SHARING THE TRAILS
Welcome to Taos – where there is a trail for everyone
by Cindy Brown
WHETHER YOU ARE WALKING, running, biking, riding a horse or trekking with llamas there are spectacular trails here in Taos that range from easy to very challenging.
When you get out on one of these trails, you’ll have the chance to see wildlife and flowers and experience the true joy of recreating at high altitude.
Our local public lands include the Carson National Forest, with all trailså open to hikers and runners and most open to horseback riders. Mountain bikers are welcome everywhere except designated wilderness areas and some trails are open to motorized users, too. The Bureau of Land Management has trails in the mesa and river areas west of town that are open to all users.
I’ve been the hiking columnist for the Taos News for many years and wrote the “Taos Hiking Guide,” so I’ve had the opportunity to explore the mountains and mesas around Taos. Here are a couple of recommendations for those new to hiking in Taos:
Start out slow and low – Taos is located at almost 7,000 feet and many of the trails start higher. However, the hikes near the rivers and mesas surrounding Taos usually range between 6,000 and 7,000 feet.
If it is cool or early in the day, walk along the rim of the gorge starting from the Río Grande Gorge Bridge Rest Area. Or, close to town in Taos Canyon, look for the Devisadero Trailhead sign. It starts at a relatively low elevation and climbs up through the desert landscape. South of town, there are many trails accessed from State Road 518 near Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, including Comales Canyon and Agua Piedra.
As you warm up and you get used to the elevation, head up towards the Taos Ski Valley. There are several beautiful trails along the Ski Valley Road (State Road 150) including Yerba, Manzanita, Italianos and Gavilan (signs mark the trail entrances all along the highway). From the Taos Ski Valley base area, look for the Bull-of-the-Woods sign – a steeper but beautiful trail that follows a fork of the Río Hondo and goes 2 miles up to Bull-of-the-Woods Meadow and beyond.
At these higher elevations, the cool, green and often wet forest is bursting with wildflowers near the rivers and streams. Up higher, still, Williams Lake is a popular and beautiful trail but it starts above 10,000 feet elevation, so don’t try it your first day in town. In the summer you may see the huge, native blue columbine flowers near rock outcroppings and in wet areas. For more expert hikers, look for Bighorn sheep as you continue up beyond the lake into the rocky areas above tree line on the way to Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in the state – at 13,161 feet.
Taos News asked local experts for their recommendations on popular local trails for biking, running and horseback riding and for tips for all users to exist harmoniously on the trails.
Carl Colonius of the Enchanted Circle Trails Association, whose mission is to develop, maintain and promote a regional trail system for all users says: “The Talpa Traverse, located in Taos Canyon, is probably the most popular trail in town. It has long been an informal trail in the Carson National Forest and there is a discussion going on to consider making it a more official trail. It has great access and low technicality for mountain bikers and is close to town.
“South Boundary Trail, 22 miles long, has lots of activity at both trail ends and at Garcia Park for hikers, runners and mountain bikers. Because of the long distance, you’ll mostly find only mountain bikers and sometimes horseback riders in the middle. Other top picks to consider – Horsethief Mesa and Vista de Questa – both north of town.”
Pam MacArthur, a member of the Taos Saddle Club, a local equestrian group that has been around for 30 years, says: “We enjoy riding the Talpa Foothills Trail (aka the Talpa Traverse) as it is just a short distance from our neighborhood. There are about 30 households in the area that keep horses and enjoy the use of this trail. It is great riding in the spring while waiting for the snow to melt in the high country.
“Other favorites are Amole Canyon slightly farther out of town on State Road 518 for the summer and fall months after the snow has melted. It has a network of trails with many open meadows and is not too steep. Other top picks: Santa Barbara on the north end of the Pecos Wilderness; Gold Hill and Bull-of-the-Woods near Taos Ski Valley; Rift Trail south of town and Horsethief Mesa trails north of town.”
Bruce Katlin is a trail-running, landscape painter who runs and paints, often at the same time. Katlin says: “One of my favorite trails for running is the Yerba Trail along the Taos Ski Valley Road (State Road 150). It is the first of four trails along the Ski Valley Road and closest to town. There are six trees at the start of the trail that I affectionately refer to as the Trees of Knowledge. They talk and every year I ask them their snowfall predictions and they have been accurate for the past six years.
“The trail crisscrosses a running stream and is abundant with wildflowers, grouse, colorful birds and various tree species. For shorter, less-challenging training, I run two to three miles up, as the vertical around mile 4 becomes quite challenging. I do, however, love to run the trail to the saddle where the views are spectacular. From there I can continue on to Lobo Peak and beyond.”
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Rules for getting along on the trails
• Communicate with other trail users to prevent confusion.
• Allow horses to have the right of way. Step off the trail and greet horses and riders so you don’t startle them as they pass. Also give the right of way to those trekking with llamas.
• Mountain bikers should dismount and give the right of way to horses and also hikers.
• Don’t assume that your dog will be calm and well-behaved near horses and other users. It is best to keep your dog leashed and off the trail when horses pass.
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For directions to these trails and more information, consult these websites: