Mount Walter – the Second Highest Point in New Mexico!

The sign marking the summit of Mount Walter, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The sign marking the summit of Mount Walter

Mount Walter might well be seen as the handsome little brother of Wheeler Peak, the highest Point in New Mexico.  Located only 0.4 miles north of – and 62 feet lower than – Wheeler Peak, Mount Walter is overlooked by most people climbing up to bag the higher peak.  But the views from Mt. Walter make it well worth the extra 0.25 miles RT to make it to the second highest point in New Mexico – not the second highest peak, since there isn’t enough of a dip in the ridgeline for the sticklers to say Mount Walter has enough prominence to be its own mountain peak.

 

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 8.8 miles Trail Type: Out & Back with spur options Elevation Change: 2,788ft. Fees: None

 



 

Views down toward the Taos Ski Valley from Mount Walter, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Views down toward the Taos Ski Valley from Mount Walter

Hike the Williams Lake Trail 2.1 miles to the Wheeler Peak Trail Junction and turn left up the Wheeler Peak Trail.  You can also hike to Williams Lake first (and visit Williams Falls!) if you want to (adds 0.5 to 1.7 miles to the overall hike).

Williams Lake and Lake Fork Peak from the Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Williams Lake and Lake Fork Peak from the Wheeler Peak Trail

If you begin from Williams Lake: The easiest thing to do is just to hike back up the Williams Lake Trail to the Wheeler Peak Junction.  However, we had seen (on maps) that a trail began from the northwest side of the Williams Lake clearing, striking upward through the forest to connect to the Wheeler Peak Trail.  It was supposed to be a shortcut.  So we went up to the northwest side of the clearing, but found no sign of a trail.  Knowing generally where it was supposed to be, we just started climbing through the trees.  There were remnants of a trail, and even occasionally ribbon on some of the trees, but I think we finally just climbed a dry watercourse that eventually crossed the Wheeler Peak Trail.  We turned right and upward and continued our journey.

Near the top of the cutoff trail from Williams Lake to the Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Near the top of the cutoff trail

The Wheeler Peak Trail is quite easy to follow 90% of the time, but it is also very steep 90% of the time.  Well, maybe only 70%; it just feels like it’s steep all the time because it’s such high elevation (and coming from living at 300ft. only a few days before, we weren’t exactly acclimated!)  The trail climbs through the trees for a bit, then breaks out in the ragged treeline to fantastic views into the valley below and of the surrounding peaks.

Still below treeline on the Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Still below treeline on the Wheeler Peak Trail

The views were even better because it was early in the season, so some of the peaks still were streaked with snow.  Actually, when we visited, which was in late May, the trail should have still been snow-covered.  However, there had been a very light snow year the winter before (25% snowpack; not-so-far-away Great Sand Dunes had seen the stream across the dune field dry up in April or early May) so we were able to hike despite the time of year.

The Wheeler Peak Trail seems to hang off the edge of the mountain in places, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The trail seems to hang off the edge of the mountain in places

The trail seems to hang off the side of the mountain in places; this is definitely not the favorite trail for those with vertigo.  It finally switchbacks up into a grassy bowl, crosses the bowl, and switchbacks up through meadows and scree fields (watch for the trail; it’s not hard to follow but occasionally a scree-filled drainage is as good or better route as the trail) to the saddle (just over 13,000ft.) between Mount Walter (left) and Wheeler Peak (right), about 4.3 miles from the trailhead.

The final switchback up to the saddle between Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The final switchback up to the saddle

Once in the saddle, turn left up the light, but well-defined, trail toward the sign on the peak.  It’s only 0.1 miles up the (nowhere near as steep) ridgeline to the top of Mt. Walter.

The trail up Mount Walter, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The trail up Mount Walter

If you think the views are good in the saddle, they get exponentially better on Mt. Walter.  I’m not sure why; it’s mostly the same view.  But it’s better somehow, more all-compassing of Red Dome and Taos Cone across the valley, Touch-Me-Not Mountain, Baldy Mountain, Blanca Peak (in Colorado), Gold Hill, Flag Mountain, and many others.

