Take a Hike to Wheeler Peak
There are two ways to reach the highest peak in New Mexico and we asked an expert to guide us through both assents. Our guide, Ray Honea, highly recommended that we start in Red River and arrange a shuttle to pick us up at the bottom of the Taos side. Plus the cold beer at the Bavarian Restaurant would be well earned.
Hike to Wheeler Peak From Red River NM
The hike to Wheeler Peak from Red River is a classic mountain hike. You will hike along streams and by lakes. You will cross mountain meadows with wild flowers, and above tree line there are views that stretch from the Sandias in the south to the 14,000 foot peaks of southern Colorado to the north. But the reward is the summit, the highest point in New Mexico.
The trailhead is easy to find. Go through the mountain town of Red River toward the upper valley of Red River. Where the pavement ends turn right on a gravel road marked for Middle Fork Lake. Park in the designated parking lot and hit the trail. Go through a locked gate and hike up the road. Four-wheel drive vehicles used to be allowed on this trail, but due to washouts and erosion they are now banned. When you get to the second locked gate hang a left and cross a footbridge and follow the middle fork of the Red River. You can either follow the winding road up or you can hug the river and follow the trail. The trail along the river is steeper and shorter. After awhile you come to a crossing and follow the old road to Middle Fork Lake. This is a great place for your first rest stop. It’s a beautiful mountain lake at the base of the peaks and great trout fishing, too.
Continuing on to Wheeler, cross the small stream coming out of the lake and follow a trail that heads south, up and away from the lake. Soon you drop into another drainage and follow this 2 miles until you come to a trail coming from the right. This trail comes from Taos Ski Valley through Bull of the Woods. Take a left on this established trail and soon you will enter La Cal Basin, a beautiful mountain meadow above tree line. Up ahead you can see the peaks laid out in the distance: Frazer, Walter, and finally Wheeler. It seems to take forever to cross the basin so just enjoy the views and the wild flowers if you’re hiking in the summer.
Finally you climb to the ridge that connects the peaks. Great views unfold as you hike up and over MI. Frazer then MI. Walter and then the final push to Wheeler Peak Sign in, take some pictures, have some lunch and enjoy the view. If you picked a perfect day hang out and enjoy the 360 views: Kachina Peak and Williams Lake to the west, Lake Fork Peak and Old Mike to the south,
Baldy and Touch Me Not are to the east, Gold Hill and the Latir peaks to the north.
The hike to Wheeler thru Red River is 16 miles round trip. Elevation gain: 3161, Wheeler 13,161– trailhead 10,000. A tough, full day of hiking but ample rewards along the trail to make it memorable.
For more information on hiking from the Taos side click here.