Discovering Williams Falls

Williams Falls in the snow, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Williams Falls

After arriving at Williams Lake, we thought we would hike a bit further before ascending Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak (our actual destination for the day).  Like most alpine lakes, there are a number of social trails leading hither, thither, and yon along the lakeshore.  However, the day before, a couple forest rangers had shown me a map of the area.  The fact that there was a waterfall – known as Williams Falls – in one of the lake’s inlets was intriguing.  So I set out to see if I could find it.

 

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 6 miles Trail Type: Out & back Elevation Change: 865ft. Fees: None

 



Rills and small cascades below Williams Falls, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Rills and small cascades below Williams Falls

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Waterfalls in New Mexico might be called “rills” in New York (we’re a bit spoiled, having Niagara Falls so close, not to mention Letchworth, Watkins Glen, Ithaca, etc.).  Just looking at the area around the lake, it was pretty obvious the falls wasn’t going to be on par with Niagara.  But it might be worth visiting – or recommending others not visit.

On the far side of Williams Lake, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

On the far side of Williams Lake. No Niagara Falls here!

We took the social trail along the right (western) side of Williams Lake.  It passes above the lake, through meadows, then disappears into a small boulderfield.  Take the best route possible across the rocks and come out on the other side.  It won’t be too long before you either connect again with the trail, or else intersect a deeply eroded (if narrow) trail that goes along the lake’s southern shore.

Boulderfield between Williams Lake and Williams Falls (we're looking back after hiking through it), Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Boulderfield between Williams Lake and Williams Falls (we’re looking back after hiking through it)

Whenever you intersect the trail that heads generally east-west, turn right (uphill and towards the woods).  The trail mostly follows the stream as it approaches the woods.

Walking down the trail (we're walking away from Williams Falls in this picture), Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Walking down the trail (we’re walking away from Williams Falls in this picture)

I entered the woods.  There were a few rills and I was very disappointed.  Even in New Mexico – known as a desert state – I had hoped that the falls would be more than a few rocks in the stream.  I took a few pictures for posterity – just to show what it really looked like – and then noticed that the trail became better defined and continued upward.

The rill that isn't Williams Falls, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The rill that isn’t Williams Falls

I followed the trail as it scrambled up rocks, over tree roots, and generally took a steep course better fit for a mountain goat than a hiker.  So suddenly I almost walked over the edge, the trail leveled out (momentarily) with a viewing area right next to a 10 or 20 foot drop into the stream.

If I'd just been looking, I'd have seen Williams Falls up there... Carson National Forest, New Mexico

If I’d just been looking, I’d have seen Williams Falls up there…

Right across from the viewpoint was a waterfall.  A real waterfall.  Not on par with Niagara Falls, or even Watkins Glen, but definitely a waterfall worth being called a waterfall.  I’ve read since that Williams Falls is 35ft. high and flows all year, though the cascade is better in June than October.

My hiking companion enjoying Williams Falls, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

My hiking companion enjoying the falls

Being late May, the falls was still iced in (despite not seeing snow on the rest of the hike, even up on Wheeler Peak).  But in some ways that gave it a unique charm.

The top of Williams Falls (and icicles!), Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The top of the falls (and icicles!)

We scrambled back down, armed with pictures to show the others who, I was pretty sure, did not want to play mountain goat to get up to the viewpoint!

The Williams Lake Inlet, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The Williams Lake Outlet

We wandered back along the far side of Williams Lake.  You can’t really walk all the way around the lake unless you like scrambling sheer walls, but it was pleasant to stroll back along the lakeshore!

Walking back to Williams Lake along the inlet, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Walking back to Williams Lake along the Outlet

Round Trip Trail Length: About 6 miles

Net Elevation Change: 865ft. (10,299ft. at the trailhead to 11,164ft. at the waterfall)

Facilities: A couple picnic tables and possible port-a-potties at the trailhead.  Many more amenities (food, lodging, etc.) in Taos Ski Valley.

Fees: None

Trail Notes: I’ve heard that Williams Falls flows all years, but of course the flow is better during spring runoff (June).  The area had received 25% average snowfall the previous winter, which is why the trail was open at all and we saw no snow in late May (usually there are snowbanks well into June).  You should be used to following social trails and ready for a stiff climb / scramble (class 2) to get to the waterfall overlook.

