THE BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT (BLM) oversees thousands of acres of public land across Northern New Mexico. Ranging from the Río Chama Wild and Scenic River southwest of Taos to the Sabinoso Wilderness Area east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the Canadian River, and from the bottom of the Río Grande Gorge to the tip top of Ute Mountain (10,093 feet) on the Colorado border, the BLM Taos office has a lot of ground to cover.
The West Rim Trail is an easy, flat hike that follows the Río Grande from the Gorge Bridge.You can go as long as you like on the path. The entire trail is 9 miles each way. Mountain bikes are allowed here, as well. The trail comes close to the gorge at times and then veers farther away. The area is covered with black lava rocks — remnants of its volcanic past. From Taos Plaza, go north on Paseo del Pueblo Norte 4 miles. Turn left (west) at the signal at the intersection with U.S. Highway 64 and continue for 7 miles. Cross the Gorge Bridge and turn left (or south) into the rest stop immediately west of the bridge.
The BLM usually offers guided hikes in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument every fall but call the Taos BLM Office to be sure. The goal is to familiarize the public with all the magnificent treasures that make up the monument. Likewise, check first to be sure the fall guided hikes in October will be held. These popular day hikes offer deeper insights into all aspects of the national monument from geology, wildlife, archaeology, birding, botany and more.
Most hikes are on the weekends, but some hikes and events are scheduled during the week. Visit the monument website (blm.gov/nm/riograndedelnorte) for the time, date and description of what’s on the schedule that week. You can also call the Río Grande Gorge Visitor Center at (575) 751-4899, the Wild Rivers Visitor Center at (575) 586-1150 or the Taos BLM office at (575) 758-8851 to find out what’s on tap.
Carson National Forest
The BLM isn’t the only federal agency with holdings in Northern New Mexico. The 1.5-million-acre Carson National Forest is operated by the National Forest Service and also offers an amazing amount of hiking opportunities, such as the popular Devisadero Loop Trail 108, Columbine Canyon Trail #71, Italianos Canyon Trail #59 and Wheeler Peak. For a descriptive list of all the day-hiking trails, visit fs.usda.gov/recarea/carson/recreation.
Wheeler Peak: The top of New Mexico
The Taos Ski Valley area is home to the tallest mountain in New Mexico at 13,161 feet. To get there requires a long, steep hike, gaining almost 3,000 feet over 5 miles. It is challenging but the breathtaking views at the top and feeling of accomplishment are worth the effort.
The best time of year to summit Wheeler is late summer or early fall; this is the narrow window after the snow is mostly melted and before the next season of snow comes, so plan ahead.
There are two ways to get to the top: from Bull-of-the-Woods Trailhead (located off the top parking lot of TSV resort) or the Williams Lake side. For the Williams Lake approach, plan on about 4 hours for the ascent. Local hiking club members recommend you start early and get off the peak by 1 p.m. to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. The first 2 miles of trail pass through spruce and fir trees. A gradual climb brings you through a boulder field to Williams Lake. The trail to the peak begins just before reaching the lake.
From Taos Plaza, go north on Paseo del Pueblo Norte 4 miles. Turn right (east) onto Ski Valley Road (State Road 150). Continue through Arroyo Seco up to Taos Ski Valley; stay left at the first main parking lot and drive into the upper parking lots. Go up Twining Road and follow the dirt road for 2 miles; several switchbacks bring you to the parking lot at Deer Lane. Walk down the hill, past the Bavarian Restaurant and then uphill. Watch for the trail signs.