Distance: 10.1 miles
Water: Water available at the beginning and end of the route
Season: Summer, Fall
Trail Conditions: Excellent to Poor
If there’s any question about whether the Columbine-Hondo deserved to be upgraded to a Wilderness Area, this hike will dissuade any doubts. With little traffic, this route spends nearly 5 miles above treeline and offers stellar views in every direction, including of the Wheeler Peak and Latir Peaks Wilderness Areas.
Many sections of the Lobo Peak Trail – Trail #57 have faded considerable. Although the route is still easy to follow, being comfortable traveling off-trail is highly recommended for this hike.
The hike can be done as a loop or a shuttle. If you do not have a second car, there will be a 2 mile road walk at the end of the hike to return to the Taos Ski Valley parking lot.
The hike starts from the upper parking lot of Taos Ski Valley.
The hike begins on the east side of the main parking lot of the Taos Ski Valley. The Wheeler Peak Trail – Trail #90 climbs steeply, paralleling a small creek. There are a few other trails that cross the main trail, but remain along the creek climbing upstream on its west side. The trail switchbacks at a signed turn and then crosses over the creek to the east side.
Quickly after crossing the creek, the trail comes to a junction with the Long Canyon Trail – Trail #63. Take the sharp left to follow the Long Canyon Trail, which veers back to the creek. Staying on the east side of the stream, the trail climbs steeply above the creek for the next mile before returning briefly and leveling off just before a clearing. This is the last best place to get water for a number of miles.
In this section, I ran into a Rocky Mountain Youth Conservation crew with a Carson Forest Ranger clearing the only downed tree on the entire length of the trail.
Following this brief flat area, the trail resumes its steep climb, paralleling the creek, but veering away from it. It returns to a greatly reduced stream one last time before leaving it for good on the final push out of Long Canyon.
In this last mile before the junction with the Gold Hill Trail – Trail #64, the treeless ridge is visible to the west. Just after the ridge comes into view, the trail switchbacks to the right and makes a final climb. For a couple hundred yards before the signed junction, the trail enters a grassy meadow and the thick spruce and fir forest falls away.
The entire length of the Long Canyon Trail is in excellent condition and very easy to follow.
At the junction, going right on the Gold Hill Trail will head back toward the ski area. Instead, go left, continuing uphill towards Gold Hill. After .2 miles, you will reach another signed junction, this time for the Goose Lake Trail – Trail #65, which is all but non-existent. Continue straight past this junction.
Continue to climb up toward Gold Hill. You will be able to see the large horseshoe shaped ride to the left. The Lobo Peak Trail – Trail #57 follows this ridge to the top of the unnamed peak to the southwest that is known as Gavilan Peak among locals.
The junction for the Lobo Peak Trail is faint, as is the trail itself, so the easiest option is to leave the trail to the left and follow the ridge as it swings around to the southwest. At the top of the horseshoe, the trail is well-trodden but it quickly fades as it crests a small rise before dropping into a saddle below Gavilan Peak.
NOTE: Theoretically, the trail should pass two junctions with the Placer Fork Trail – Trail #72 and Willow Fork Trail – Trail #104. Neither of these junctions were clearly marked, but due to the grassy, meadowy nature of the terrain, this might not mean much.
The Lobo Peak Trail all but disappears as it it dips down into the Saddle below the peak, but picks up again half way up the final pitch. The views from the top of Gavilan Peak (12,191 feet) are unparalleled. To the east, Wheeler Peak and the Taos Ski Valley are perfectly visible. To the north, there are excellent views of Gold Hill and the large horseshoe bowl you have just traversed. And to the West, you can see the entire Columbine-Hondo Wilderness and the ridge line that continues to Lobo Peak and eventually Flag Mountain.
From the top of the peak, turn right to continue west along the ridge. The grassy peak covers the trail until it drops into the stand of alpine fir. However, the trail fades in a short while due to a cluster of downed trees. Over the next few miles, the trail frequently fades, but it typically remains on the Rio Hondo side of the ridge as opposed to the Red River side of the ridge. This is the case here, so stay to the left, and you should be able to pick up the faint trail fairly soon.
Although the trail fades frequently, it rarely disappears for long and the trail remains on the top of the ridge, so it’s easy to remain on track even if the trail itself is not obvious.
After dropping steeply into a saddle, the trail contours along the south side of a small peak before reaching another point. The trail fades again here, but picks up on the extreme left side of the ridge, dropping down to another saddle. If you cannot find the trail here, don’t worry. Just make your way down the ridge to the saddle where you should be able to see the trail pick up again.
From the saddle, the trail contours along the south side of another small peak, and although the trail is narrow and the footing can be rough, the trail will be easy to follow to the junction with the Gavilan Trail – Trail #60.
As the trail contours around this small peak, it eventually crosses over into the Columbine Creek drainage and descends quite steeply to the junction with the Gavilan Trail.
At the junction, the Lobo Peak Trail continues straight. To the right is the Columbine Creek Trail – Trail #71. However, you will turn left to follow the Gavilan Trail -Trail #60 back to NM-150.
The first mile of the trail is fairly gentle and traverses a series of open meadows that provide great views of the Wheeler Peak area. It then reenters the forest and starts to switchback steeply downhill for the remainder of the hike.
Because the Gavilan Trail is only slightly more than 2 miles, it must shed elevation quickly, which it does quite efficiently.
In the final mile, the trail crosses Gavilan Creek to the west side and after a few hundred yards, veers away from the creek toward the road. In the final 1/2 mile, the trail crosses behind some houses and hotels, so be sure to remain on the trail.
It pops out to the road, just below the town of Taos Ski Valley. If you have dropped a car, your hike will be over here, but if not, try to enjoy the 2 mile road walk back to your car.