Gold Hill via Bull of the Woods Pasture

Dancing down the Gold Hill Trail with Wheeler Peak on left, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Dancing down the Gold Hill Trail with Wheeler Peak on left

Gold Hill was probably one of the most peaceful, most beautiful trails I took on our trek across the southwest last summer.  There was a quality to it that was nothing short of pleasant – a ramble through the wilderness (mostly) on good trails to spectacular mountain views.  It’s long – you can’t get away with much less than 10.6 miles RT with more than 3,000ft. elevation gain, unless you have 4×4 and park at Goose Lake and miss out on some of the best parts of the hike – but it’s well worth the effort, and nice enough you might not notice just how far you’ve hiked.

 

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 11.6-12.6 miles Trail Type: Loop or out & back Elevation Change: 3,228ft. Pets: Yes Fees: None

 




 

Views of Wheeler Peak, Lake Fork, and Vallecito Peaks from the ramble up the ridgeline portion of the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Views of Wheeler Peak, Lake Fork, and Vallecito Peaks from the ramble up the ridgeline portion of the trail

The trail begins at the Bull-of-the-Woods Trailhead in the Taos Ski Valley.  To get to the trailhead from the parking area, climb the trail uphill to the road above the parking area.  Cross the road and look for the big brown sign announcing the Wheeler Peak Trail and Bull-of-the-Woods.  A second sign says, “Columbine-Twining National Recreation Trail” and has arrows for “Wheeler Peak Tr. 90” (while a trail does go to Wheeler Peak from here, the more popular trailhead for Wheeler Peak is higher up the gravel road) and “Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture 1.8 Mi.” (as in miles).  Follow this rocky trail uphill (you’ll pass a primitive restroom very shortly after the trailhead – perfect for that last-minute pit stop!)

Darkthroat Shooting Stars along the lower part of the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Darkthroat Shooting Stars along the lower part of the trail

Fairly quickly, you’ll pass a “Horse Trail” junction.  There are several of these – it really doesn’t matter which trail you take; they’ll all get you up the mountain.  The horse trail is slightly longer and slightly less rugged than the hiker trail (I took the horse trail on the way down), so take either trail.

Hiking into the aspens above the Long Canyon Trail junction on the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Hiking into the aspens above the Long Canyon Trail junction

Cross the stream that travels down Long Canyon (very easy in late May after 25% snowpack the winter before) about mile 0.75; about a tenth of a mile later, continue straight when the Long Canyon Trail strikes left.

Aspens in new growth along the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Aspens!

The trail has been traversing deep forests up to this point.  As the trail continues upward to follow what looks like an old road, the forest becomes aspens and very beautiful (coming from an Easterner, that means something!)  The trail rarely ceases its uphill climb on the rocks and gravel and occasionally dirt.  As it climbs higher, the woods become more fir and fewer deciduous trees, with occasional openness suggesting meadows.

Views open up a little higher on the trail / old road below Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Views open up a little higher on the trail / old road below Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture

At 2.2 miles from the trailhead, the trail forks, with the right fork going toward Wheeler Peak Tr. 90.  Turn left a short distance to an unobtrusive, but very much there, trail on the left, signed for “Gold Hill Tr. 64” with arrows toward Gold Hill 3 and Goose Lake 3.  Turn left on this trail.  You can also continue straight a short distance to a meadow that is Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture.

Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture

Once on the Gold Hill Trail, the steep trail only gets steeper.  You’re in deep fir forest at this point, but it’s a pleasant fir forest.  The trail was in great shape and mostly clear despite quite a bit of windfall in the forest.  Perhaps the most unique part of this section was a fence with a gate across the trail about mile 3.1.  The gate held a sign requesting people to “Please Close the Gate”, but the section of fence beside the gate has been removed, so I don’t quite see the point of closing the gate.

“Please Close the Gate” – though the fence to the right is missing a section… so I don’t see as it matters!

At last the trail breaks out of the forest onto a ridgeline of patches of forest and meadows.  This is an incredibly pleasant ramble along the ridgeline-trail.  We did eventually strike left, off-trail, into a lovely meadow for lunch – just watch out for the evidence of cows.  (Mileage and the trail map doesn’t include our off-trail lunch excursion.)

The trail traveling up the ridgeline on the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The trail traveling up the ridgeline

At 5 miles from the trailhead, the trail breaks the treeline for good.  Nearby are the remains of a mine or possibly a ski apparatus.  Either way, the views are excellent; this could be a destination unto itself.  A side-trail goes left; no trail goes straight, but that’s exactly what you want to do: go straight up the mountain.  There is a vague path, but it was nearly impossible to follow, and there don’t seem to be any cairns.

Part of the old mining or ski apparatus remains along the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Part of the old mining or ski apparatus remains

We met up with the Goose Lake Trail about 0.9 miles later, close to the cliffs looking down on the lake.  It’s very beautiful up here; that “top-of-the-world” feeling that makes me return again and again to high alpine peaks.  You are above the trees, so it’s just you and the tundra – and possibly a few bighorn sheep (we spotted a few over the next ridge).

Bighorn sheep, over the ridge from the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Bighorn sheep, over the ridge

We continued up toward what appeared to be Gold Hill (actually a false summit) and finally hit upon the more official Gold Hill Trail (if you want to take this, near the mine site, turn left on the trail, then turn right toward Gold Hill when you hit the Long Canyon Trail).  We followed the trail as it wound around several false summits, then up Gold Hill, itself.

Looking up at the Gold Hill ridgeline in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Looking up at the Gold Hill ridgeline

The views just kept getting more glorious.  Around our feet were rocks set into the ground as our trail, almost gravel, and wildflowers bloomed among the nearby rocks and stones.  It was idyllic, beautiful, and oh, so peaceful, despite the smoke beginning to billow from behind Touch-Me-Not Mountain.

Smoke billows from behind Touch-Me-Not Mountain - the fire would close down all trails in the Cason National Forest the next day in New Mexico

Smoke billows from behind Touch-Me-Not Mountain – the fire would close down all trails in the National Forest the next day

The top of Gold Hill about mile 6.3 probably doesn’t have the best views of the entire hike, and the wind was so fierce, we were thankful for the rock windblock on the peak (you will have to walk left, off the trail, to reach the official peak), but the views open up north, which you haven’t seen before.  There are views all the way into Colorado from up here, as well as back down to the peaks around the Taos Ski Valley.

Views north to Colorado's 14ers from Gold Hill in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Views north to Colorado’s 14ers

In late May after 25% snowpack, there was just enough snow still clinging to the higher peaks to make it beautiful.

The Taos Ski Valley from Gold Hill in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The Taos Ski Valley from Gold Hill

From here, you can choose to take the same trail back, descend to Goose Lake (about 1.5 miles from the top of Gold Hill), or take the Long Canyon Trail back to the Taos Ski Valley and the Bull-of-the-Woods Trailhead (actually a shorter route up Gold Hill, but not so scenic).  I did the latter, but it’s enough of an experience, that I’ll save it for another post!

Looking back down the Gold Hill Trail from the top of Gold Hill in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Looking back down the Gold Hill Trail from the top of Gold Hill

Round Trip Trail Length: 12.6 miles out & back via Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture; 10.6 miles out & back via Long Canyon, or 11.6 as a sort-of-loop using both trails (my recommendation)

Net Elevation Change: 3,228ft. (9,473ft. at the trailhead to 12,701ft. at the top of Gold Hill)

Facilities: Restrooms and visitor services near the trailhead in the Taos Ski Valley

Fees: None

Trail Notes: Note that this is a very high-elevation hike; you would be wise to acclimate a bit in Colorado or other nearby hikes before trying out this one.  This really is one of the most pleasant hikes I’ve taken in a long time.  I met a forest service employee who said this was his favorite hike in the region – I know why!

Views from our meadow-lunch spot just off the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Views from our meadow-lunch spot just off the Gold Hill Trail

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

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

Overall Rating: ★

Exploring the old mine / ski area remains along the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Exploring the old mine / ski area remains

GPS Coordinates for Gold Hill via Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture

Parking: 36.5965000°, -105.4496167° (N36° 35.790′ W105° 26.977′ / 36°35’47.4000″, -105°26’58.6200″) (9,530ft.)

