The Skyline Trail is the longest trail in the Pecos and does an enormous horseshoe through the Pecos Wilderness. For more than 50 miles, it starts at Deception Peak and ends near Barillas Peak in the southeast corner of the forest.
Trail Condition: Good to Poor
Deception Peak to Horsethief Meadow
From the top of Deceoption peak, the trail descends towards a saddle between Lake Peak. There are a couple ways to tackle the next section of trail. The most popular of which is to scramble on the ridge between the two peaks. Another option, is to follow a faint path that contours around the east (right) side of the peak. From Deception, this route is faint, but the trail is easy to follow once you’re on it.
Be careful on this section. Both routes have a lot of exposure and require careful attention.
From the top of Lake Peak, the Skyline Traildrops off the north side of the ridge toward Penitente Peak. The trail is narrow, but in good condition and the walking is easier than the trail between Deception and Lake.
The trail descends into a saddle below Penitente. The official route wraps around to the south (right), but from the saddle, I typically leave the trail and veer left up the open, grassy slope to the top of Penitente. This will save some time and maximize your time on top of Penitente.
Once atop Penitente’s wide grassy slope, continue downhill where you’ll quickly pick up the official trail once again. Follow it downhill to where it takes a sharp right into the trees.
NOTE: If you do this hike early in the season, there could sill be snow on this section of trail. Snow persists on this eastern facing slope much longer the the rest of the trail. The trail takes a sharp right and backtracks a few hundred yards before switchbacking toward the north face. This is somewhat counter intuitive, so if there is snow, pay close attention through this section.
Once the trail reenters the forest, follow the gentle switchbacks to a saddle and junction with the Winsor Trail – Trail #254. In the last quarter mile before the junction, the trail passes through a blow down . The trail has been cleared, but there could definitely be recently fallen trees in the section.
At the junction with the Winsor Trail, go left. After a half mile, the trail opens into a meadow – a great place for another break, before reaching another junction.
The Skyline Trail goes right toward Santa Fe Baldy and after about 1.5 miles of switchbacking up toward the saddle below Baldy, it descends the north side of the ridge toward Lake Katherine.
After some initial switchbacks, the trail runs northwest and contours around the basin towards the Lake. The trail fades somewhat amidst the many campsites at the lake, but continues on the southside of the Lake’s outlet, following the creek downstream.
After a little more than a 1/2 mile, there should be a junction with the Lake Katherine Trail – Trail 242. This junction seemingly does not exist and the Skyline Trail runs congruent with the Otto Trail for the next 1.5 miles. This section contours high above the valley below before switchbacking down toward a junction with the Winsor Trail.
For 1/2 mile the two trail run together again follow the creek downstream. At the next junction, the Skyline Trail goes left toward Stewart Lake. The short stretch to the lake is wide, flat and easy to follow.
From Stewart Lake, the trail continues north past a large meadow and a junction with the Winsor Ridge Trail – Trail #271. For slightly more than a mile, it climbs gently through dense forest to a junction with the Johnson Lake Trail – Trail #267.
Continuing north, the trail descends, slowly at first and then more steeply, toward the Cave Creek Trail – Trail #288. The first part of this section is relatively flat, but begins to switchback more steeply as views open up of the basin to the north.
From the junction with Trail #288, the Skyline Trail turns left to climb over a small pass. While this trail was easy to follow, it was not in good condition. There were lots downed trees over the switchbacks. It was possible to hike around them, but given the steep pitch, it was not easy. Additionally, the trail contained a lot of loose rock that did not make walking any easier.
Once the trail reached the small pass, the hiking became easier. But again, on the descent into Horsethief Meadows, there were many downed trees covering the trail. This section was easier to navigate, but still not ideal.
NOTE: While driving out from this trip, we ran into a Forest Service ranger who said that section of trail is being rebuilt.
As the trail descends through lush forest, it begins to open up in the last 1/4 mile before the Horsethief Meadow. Cross the small stream and enjoy a long rest in the large meadow. We were lucky enough to come across the largest patch of elephant head flowers I have ever seen.
Saddle below East Pecos Baldy to the Pecos Trail – Trail #24:
From the small grassy saddle below East Pecos Baldy, the trail enters the dense forest and descends steeply over 1/2 mile toward the East Pecos Baldy Lake. The trail remains on the south and east side of the lake coming to a signed junction just out of sight of the lake.
The trail continues straight, climbing out of the lake basin, and after less than a mile, the trail forks again before reaching the top of a Trailrider’s Ridge, a wide, grassy ridge with views in all directions.
With its the Truchas Peaks to the north, Española Valley to the west, Pecos basin to the east and East Pecos Baldy to the south, this is my favorite place in northern New Mexico. For a little more than two miles, the Skyline Trail follows the ridge’s undulating curves, showing-off some of the most stunning scenery in all of New Mexico. In June and early July, the wildflowers can be stunning.
After a couple miles, the trail comes to a marked junction and drops off the east side of the ridge and quickly comes to another junction with the Rito Azul Trail – Trail #263.
Stay left at the junction with Trail #263 to remain Trail #251. The Skyline Trail contours around the bases of the Truchas peaks for the next few miles before reaching another trail junction with the North Azul Trail – Trail #264 just below the Truchas Lakes.
Again, stay left to remain on the Skyline Trail, which after a short, steep climb, passes by the lower and larger of the two Truchas Lakes. This is a great spot to camp or just to take a break.
The trail crosses the outlet of the lake before continuing to contour around the headwaters of the Pecos River. In a about a mile the trail passes a marked junction for the Jack’s Creek Trail – Trail #257.
After a short, slow climb from the junction with #257, the trail reaches another junction with the Beattys Trail – Trail #25. Continue straight (right) on the Skyline Trail for another mile until you reach another junction with the Beatty’s Trail – this one dropping off to the south (right) and back toward your car.
NOTE: Pay close attention to the weather during this section of trail, especially during the summer monsoon season. The general rule of thumb is to be away from any exposed areas by noon, but storms can roll in sooner or later so pay attention and be smart.
For the next 2.5 miles toward the junction with the Pecos Trail – Trail #24, the Skyline Trail remains above treeline as it traverses the Santa Barbara Divide. Because this section is not well-traveled, the trail fades in places where alpine grasses are the dominate forage, but wood stakes mark the trail, and as long you stay atop the ridge, the trail always reappears.
In the final 1/2 mile as the trail descends toward the junction with the Pecos Trail, it reenters the forest. The trail, here, is easy to follow as it switchbacks steeply into the saddle.
South from Na-Na-Ka Trail – Trail #217:
From the junction with the Na-na-Ka Trail – Trail #217, the Skyline Trail is easy to follow for 2.5 miles going south. The trail is wide as it climbs gently to a small, forest hilltop with limited views.