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A Short Guide to Wheeler Peak Wilderness
At 19,661 acres, this isn’t one of the largest Wilderness Areas in New Mexico but what it lacks in size it makes up for in
The Wheeler Peak Wilderness marks the top of the rugged Permian-Pennsylvanian Sangre de Cristo Mountain range and, at 13,161 feet, hosts the highest point in New Mexico.
From the lowest point of 7,650 feet in elevation thick sub-alpine forests of aspen, fir and Engelmann spruce climb and then give way to Bristlecone pine and then lichen-painted rocky tundra at higher elevations, typical not only of Wheeler but also other nearby wilderness areas such as Colombine-Hondo and Latir Peak.
The United States Congress designated the Wheeler Peak Wilderness in 1964. All of the wilderness area is located in New Mexico. It is managed by the Carson office of the USDA Forest Service.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in which Wheeler is situated was formed about 135 million years ago in a massive geologic uplift.
Wheeler is also a key wildlife corridor linking protected areas to the north with the well-managed lands of Taos Pueblo and down into the Pecos Wilderness near Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is not unusual to see elk, mule deer, golden eagles, songbirds, marmots and pikas, mountain lions, black bears and big horn sheep in Wheeler Peak Wilderness.
The northern boundary of the wilderness area straddles the popular Taos Ski Valley. Generous parking and good trail access make this the best way to access the area.
The eight-mile Wheeler Peak Trail begins in Taos Ski Valley and travels a well-worn path to the summit. A fairly easy trail (except for the distance) no technical gear is required to reach the summit. The Forest Service recently opened a very steep switch-backed trail to the summit that begins at Williams Lake, an easy two-mile trip from the parking area located near the Bavarian Restaurant. Other areas to visit with in the Wilderness Area include Kachina Peak, Horseshoe Lake, Simpson Peak, Taos Cone and Sawmill Park.
Accessible year round, Wheeler Peak Wilderness is a lovely, easy to reach and relatively heavily used place. That said, temperatures typically range from 80 degrees in the summer to 20 degrees below zero in the winter and a chilling summer rain can prove hypothermic for the unprepared. As can the accompanying lightening storms that typically hit every afternoon in July and August. Snowfall usually begins in early October. Avalanches are frequent in the winter.
Hiking, fishing, climbing, backpacking, wildlife watching, photography, snowshoeing, cross country skiing.
If You Visit:
How to get there: Wheeler Peak Wilderenss Area is located is located in northern New Mexico in the southern reaches of the Rocky Mountains about 25 miles north-east of the Town of Taos and a little less than 100 miles north of Santa Fe. From Santa Fe follow highway 285/68 to Taos then highway 64 to highway 150 through the village of Arroyo Seco and up the valley to Taos Ski Valley.
Hours: Open and accessible every day of the year
Rest Rooms: Available at trail-heads.
Fees: No Parking Fees in Taos Ski Valley
More information: Carson National Forest
208 Cruz Alta Road
Taos, NM 87571