Trailhead: 36.5970333°, -105.4491000° (N36° 35.822′ W105° 26.946′ / 36°35’49.3200″, -105°26’56.7600″) (9,473ft.) (0.0) (end )

Horse Trail Junction: 36.5971833°, -105.4483667° (N36° 35.831′ W105° 26.902′ / 36°35’49.8600″, -105°26’54.1200″) (9,507ft.) (350ft.)

Regain Duel Use Trail #1: 36.5983833°, -105.4458333° (N36° 35.903′ W105° 26.750′ / 36°35’54.1800″, -105°26’45.0000″) (9,706ft.) (0.26)

Regain Duel Use Trail #2: 36.6011500°, -105.4424000° (N36° 36.069′ W105° 26.544′ / 36°36’04.1400″, -105°26’32.6400″) (9,911ft.) (0.59)

The trail - such as it isn't - above the old mine area on the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The trail – such as it isn’t – above the old mine

Stream Crossing: N36° 36.182′ W105° 26.461′ (36.6030333°, -105.4410167° / 36°36’10.9200″, -105°26’27.6600″) (10,007ft.) (0.77)

Long Canyon Trail Junction: 36.6035167°, -105.4400167° (N36° 36.211′ W105° 26.401′ / 36°36’12.6600″, -105°26’24.0600″) (10,054ft.) (0.86)

Wheeler Peak Trail Junction: 36.6117500°, -105.4288333° (N36° 36.705′ W105° 25.730′ / 36°36’42.3000″, -105°25’43.8000″) (10,865ft.) (2.21)

Bull Pasture / Gold Hill Trail Junction: 36.6118667°, -105.4289167° (N36° 36.712′ W105° 25.735′ / 36°36’42.7200″, -105°25’44.1000″) (10,875ft.) (2.25)

Springbeauty flowers among the rocks along the Gold Hill Trail in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Springbeauty flowers among the rocks along the trail

Enter Columbine-Hondo Wilderness: 36.6111667°, -105.4299000° (N36° 36.670′ W105° 25.794′ / 36°36’40.2000″, -105°25’47.6400″) (10,938ft.) (2.39)

Gate: 36.6115833°, -105.4371667° (N36° 36.695′ W105° 26.230′ / 36°36’41.7000″, -105°26’13.8000″) (11,496ft.) (3.12)

Mine: 36.6302167°, -105.4496333° (N36° 37.813′ W105° 26.978′ / 36°37’48.7800″, -105°26’58.6800″) (11,921ft.) (5.02)

Goose Lake Trail Junction: 36.6323833°, -105.4512000° (N36° 37.943′ W105° 27.072′ / 36°37’56.5800″, -105°27’04.3200″) (12,104ft.) (5.31)

Gold Hill Peak: 36.6432500°, -105.4559500° (N36° 38.595′ W105° 27.357′ / 36°38’35.7000″, -105°27’21.4200″) (12,701ft.) (6.3)

The Gold Hill Trail high on the tundra in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The Gold Hill Trail high on the tundra

The gpx file for Gold Hill via Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture 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.  For the gpx file back down to the trailhead via Long Canyon, click here (post coming soon!)

File size: 149.9 KB Downloaded 0 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!)

Looking east from the tundra below Gold Hill in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Looking east from the tundra below Gold Hill

Getting to the Gold Hill Trailhead

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, a gravelish road / hill / parking area will go off on the left.  Just before or after this, park in one of the parking areas, then walk up the gravelish road / hill / parking area to the trail, on the left (north) side of the road with a prominent brown sign about the Wheeler Peak Trail and Bull-of-the-Woods.

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Gold Hill Trail via Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture in Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Gold Hill Trail via Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture

Zoom map out to browse nearby hikes & places of interest

 

This Week’s Featured Product!

For even more hikes in the area surrounding Taos, try this book with excellent maps of each hike.

 

 




3 thoughts on “Gold Hill via Bull of the Woods Pasture

  1. Pingback: Sneak Peak: Southwestern Variety at its Finest - Anne's Travels

  2. Pingback: Glorious Gold Hill via Long Canyon - Anne's Travels