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New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness

Offers Solitude, Natural Splendor
By Jeff Everist - August 3rd, 2000

Wilderness.

A word that paints a thousand pictures: rocky peaks, shimmering aspens, dark forests, grassy meadows, azure lakes and hidden snowfields; an elk bugles in the distance; an eagle rides the thermals high above; a creek bubbles beneath a cool canopy of ferns. To get you going, here's our guide to accessing the Pecos Wilderness. We hope it will set you to thinking about places in the wilderness area that you've never seen or that you'd like to see again.

Not an experienced backpacker? There are plenty of books and videos to help. Check with area hospitals and organizations such as the American Lung Association or American Heart Association to see if they are leading a group trip. Or take the luxury route and hire a guide or outfitter to take you llama packing or horsebackpacking.

There are lots of ways to get into the wilderness and a lifetime of things to see once you are there. The trailheads and destinations shown on the map are but a few that are available in the Pecos Wilderness. Also, distances and elevation changes listed are approximate and ratings are subjective.

Access from North
Santa Barbara Campground

  • Truchas Peaks and Lakes, 12-14 miles. Change in elevation: 3,200 to the lakes; 4,300 to the peak. Hike rating: moderate to difficult; no trail to summit.
  • Horseshoe Lake, 11 miles. Change in elevation: 2,600 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
    Trampas Canyon Campground
  • San Leonardo Lakes,5 miles. Change in elevation: 2,500 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
  • Hidden Lake, 6 miles. Change in elevation: 2,200 feet. Hike rating: moderate.

Access from South
Winsor Creek Campground

  • Stewart Lake, 8 miles. Change in elevation: 1,500 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
  • Lake Johnson, 12 miles. Change in elevation: 2,800 feet. Hike rating: moderate to strenuous.
    Panchuela Campground
  • Horsethief Meadow, 5 miles. Change in elevation: 1,400 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
  • Pecos Baldy/Pecos Baldy Lake, 10 to 12 miles. Change in elevation: 4,100 feet to the peak, 3,000 to the lake. Hike rating: moderate to strenuous.
    Jack's Creek Campground
  • Beatty's Cabin, 8 miles. Change in elevation: 3,100 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
  • Hamilton Mesa, 8 miles. Change in elevation: 1,400 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
    Iron Gate Campground
  • Mora Flats, 3 miles. Change in elevation: 100 feet. Hike rating: easy to moderate.
  • Pecos Falls, 9 miles. Change in elevation: 1,400 feet. Hike rating: moderate.

Access from West
Borrego Mesa Campground

  • Trailriders Wall, 10 miles. Change in elevation: 3,000 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
  • Joe Vigil Lake, 8 miles. Change in elevation: 2,200 feet. Hike rating: moderate

Access from Southwest
Aspen Basin
(Winsor Trail, lower Ski Basin parking lot)
Santa Fe Ski Basin
(Skyline Trail, top of Tesuque Peak)

  • Puerto Nambe, 4 miles. Change in elevation: 2,000 feet (via Lake Peak). Hike rating: moderate to difficult.
  • Santa Fe Baldy, 7 miles. Change in elevation: 2,200 feet. Hike rating: difficult, no trail to summit.
  • Lake Katherine, 7 miles. Change in elevation: 1,600 feet. Hike rating: moderate.
  • Spirit Lake, 7 miles. Change in elevation: 600 feet. Hike rating: moderate.

Do's and Don'ts at New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness

Do: Study the guidebooks and maps before your trip and make a written plan of your intended route, including stops you expect to make along the way. Leave a copy of the plan with friends or relatives, or at one of the ranger stations.
Know every piece of your gear and test it before you need it.
Know your personal limitations and plan your trip accordingly.
Pay special attention to the fit of your boots, the comfort of your bed, the quality of your food, and always be able to find your rain gear in a hurry.
Leave your campsite and the countryside cleaner than you found it.

Don't: Hike alone.


Plan on finding enough dead wood to make a fire or an existing fire ring to make it in. Bring a stove.
Camp in lake basins or within 200 feet of other water sources.
Cut across switchbacks or hike off established trails.
Drink the water without first purifying it with a filter, chemicals or heat.
Worry too much about things you can't control. Storms blow over; trails dry out; someone who knows the way back always comes along.

Getting More Informations
Here are people to call for all sorts of information about trail conditions, maps, outfitters and guides and so forth. It's also a good idea to leave a copy of your trip plan at one of these locations. Just remember to call them or stop by when you come out of the wilderness so they don't go looking for you.

Carson National Forest
Supervisor's Office
208 Cruz Alta Road
Taos, N.M., 87571
768-6292

Camino Real Ranger District
P.O. Box 348
Penasco, N.M., 87533
587-2255

Santa Fe National Forest
Supervisor's Office
1220 St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, N.M., 87504
988-6940

Espanola Ranger District
P.O. Box R.
Espanola, N.M., 87532
753-7331

Pecos Ranger District
P.O. Box 429
Pecos, N.M., 87532
757-6121

Reference Materials
Besides these guidebooks, there are dozens of other books that can teach you how to backpack, how to buy gear, how to cook in camp, how to go potty in the woods (no fooling), and how to do just about anything else you can think of out-of-doors.Check stores where backpacking gear is sold and ask the people there which ones they recommend. A lot of new titles have shown up in the past few years.

  • Hiking The Wilderness; A Backpacking Guide to the Wheeler Peak, Pecos, and San Pedro Parks Wilderness Areas, By Kay Matthews; Acequia Madre Press; Excellent, up-to-date reference, used as a source for many of the facts in this guide.
  • One Day Walks in the Pecos Wilderness, By Carl Overhage; Sunstone Press; A half-dozen ambitious hikes that can turn into hundreds of day trips or lengthy backpacking excursions.
  • Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area, By the Santa Fe Group of the Sierra Club; Quaint, homemade guide to trails in and around the wilderness by dedicated local hikers.
  • The Hiker's Guide to New Mexico, By Laurence Parent; Falcon Press; Hikes to everywhere, including several Pecos Wilderness destinations.

Comments

Panchuela campground

What is the access to this campground in the car? Thanks

Posted on March 29, 2010 - 6:42am
by Visitor Alicia Otis

Lake Johnson and Pecos Baldy Lakes

I grew up in Santa fe and I grew up backbacking in the Pecos Wilderness. I have been to Lake Johnson many times and I disagree that it is 12 miles. It is approximately 7-8.

Pecos Baldy Lake is approximately 8-9 miles.

Not sure where you got your information because most of your mileage for the other areas is right on the nose and your levels of difficulty for all is accurate as well.

Posted on August 12, 2009 - 4:36pm
by Thomas Farquhar

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