Distance: 10.6 miles
Water: Yes, plenty
Season: Summer, Fall
Trail Condition: Good
This steep loop hike off the Taos Ski Valley road is well worth the effort. Although both the up and down are extremely steep, the views from the top of Gold Hill, Kachina and Wheeler Peaks, the Latir Peaks and the Rio Grande Gorge are unparalleled. On good days, you can even see Colorado as you look past Ute and San Antonio Mountains to the north.
In Taos, NM-68 turns into US-64 as you continue north. A the 4-way stop where US 64 continues to the West, turn right (east) onto NM-150 toward the ski valley. After passing through Arroyo Seco and and dropping into the canyon, take the road to mile marker 10. Just past this marker will be the parking lot for the Yerba Trail. You can do this loop in either direction, so if you start at Italianos Canyon, continue to mile marker 12, where that trail begins.
You can do this route as a loop or if you have two cars, drop one at each trailhead – Yerba and Italianos – and cut out the 2 mile road walk.
Assuming you are doing this trip as a loop, I kind of like getting the road walk out of the way in the beginning so that once I’ve reached the road at the end of the day, I’m done. With this in mind, park at the Yerba Trail (just past mile marker 10) and complete the two mile road walk to the Italianos Trail, passing the Manzanita Canyon Trail – Trail #58 on the way.
Once you’ve reached the Italianos Canyon Trail – Trail #59, turn left up the trail. Within a couple of minutes you will cross into the newly designated Columbine-Hondo Wilderness and be following the small creek up the narrow, heavily vegetated canyon. Because the canyon is narrow, the trail crosses the creek frequently, but fortunately, all the crossings are easy thanks to stepping stones that have been deliberately placed.
At a couple points, the canyon opens up, but quickly closes again. The trail climbs steadily, but not terribly steeply throughout this section. At about 1.5 miles, the trail switchbacks away from the creek to the left. After a 1/4 mile climb, the trail reaches a bench and for the next 3/4 mile is fairly flat. In this section, the trail passes through a series of small meadows as it makes its way back toward the creek.
In the last mile or so before reaching the junction with the Lobo Peak Trail – Trail #57, the climbing picks up again and becomes significantly steeper. This entire section of trail is in good condition. There were just a few downed trees and the trail was easy to follow. Toward the top of the ridge, some remnant piles of snow started to emerge, a harbinger of conditions to come.
Just before reaching the forested ridge and the Lobo Peak Trail, you will hit water for the last time until dropping into Yerba Canyon. Fill up here if necessary.
Turn left upon reaching the Lobo Peak Trail. Although you will be on a ridge top, the climbing will continue for the next 1.5 miles to the top of Lobo Peak. In here, the trail can be slightly harder to find due to the lack of an understory, but as long as you pay attention, you shouldn’t have much trouble.
Amazingly, on July 4th, large amounts of snow remained on the north side of the ridge. In places where the trail trended to the south side or even on top of the ridge, the snow had melted, but as soon as it dropped to the north side, drifts as much as 5 feet deep quickly emerged. At first these were easy to dodge and remain on the trail, but after the trail descended while bypassing a small scree outcropping, it wraps to the north side of the ridge and becomes very difficult to follow for about 1/4 mile.
There were a single set of footprints for me to follow, but even those became unreliable and cut trees were all buried beneath feet of snow. Eventually, I lost the trail completely, but just as I did, I could see up and to the left that I had bypassed the small knoll to the left and the ridge was visible. So I left the trail and made my way to the ridge. After following the ridge for just a couple of minutes, I was back on the trail.
NOTE: During most years and almost anytime after this post, the trail should be clear of all snow. However, if you are attempting this hike in early seasons, you should carry a map and be prepared to hike in snow, and remember, the good thing about hiking in snow is that your footprints make it easy to turn around if you have to.
Once the trail has returned to the ridge, the snow should be behind you. Eventually, it will cross a grassy, south facing slope and behind you, you will have stunning views of Wheeler Peak and Kachina Peak. Once across the slope, you will reach a junction with the Yerba Canyon Trail – Trail #61. Turn right to make the final short climb to the top of Lobo Peak.
From the top, it’s hard to beat the views. To the east, Gold Hill, Wheeler Peak and Kachina Peak. To the south, Taos and the Pecos Wilderness, including the Truchas Peaks. To the west, the Rio Grande Gorge. And to the north, in addition the Chevron mine, the Latir Peaks Wilderness, Ute Mountain and the peaks in Colorado, including Sierra Blanca.
Return to the junction with the Yerba Canyon Trail and follow this downhill along the ridge. At two points, you’ll reach junctions – one signed, one not. Stay right at both junctions and follow the trail into a small saddle.
NOTE: You can also do this route as a loop with the Manzanita Canyon Trail. Overall, it will be .7 miles shorter, due to a mile less of road walking. Also, it won’t be as steep as the Yerba route.
Once you’ve reached the saddle, there will be a sign pointing you left into the canyon. This first part is EXTREMELY steep and its hard to figure out whether this is better going up or going down, but either way, you will hope you have trekking poles.
This steep section of trail eventually winds its way into a small bowl at the top of this canyon, before continuing along the left (east) side of the canyon for the next two miles. At points, it contours high above the water with occasional switchbacks that attempt to keep the trail within spitting distance of the creek.
This entire section of trail can be extremely steep, but once it meets the stream, the grade eases considerably. For the next 1.5 miles or so, the trail regularly crosses the creek (although not as frequently as in Italianos) and steadily descends towards the Rio Hondo.
Eventually, the trail crosses out of the Wilderness and joins a two-track, just before reaching the road. Assuming you have already completed the road walk, you will be ready for a well-deserved break after a surprisingly punishing 10 miles.