. We were lucky enough to be ahead of the rain, which moved in later.
While we were on top of Lobo Peak eating lunch, a young big horn sheep came up the ridge and grazed in the open meadow near the top. Other wildlife that you may see above the tree line includes the yellow-bellied marmot. In the riparian corridors along the creeks, it is possible to see the large pheasant-like bird, called the dusky grouse or wild turkeys.
Francisco Cortez, Carson National Forest wildlife biologist says “We have been blessed with so much rain this summer, the stream corridors have food, shelter, and water – everything animals to need to exist. Where there is a diversity of habitat, there is a diversity of wildlife.”
Cortez adds that there are many migratory birds in the canyons. He says that now is the time that deer with fawns and elk with calves begin to form larger groups for protection from predators. During the late summer, groups of 50 or more move into the higher alpine meadows.
The Lost Boys have been hiking weekly since 2001. They are a very experienced group and if you are interested in joining them, contact Jim Day at email@example.com.
From Taos Plaza, drive four miles north on Paseo del Pueblo Norte. At the intersection of U.S. 64 and State Road 150, turn right and head east on (State Road 150). Drive just past mile marker 10 and park near the Yerba Canyon Trailhead. If you want to do the loop up Yerba Canyon and down Manzanita, you may want to leave a car at the Manzanita trailhead to avoid the one mile walk back on the highway.