The adventure of snowshoeing
By Cindy Brown
Imagine being outside in the crisp winter air with the sun shining, trekking through fresh snow into the forest. One of the best ways to get into nature when the snow is deep is on snowshoes. There are lots of opportunities around Taos to give it a try and enjoy the special crystalline beauty of the outdoors in winter.
Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area: One of the best is the Enchanted Forest, which is located just outside of Red River on Carson National Forest land. There are more than 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) of snowshoe and ski trails. Enchanted Forest offers a dog-friendly area, as well.
“We have guided snowshoe tours. All our trails are well-marked, which makes it easy for first-time snowshoers to have a great day,” says Ellen Miller-Goins, co-owner of Enchanted Forest. “We provide groomed trails, warming huts and have ski patrol on hand for emergencies.” Miller-Goins explains that although the resort is currently for sale, Enchanted Forest will be open this season for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. There are also yurts available for camping and sleds called “pulks” for pulling your gear to the yurts. For more information and pricing, visit enchantedforestxc.com.
Taos Snowshoe Adventures: Another way to get started is to sign up for a tour with Taos Snowshoe Adventures. Snowshoe guide Stuart Wilde says that snowshoeing is a good way to get out in the wintertime and explore the great outdoors around Taos. “If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” says Wilde, who leads winter excursions in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains around Taos. When asked what makes his tours unique Wilde says, “It’s the solitude of being out in the wilderness that makes it a truly special experience for our guests.” Taos Snowshoe Adventures offers guided snowshoe tours for all levels, from a two hour “Learn to Snowshoe” clinic to a full day snowshoe hike. Snowshoes/poles, snacks and hot beverages are provide, with a hot lunch on half day and full day trips. For more information, call 800-758-5262 or visit SnowshoeTaos.com
On your own: If you already know how to snowshoe and want to head out on your own, there are a number of destinations close to Taos. For a moderate to strenuous outing, the Williams Lake Trail is great for snowshoeing. It begins at over 10,000 feet in elevation at Taos Ski Valley. The road to the hiker’s parking lot on Deer Lane requires a four-wheel drive vehicle during winter months.
Once you get to the parking area, look for the signs pointing the way to the trail that have been added, making it easier to navigate around the Phoenix Grill and up to the trailhead. Although a stop at the hot chocolate and espresso shack is worth a slight detour. One advantages of recreating at Williams Lake is that there are more amenities here than at most trailheads. In addition to the coffee shack and the Phoenix Grill, the Bavarian Restaurant is located near the trailhead and provides a good place to start or end the day.
It might generally take about an hour to cover the two miles to the lake, but in the winter, allow a bit more time for the uphill section. Although this is a popular trail, there is still the opportunity for solitude, especially around the lake.
Other trails for snowshoeing near the Ski Valley include Bull-of-the-Woods, accessed from the base area parking. This is a more vertical trail than Williams Lake. The Southwest Nordic Center has a yurt for rent, located near the two mile mark on Bull-of-the-Woods. There is a wood burning stove and space for up to 10 people. To reserve the yurt, contact Southwest Nordic Center at (575) 758-4761 or go to the website soutwestnordiccenter.com for information.
Northside at Taos Ski Valley is also available for snowshoeing. A $5 day pass can be purchased at the Chamber Visitor Center at the Taos Ski Valley. Call for more information and reservations call (575) 776-3233 or visit ridenorthside.com.
A favorite for snowshoeing and other winter activities is Amole Canyon, south of town off State Road 518, just about 30 minutes from downtown Taos. To check conditions, call the Carson National Forest (CNF) at (575) 758-6200 or stop by the Taos field office at 208 Cruz Alta Road.
Wildlife: Bighorn sheep are attracted to bare hillsides where the snow has melted or been blown away, says Francisco Cortez, wildlife program manager with the CNF. Big game animals often move to lower elevations to find food. Many predators such as bobcat and coyotes will follow. The snowshoe hare might be spotted in areas of deep snow, as the shape of their paws allows them to stay on the top of the snow and run quickly from predators. Birds such as the mountain bluebird, Steller’s jay and nuthatch can be heard and seen in the forest.
Weather/Safety: A sunny morning can turn into a snowy afternoon. Check weather reports, the Carson National Forest or local outfitters for up-to-date weather and snow conditions. Go with at least one other person and let someone else know when you will be back. If you are new to Taos, allow a few days to get used to the altitude. Taos is located at 7,000 feet and the trails listed here are generally above 8,000 feet and can go as high as 11,000 feet.
Clothing: Temperatures will vary dramatically depending on elevation, shade and wind. Start with a base layer that will keep you warm and wick away moisture. Add a second layer of fleece or other insulating material for warmth. Your outer layer should include a shell or lightweight coat that will protect you from wind and wetness. You may be very warm while going up the trail, but could discover you need an additional layer or warm scarf at the top for the descent. Bring plenty of water and high energy snacks, and don’t forget your sunglasses and sunscreen.
Gear: Taos Mountain Outfitters on Historic Taos Plaza has snowshoes for sale; you can reach them at (575) 758-9292. Mudd ‘n Flood on Bent Street has snowshoes for rent and sale, as well as other winter gear; call them at (575) 751-9100. Cottam’s Ski Shops also has snowshoes available for rent at their midtown and Taos Ski Valley locations; call either (575) 758-2822 or (575) 776-8719.