Distance: 8 miles (round trip)
Water: Plenty of water available
Season: Summer and Fall
Trail Condition: Good to Moderate
The San Leonardo Lakes are some of the more accessible lakes in the Sangre de Cristo. The hike is through a narrow, lush canyon and offers a completely different impression of northern New Mexico than many outsiders would suspect. The main San Leonardo Lake is in a basin surrounded by impressive rock monoliths.
From Forest Road 207, after passing through El Valle, the turn off for the San Leonardo Lake Trailhead crosses Trampas Creek. Although the main road is in good condition, the road from the turnoff is significantly rougher. For the creek crossing, alone, a high clearance vehicle is recommended.
After crossing the creek, the roughly 1.5 mile road to the trailhead also holds the potential to be extremely rough. In June, 2016, I was able to drive all the way to the trailhead, but when I did this same hike in 2015, I had to park my car after 1/4 mile and walk the road. Especially during monsoon season, be prepared to extend the hike.
From the trailhead, the hike begins on an old two-track that follows San Leonardo Creek upstream. After about 1/3 of a mile, the trail crosses a ‘No vehicles’ barrier and narrows into a single track soon thereafter.
The hike starts in a grassy meadow, but the canyon quickly closes in. Compared even to other parts of the Pecos Wilderness, this canyon is extremely lush. On this trip we passed thousands of blooming geraniums.
After about 1 mile, the trail enter the Pecos Wilderness. For the first two miles, the trail climbs at a moderate grade, frequently crossing the creek, never deviating far from its banks. This section was well-cleared and the trail was easy to follow.
At about 2 miles, the trail switchbacks away from the creek on the east side. From here to the lake, the trail climbs at a much steeper grade. In this section there were also many downed trees that were slightly challenging to bypass. Even so, the trail remained easy to follow over its entire length.
After switchbacking away from the creek, the trail returns after 3/4 of a mile. Shortly thereafter the trail climbs above the spring fed creek and the last 1 mile to the lake will be mostly dry.
Much like false summits that precede peaks, there seem to be the equivalent in the final approach to San Leonardo Lake.
About 1/2 mile before the lake, the trail enters a small clearing and ascends a knoll on the left side of that clearing. After climbing another steep face, the trail flattens outs before dropping into the small basin that has made up the lake.
The larger of the two lakes is nestled in between the tall cliff walls that make up the lake basin. There are a few camping spots and plenty of room to take a break before returning to the trailhead.
Somewhat strangely, there are no fish in the lake, but I did see a some tiger salamanders enjoying the water, and above the lake, there were a pair of bighorn sheep.
Return to your car via the same route.