Distance: 10.5 miles
Season: Summer, Fall
Trail Conditions: Excellent
Gold Hill is a great day hike, offering wonderful views from the recently designated Columbine-Hondo Wilderness. It is a less-traveled alternative from the heavily trafficked Wheeler Peak with no little compromise in scenery. Although you spend less time above treeline, the views of the Latir Peaks, Wheeler Peak and the Taos Ski Valley remain spectacular!
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, about hundred yards up the small road (towards the Bavarian) from where you parked. 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 to water and leveling off just before a clearing. This is the last best place to get water for a number of miles.
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.
From this junction with the Gold Hill Trail, go left, but make a note of this junction because you will return a different route. From the junction, you should be able to see another trail sign that is skylined along the ridge in front of you. After .2 miles you will reach the sign. To right is the Goose Lake Trail. Go straight towards Gold Hill.
NOTE: To take the Lobo Peak Trail – Trail #57, you will continue straight, but soon follow the top of the canyon to the left around the horseshoe to the small peak on the opposite side of Long Canyon from where you are standing.
To continue to Gold Peak, continue straight up towards a small knob, whose north side is nearly shear. From a small saddle just before the knob, you should be able to see down to Goose Lake and the parking area.
Follow the trail as it contours around the south side of the knob to another small saddle where you can see the final push to the Gold Hill summit (12,711 feet). There will be a small switchback before reaching the large rounded peak. Enjoy the the 360 degree views of the Columbine-Hondo, Wheeler Peak and Latir Peak Wilderness Areas.
NOTE: The final half mile can be very windy so no matter the weather, always bring warm layers on this hike.
Return down the way you came until you reach the junction with the Gold Hill Trail – Trail #64. You can return via the Long Canyon Trail, but for some variety, turn left. You will quickly reach another trail sign at a point where the trail bends downhill to the right.
For the first 1.5 miles, the trail descends at an easy grade as it winds between mature forests and meadows. It is in excellent condition so enjoy the relaxing part of the hike. The last mile before reaching the junction with the Wheeler Peak Trail is much steeper, but the well-planned switchbacks make the descent as smooth as possible.
You will reach the Wheeler Peak Trail at a small opening just before a larger meadow to your left. Turn right to follow the old two track downhill. Despite the fact that you are practically on a road, don’t be surprised by how steep it is. Especally considering it is the end of the hike, it can be deceptively draining. The good news is that it’s only slightly more than a mile before you complete the loop at the junction for the Long Canyon Trail.
From here, it’s less than a mile back to the parking lot along the same route that you started the hike.