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“Enchanting and phenomenally gorgeous; worth the hike” 5 of 5 stars
Review of Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area

Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area
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Ranked #2 of 57 Attractions in Taos County
Type: Nature/ Wildlife Areas, Outdoors
Activities: Hiking
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Attraction details
Owner description: Located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, this wilderness area includes Wheeler Peak, which is the highest point in New Mexico at 13,161 feet in height.
Austin, Texas
5 reviews 5 reviews
4 attraction reviews
Reviews in 5 cities Reviews in 5 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
“Enchanting and phenomenally gorgeous; worth the hike”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed July 8, 2013

You can take two routes up to the Wheeler Peak area - Bull of the Woods or Williams Lake. The former is longer (7.5 miles) but more gradual, while the latter is shorter (4.1 miles) but steeper. We did Bull up and back down and clocked it at over 16 miles and 9 hours total. Unless you are limited on time, you really must do Bull of the Woods - supposedly it is more scenic than Williams Lake. (Or do a loop of both, just realize that you may need to walk on dirt road for 2 miles to get back to your stop). Don't hike up in the afternoon during monsoon season (summer) unless you want to get struck by lightning - start when the sun rises and be wary of the skies. Also, pay attention to the trail and signs, there are multiple splits. Bring a map.

I can only write my review on Bull of the Woods as we did not do Williams Lake, but it was amazing. We started out at Twining Campground at 6 am after spending the night. The trail immediately began its ascent up a dirt path near a cascading river with an unbelievable number of blue/purple columbine flowers in full bloom surrounding the path. It was a little intimidating getting really tired after only 30 minutes, knowing that we were only 1/8 of the way there, but we got used to it, just have plenty of water/food and take breaks. Ascend gradually and breathe deeply.

We finally crossed the cascades via logs that were tied down over the water. This part of the trail was painful - 2 hours of nonstop, uphill dirt road surrounded by pine trees and small meadows. Eventually it climbed out of the tree line and entered Wheeler Peak Wilderness. Once above the treeline the views were phenomenal and can only be described as enchanting. There were still large patches of ice hanging off the sides of the alpine slopes. The trail here was relatively flat and much easier, providing a nice break from the uphill road. Eventually it descended into La Cal Basin - a gorgeous stream surrounded by brilliant green pine trees.

After we got down into La Cal we began the final, painful ascent. From this point it was nothing but switchbacks all the way up to Walter (then a short but rocky stretch to Wheeler). With the elevation high and the air thin it was really hard to breathe, but with patience we pushed ourselves to the summit and it was definitely worth it. Once we got to the ridge there were amazing views of Horseshoe Lake to the left. There were wildflowers covering the slopes of the mountains, and we also saw bighorn sheep and dozens of marmots. Don't forget to open the time capsule below the Wheeler plaque and write in the notebook!

The way down was less tiring but hard on the knees. Don't slip on the rocks, especially from Wheeler to just past Walter. If taking Bull of the Woods back, the road towards the end takes a while to get down (seems to go on forever). Follow the signs to Twining/Ski Valley.

Overall, there is so much to see here and if it weren't for the storms rolling in during the afternoon and how exhausted we were, I would have loved to explore all of the trails (for example, Bull of the Woods Pasture). The hike up the Wheeler was one of the most beautiful things I've ever done.

Visited July 2013
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54 reviews from our community

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Date | Rating
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English first
Austin, Texas
5 reviews 5 reviews
5 attraction reviews
Reviews in 5 cities Reviews in 5 cities
5 helpful votes 5 helpful votes
“Great family hike.”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed July 6, 2013 via mobile

Nice hike to Williams lake. This was our first "real hike" with our 7 and 9 year old and they loved it. It was just challenging enough and the lake was a great place to rest up before heading back down. There were a lot of people hiking it, so expect to have company on the trail!

Visited July 2013
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Washington DC, District of Columbia
Senior Contributor
47 reviews 47 reviews
9 attraction reviews
Reviews in 19 cities Reviews in 19 cities
33 helpful votes 33 helpful votes
“Hike to Williams Lake very worthwhile”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed June 26, 2013

Best hike we went on in the Taos area. Reasonably challenging and suitable for young and old. Area around the lake is a nice reward for the hike and great place to relax for a bit. The Bavarian restaurant near the trail head is a good place to grab a beer on the way down.

Visited June 2013
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Los Alamos, New Mexico
Senior Contributor
32 reviews 32 reviews
4 attraction reviews
Reviews in 11 cities Reviews in 11 cities
24 helpful votes 24 helpful votes
“Wheeler Peak – Amazing Hike”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed June 23, 2013

We took a group of 13 girls around 15 years of age along with 6 adults up to Wheeler Peak. For several of the girls this was the first real hike they had been on.

Our group started the hike at Williams Lake where we camped the night before. We were at various levels of physical fitness so it took between 3.5 and 4 hours to hike to the top. We took lunch with us and ate at the top of the peak.

If we were to do this again we will stop at the tree line and have a snack before hiking further. Many of the girls ran out of energy about 2 hours in (this is why we should have stopped for a snack) so the last 2 hours were very difficult. The hike is well worth the effort.

To enjoy the experience, bring plenty of water to drink, food, a wind breaker, hiking poles, and a camera. The hike took 1.5 hours down the mountain back to camp at the lake.

Great hike, loved it.

Visited June 2013
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Albuquerque, New Mexico
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
3 attraction reviews
Reviews in 3 cities Reviews in 3 cities
12 helpful votes 12 helpful votes
“Via Bull of the Woods and Williams Lake”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed June 22, 2013

A superb hike especially in June when the wildflowers are in abundance. Hiked on Jun 22 starting from the Bull-of-the-Woods trailhead, elevation just under 9500'. Much of the lower section of the hike is in the woods and follows old roads thus the trail is wide. Once the trail nears La Cal basin you're above timberline with superb views with a single trail track. Snow was still present in places too. Enroute to Wheeler peak you will pass Mount Walter at an elevation of 13,133'. Continuing on the trail I saw two Bighorn Sheep grazing on the slope below. As you near Wheeler you will see a cairn which marks the trail junction with Williams Lake. Mount Wheeler was crowded despite the fierce cool wind. About 20 people were sitting around attempting to hide from the wind while they enjoyed a bite of food. On the return trip I took the Williams Lake route which descends via switchbacks of scree. Footing can be tricky in places so do pay attention. Saw two Marmots on the way down plus plenty of wildflowers. The trailhead for Williams Lake is around 10,250'. Since my car was at the Twinning parking lot next to the Bull-of-the-Mountain trailhead I had to walk about two miles down a dirt road. Total distance was around 14 miles which took 7 hours. The Bull-of-the-Mountain trail route is around 7.5 miles (length varies with the source) while the Williams Lake portion is 4.1 miles. Most people take the Williams Lake trail as its much shorter and starts out at a higher elevation. Trail is steep though once you start the switchbacks above Williams Lake plus much of the trail is nothing more than packed scree. Pavement ends at the Twinning parking lot next to Bull-of-the-Mountain trailhead so anyone heading up to the Williams Lake parking lot will have to drive up a well-maintained dirt road for about 2 miles.

As a side note I would ask visitors to stay on the trails. Not only is it safer but it prevents scarring the landscape. High elevation tundra has a very short growing season thus damage takes several years to repair. I mention this because I happen to witness a dozen University of Alabama students cutting across a large swath of La Cal basin - "pioneering" their own trail in order to avoid the switchbacks of the trail.

Visited June 2013
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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