Distance: 9.5 miles (round trip loop)
Water: Water available in Winsor Creek and at Stewart Lake
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Trail Condition: Good to Poor (unmaintained)
There are many ways to reach Stewart Lake, a small lake east of Santa Fe Baldy, that supports rainbow and (oddly) Snake River cutthroat trout.
Most of the routes are fairly straight forward, but the quickest way to reach the lake is via the Winsor Creek Trail – Trail #261, a trail the Forest Service no long maintains that does not appear on many maps.
From the Winsor Creek Trailhead, just west of Cowles, start on the Winsor Trail – Trail #254. For a half-mile, this path travels along the north side of Winsor Creek passing through pretty meadows and small groves of aspen trees.
After about 1/2 mile, the trail crosses Winsor Creek. Continuing on the south side of the creek, you will quickly reach a trail junction. The Winsor Trail , to the left, is now the only official trail, but as of fall 2017, the trail to the right, Trail #261 is still very much passable and offers a much shorter trip to the lake.
If you opt for #261, follow the trail as it slowly climbs upstream above Winsor Creek. There is a significant amount of dead fall covering the path, but the 3 mile-long trail remains easy to follow all the way to where it rejoins #254, a mile from the lake.
Also, keep your eyes peeled. In July 2017, I spotted a cluster of yellow lady slippers along this stretch of trail, the only ones I’ve seen in New Mexico.
Upon rejoining the Winsor Trail, veer right. In about a 1/2 mile, you will reach another trail junction at a creek crossing. Stay strait, following the Skyline Trail – Trail #251. After another 1/2 mile, you will reach Stewart Lake.
There is plenty of camping on all sides of the small lake, and decent fishing, especially on summer evenings if there’s a hatch.
Return how you came or to make a loop, cross over the outlet stream and continue along Trail #251. In less than a half-mile, you’ll reach a junction. Go right to follow the Winsor Ridge Trail – Trail #271.
This trail follows the ridge above Winsor Creek, slowly winding its way down to Cowles. At various points, it cuts through forests of douglas fir , scrub oak and ponderosa pine as well as open meadows.
If you take the trail all the way to Cowles, you’ll have a 1 mile road walk to return to your car. A short car shuttle would eliminate this short road walk.