Side view of Williams Falls, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Side view of the falls

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

The stream below Williams Falls, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The stream below Williams Falls

GPS Coordinates for Williams Falls

Trailhead: 36.5791833°, -105.4400500° (N36° 34.751′ W105° 26.403′ / 36°34’45.0600″, -105°26’24.1800″) (10,299ft.) (0.0) (end 11.3)

Trail / Road Junction: 36.5759167°, -105.4390833° (N36° 34.555′ W105° 26.345′ / 36°34’33.3000″, -105°26’20.7000″) (10,299ft.) (0.30)

Begin Trail: 36.5713500°, -105.4355333° (N36° 34.281′ W105° 26.132′ / 36°34’16.8600″, -105°26’07.9200″) (10,506ft.) (0.73)

Enter Wheeler Peak Wilderness: 36.5704167°, -105.4341333° (N36° 34.225′ W105° 26.048′ / 36°34’13.5000″, -105°26’02.8800″) (10,581ft.) (0.88)

Rock Pile #1: 36.5690667°, -105.4331833° (N36° 34.144′ W105° 25.991′ / 36°34’08.6400″, -105°25’59.4600″) (10,646ft.) (1.01)

Rock Pile #2: 36.5623833°, -105.4327667° (N36° 33.743′ W105° 25.966′ / 36°33’44.5800″, -105°25’57.9600″) (10,999ft.) (1.7)

Rock Pile #3: 36.5611000°, -105.4319500° (N36° 33.666′ W105° 25.917′ / 36°33’39.9600″, -105°25’55.0200″) (11,019ft.) (1.86)

Wheeler Peak Junction: 36.5593167°, -105.4314500° (N36° 33.559′ W105° 25.887′ / 36°33’33.5400″, -105°25’53.2200″) (11,120ft.) (2.14; return 9.42)

Above Williams Lake: 36.5576500°, -105.4299667° (N36° 33.459′ W105° 25.798′ / 36°33’27.5400″, -105°25’47.8800″) (11,061ft.) (2.35)

Wheeler Falls Base: 36.5544667°, -105.4314833° (N36° 33.268′ W105° 25.889′ / 36°33’16.0800″, -105°25’53.3400″) (11,080ft.) (2.87)

Wheeler Falls Viewpoint: 36.5543500°, -105.4320167° (N36° 33.261′ W105° 25.921′ / 36°33’15.6600″, -105°25’55.2600″) (11,164ft.) (2.99)

The Williams Lake inlet, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The Williams Lake outlet

The gpx file for Williams Falls (along with Williams Lake, Mt. Walter, and Wheeler Peak) can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

 

Download GPX File size: 75.4 KB Downloaded 27 times

 

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

One last picture of Williams Falls, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

One last picture of Williams Falls

Getting to Williams Lake Parking Area

From Taos, New Mexico, drive north on US-64W.  Outside of town, turn right on NM-150N, turning away from the The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (which is a worthy destination unto itself.)  (If you’re coming in from the north, take this turn where NM-522S meets US-64 – turn left toward the Taos Ski Valley).

 

Follow the NM-150N for almost 15 miles (a GPS is useful, but not required).  You’ll pass through typical northern New Mexico plains, then enter an alpine canyon more fit for Colorado – it’s a beautiful (if steep) drive.  Just before the main part of the ski valley, turn left up a wide, gravelish road / hill / parking area.  Keep following the road upward, passing the Bull of the Woods Trailhead (it will probably say something about “Wheeler Peak Trail”, and while it will take you to Wheeler Peak eventually, you’re better off starting from the Williams Lake Trailhead).  You’re now in a crazy network of roads – I highly recommend a GPS and common sense (because one can fill in where the other is lacking).  In general, just keep driving upward on the very, very steep main road.  About 2.2 miles above the beginning of the Ski Valley, a parking area will be on the right for Williams Lake.  Park here.  The roads may be closed until early summer due to snow.

 

Hike up to Williams Lake, following the roads and then trails up to the lake.

Visual map of my wanderings around Williams Lake and up to Williams Falls, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Visual map of my wanderings around Williams Lake and up to Williams Falls


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