Views toward Colorado. The Blue Lake Trail continues along the ridgeline from Mount Walter, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Views toward Colorado. The Blue Lake Trail continues along the ridgeline

After enjoying the view on the mostly-deserted peak (did I mention that few people actually come up here?), you can either continue along the ridgeline (on the Blue Lake Trail) or head back down to the saddle to ascend Wheeler Peak (why not, you’re here, right?) or descend back to the parking area.

Heading back down from Mount Walter to the Walter / Wheeler Saddle, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Heading back down to the Walter / Wheeler Saddle

Overall?  Mount Walter is a beautiful hike on its own, even better if you want to bag it as a 0.25 miles RT side-jaunt from hiking Wheeler Peak.  To be honest, I zipped up there, got my pictures, and was resting in the saddle by the time the rest of the group came up the last switchback.  Then we could all go up Wheeler Peak together!

Buttercups along the Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Buttercups along the Wheeler Peak Trail

Round Trip Trail Length: 8.8 miles up Mount Walter and back; 9.3 miles with Williams Lake; 10.5 with Williams Lake and Williams Falls.  Add 0.6 miles RT to bag Wheeler Peak as well.

Net Elevation Change: 2,788ft. (10,299ft. at the trailhead to 13,087ft. on Mt. Walter)

Facilities: A couple picnic tables at the trailhead; port-a-potties when I visited. More services available in the Taos Ski Valley; nearest gas is probably in Taos.

Fees: None

Trail Notes: The worst thing about this trail is the elevation – you’re basically hiking from 10,000ft. (much higher than the surrounding plains near Taos) to 13,000ft. – lung bustingly high for the continental US.  I highly recommend acclimating in the highlands of Colorado before hiking.  Be wary of afternoon thundershowers in the summer.  There isn’t much in the way of shelter along this trail.

Looking up toward Wheeler Peak along the trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Looking up toward Wheeler Peak along the trail

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

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

Overall Rating: ★

Big Horn Sheep on the slopes of Mt. Walter, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Big Horn Sheep on the slopes of Mt. Walter

GPS Coordinates for Wheeler Peak

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)

Low on the Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Low on the Wheeler Peak Trail

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)

Looking back toward the Taos Ski Valley from the Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Looking back toward the Taos Ski Valley from the Wheeler Peak Trail

Frm Lake Junction (I don’t know what frm is – likely where I met up with the Wheeler Peak Trail above Williams Lake): 36.5597000°, -105.4260000° (N36° 33.582′ W105° 25.560′ / 36°33’34.9200″, -105°25’33.6000″) (11,421ft.) (4.02)

Wheeler Peak Saddle: 36.5595167°, -105.4151667° (N36° 33.571′ W105° 24.910′ / 36°33’34.2600″, -105°24’54.6000″) (13,025ft.) (6.15; return 6.43)

Mt. Walter: 36.5610500°, -105.4145000° (N36° 33.663′ W105° 24.870′ / 36°33’39.7800″, -105°24’52.2000″) (13,087ft.) (6.29)

Views of Williams Lake and mountains from Mount Walter, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Views of Williams Lake and mountains from Mount Walter

The gpx file for Mount Walter (along with Williams Lake, Williams Falls, 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: 271.4 KB Downloaded 32 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!)

Taos Cone and part of Red Dome's ridgeline from Mount Walter, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Taos Cone and part of Red Dome’s ridgeline from Mount Walter

Getting to the Wheeler Peak 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).

In the bowl between the lower and upper slopes of the Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest, New Mexico

In the bowl between the lower and upper slopes of the Wheeler Peak Trail

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 the Williams Lake Trail, following the roads and then trails up to the Wheeler Peak Trail Junction.

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Wheeler Peak Trail up Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak (as well as Williams Lake and Williams Falls), Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Wheeler Peak Trail up Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak (as well as Williams Lake and Williams Falls)

Close up of the cuttoff trail between Williams Lake and the Wheeler Peak Trail (right side of the purple trail; right side is the Wheeler Peak Trail without going to Williams Lake). Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Close up of the cuttoff trail between Williams Lake and the Wheeler Peak Trail (right side of the purple trail; right side is the Wheeler Peak Trail without going to Williams Lake).

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