Perfect Pairings

As you plan your high-altitude adventures in Northern New Mexico this summer, be sure to consider some of the perfect pairings of outdoor fun followed by sublime food and drink.

By Cindy Brown
Enjoying the deck at The Bavarian (Photo by Liam Doran)


A classic combination is a hike to either Williams Lake or Wheeler Peak with a stop at the Bavarian Restaurant in Taos Ski Val-ley afterwards. I love these trails because they take you high into cool mountain valleys and peaks. In the summer, there are often many stands of luminous blue and white columbines blooming in the boulders along the trail. Williams Lake is beautiful alpine lake surrounded by high peaks. If you climb above the lake to Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of snow-covered peaks, distant valleys and rolling horizons.

The Williams Lake Trail (Carson National Forest Trail #62) is a moderate trek to a high altitude lake outside Taos Ski Valley. Park at the lot on Deer Lane. From there, follow the signs past The Bavarian up the hill to the hobbit bridge that marks the trail’s entrance. Beginning at 10,200 feet, the trail follows the Rio Hondo, then crosses a meadow and two boulder fields before a slight climb
to arrive at the lake at 11,040 feet. It is just over two miles one way. Look out for possible full moon hikes this summer.

Wheeler Peak (Carson National Forest Trail #67), the tallest mountain in New Mexico at 13,161 feet, is a difficult hike with spectacular views. Intrepid hikers are often rewarded with sightings of bighorn sheep, pica, marmot and other wildlife. To reach the peak, set out toward Williams Lake and look for
the Wheeler trail sign to the left (this is before you reach the lake). Turn here and climb the gradual uphill section through the woods. Soon the trail emerges into an open area above tree line. A series of switchbacks take you higher. Ahead is the ridge that connects Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak. On the ridge, the views open up dramatically. Horseshoe and Lost Lakes are visible below. A short rolling section brings you to the peak. Watch for frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

Round trip, the hike is over 9 miles with an elevation gain of close to 3,000 feet.After a day on the trail, you’ll likely be hungry. The Bavarian Restaurant offers authentic German food, including goulash and wienerschnitzel, along with sandwiches, burgers and salads.

Williams Lake_Columbine flowers at Taos Ski Valley (photo Cindy Brown)

You may want to toast your success in reaching Williams Lake or the highest peak in New Mexico with a beer or glass of sparkling wine. The sight of diners sitting on the sunny deck enjoying food and drink is irresistible as you pass
the restau­rant on the way back to the parking lot,
so be sure to leave time to stop in.

Summer hours after Memorial Day: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dinner available Friday & Saturday.
Call to make dinner reservations
inquire about booking special events.
575-776-2291 ext. 8200.


Located a little over 50 miles from Taos, the West Fork Santa Barbara Trail 25 is a long trek that provides the closest access from the north to Truchas Lake. But, at 12.4 miles with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet, it truly is quite a hike. The solution: Just hike until you feel it’s time to turn around! (The climb is relatively gradual.) The Middle Fork intersection is 3 miles up, but continue up the West Fork canyon, which broadens into a large open meadow. We always hike in June, but the Forest Service website notes “a magnificent array of wildflowers can be seen during July and August.”

Mary Miller and Osita on the Santa Barbara Trail (Photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
100 Kachina Rd, Taos Ski Valley
575-776-2291 x8200 for reservations

I had the best burger I’ve ever had — anywhere — followed by the best car-rot cake for my June birthday at Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Peñasco.
Now it’s be-come an annual tradition in my household.

Pastry chef/owner Ki Holste serves up farm-to-table fare, including a variety of cold and hot sandwiches, burgers, soup, organic salads, and hot entree specials. For dinner, try all-natural, antibiotic-free roast trip steak, hand-tossed pizza and a variety of vegetarian choices and specials made with a Southwestern flavor.

Sugar Nymphs

You’ve hiked all day, so don’t skip the desserts! Organic carrot cake, triple layer chocolate cake, chocolate maple pecan pie, cookies and a variety of fruit desserts are available daily.

Summer hours after Memorial Day - 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. 
Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. 
Friday & Saturday: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Sundays. 


Wild Rivers, 14.8 miles from Questa, offers several fun hikes including the Ricona-da Loop Trail, a 5-mile, beginner-level trail. which snakes along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge and features a wide, all-weather surface. More adventurous visitors will want to check out the Big Arsenic Trail, which drops into the gorge and features numerous petroglyphs for the curious explorer.

(These are inten-tionally unmarked to mitigate vandalism. Ask at the Visitor Center for directions.) Last spring, for the first time, my sister, Mary, and I hiked the Las Vistas De Questa Trail on the Questa side. This is a 4-mile moderate hike with a 500-foot elevation gain, nice views, and wildflowers. From the Questa traffic light, drive 1.5 miles north on NM-522, then turn left (west) onto Don Martinez Road. Continue for half a mile to the end of road and park in the small lot, the trailhead is the right.

John Rutledge and Juno on Big Arsenic Trail (Photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

For a post-hike treat, head to Wildcat’s Den and know this is not a “fast food” joint: Nothing is cooked ahead of time, so everything is served fresh and hot. This means a bit longer wait, but it’s worth it! Miguel Rael, who bought this Ques-ta institution with his family in 2022, calls the restaurant a perfect fit for “every demo-graphic, every generation, any kind of group.

It’s like that perfect homestyle restaurant.” Rael’s menu includes a delicious mix of burgers, sandwiches, burritos, tacos, salads, and more. A popular hangout since 1980, the Den is a magnet for those of us who live north of Taos. I love a tortilla burger smothered in red chile, but you can’t beat

Wildcat’s Den (Courtesy photo)

the popular Bobcat Special. As one enthu-siastic Facebook reviewer gushed, “Man, that [Bobcat] Special, burger (with cheese and bacon) with fries and coke really does it for me! Juicy!”

Monday - Saturday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 
2457 NM-522, Questa, NM


From the trailhead at the back of Columbine Campground in the canyon between Questa and Red River, it is possible to hike all the way to the summit of the 12,115-foot Lobo Peak, the highest point in a small range of mountains between the Rio Hondo and the Red River, or the 11,900-foot Gold Hill. The Colum-bine-Twining N.R.T. Trail 69, designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1978, ends at Twining Campground in Taos Ski Valley (be sure to arrange for a pick up!). We prefer to hike up and back. Past the fourth bridge, hike off trail to left to see a beaver dam.

Columbine Creek (Photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

All the river crossings make Columbine an excellent trek for dogs but be sure to keep your fur baby leashed. The biggest danger in heading to the Sundance Mexican Restaurant following a day’s hiking is the unlimited home-made chips and salsa. If you can curb the impulse to eat too many before dinner, enjoy these crispy treats with sangria or agave wine margaritas. Sundance opened in 1974 and quickly established a loyal following for the delicious food served up by owners John and the late Linda Hoag.

Dining at The Sundance (Courtesy photo)

The food is delicious and the service is always impeccable. Today, John partners with daughter, Sara, to bring you a unique-ly delicious style of Mexican food made fresh daily followed by billowy sopaipillas. Salmon, steaks, chicken, salads, and kid friendly dishes fill out the menu. The decor mixes Old West with Mexican and features an impressive array of fine arts by Linda Hoag.

Summer Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Thursday - Tuesday.
401 E High St, Red River, NM