Great outdoors

Winter hiking: Snow, silence and solitude

By Cindy Brown
For The Taos News
Posted 11/20/18

With the recent snow, many of the trails at higher elevations are covered in a deep layer of white powder. It is still possible to hike year-round both in the deep snow …

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Great outdoors

Winter hiking: Snow, silence and solitude

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With the recent snow, many of the trails at higher elevations are covered in a deep layer of white powder. It is still possible to hike year-round both in the deep snow and in places with less snow.

The winter offers a different kind of hiking experience with more silence and solitude to be found in the woods and along the rivers. You may see deer drinking at the river, bighorn sheep grazing on the cliffs or a bald eagle soaring above the Río Grande.

Outdoor conditions can vary from sunny to snowy and windy, so now is a good time to get out your winter gear and get prepared for the coming hiking season. When the snow is light or packed down by other hikers, you may be able to use a traction device to help keep your footing.

When the snow gets deeper, and you find yourself stepping down several inches, it is time to get out the snow shoes. Packing a thermos of hot chocolate to drink on the trail can help keep you warm and make for a more enjoyable experience in the colder weather.

Read on to find recommendations for some favorite winter hiking trails and tips for gear, clothing, preparation and resources.

Snowy hiking

Yerba Canyon

If you want to experience a snowy hike in the woods, consider the series of trails located along the Taos Ski Valley Road (State Road 150). One of my favorites is the first trail, Yerba Canyon in the Carson National Forest (No. 61). The trail winds through the canyon along a stream.

Several water crossings get covered with snow and ice. Use caution at these points and notice the thickness of the ice. This is a high-altitude trail that begins at 8,200 feet.

"Yerba is very beautiful in winter and you don't have to go in too far to really have a nice experience," says Craig Saum, trails planner for the Carson National Forest. The trail goes all the way to Lobo Ridge, a total of about 8 miles round trip and an elevation gain of 3,600 feet, but in the winter many people stay in the lower reaches of the trail near the creek to enjoy the sound of the water and the sunny spots along the way

Directions: From Taos Plaza, go 4 miles north on Paseo del Pueblo to the intersection with the Taos Ski Valley Road. Take this road through Arroyo Seco, bearing left at the old Arroyo Seco school and go up the canyon to mile marker 10. After a big snow, it is more difficult to park along the road, so you may want to wait a few days before heading up the canyon.

Lower elevation hiking with less snow

The Slide

Not too far from the center of town, there is access to an extensive system of trails in the Rift Valley of the Orilla Verde area that are used for hiking, biking, running and horseback riding. You can get to the interconnected trails in several ways. One way is to head south through Taos and Ranchos to County Road 110, the road that provides access to the golf course and the University of New Mexico at Taos Klauer campus.

Located at the end of the road, the Cascabel Trailhead is the starting point for a trail that follows the rim of the Río Pueblo Gorge and heads east to connect with the Rift Valley system. It is also the beginning of The Slide Trail.

Old County Road 570 was once a narrow road that headed down from the rim of the Río Pueblo Gorge to the Taos Junction Bridge. When a rock slide closed the road in 1993, it became a trail that is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

The trail starts out at the rim and then descends down toward the Río Pueblo. If you continue to walk when you reach the river, you will come to the confluence of the Río Pueblo and the Río Grande near the Taos Junction bridge.

"The trail has a lot of rock in the tread surface, so it may be less muddy with warmer temperatures, but have patchy ice at times," says Tami Torres, trail planner for the BLM. "I would recommend packing a set of traction cleats for any winter hiking. It is a beautiful hike after a fresh snow due to the contrast on the cliff walls of the gorge."

When asked for her winter hiking advice, Torres suggests layering clothing and having an extra set of clothes. "Avoid getting overheated and change into something dry if you get wet. Fluids are just as important this time of year as well," she adds.

It is not unusual to see big horn sheep here and I've seen bald eagles and hawks riding the wind through the gorge. The total round trip is about 2.5 miles with an elevation change of 700 feet.

Directions: Head south from Taos Plaza a bit over 5.5 miles. Turn right onto County Road 110. Continue on for 4 miles. Park in the circular lot at the end of the road.

Cindy Brown is the author of the Taos Hiking Guide available at local retailers and at nighthawkpress.com. Contact her at cindybrowntaos2010@yahoo.com.

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