Wheeler Peak (NM)
Place Name: Taos County
Place Description: State: New Mexico
Elevation: 13,161 Feet
Prominence: 3,409 Feet
Elevation Gain: 3,000 Feet
Lists: US State High Points
The Roof Of New Mexico
Wheeler Peak is the highest mountain in New Mexico and with such a distinction, come the crowds! A wonderful and moderate hike will take you to the top through some gorgeous country in the southern Sangre De Cristo Mountains. This is one peak not to be missed!
- Great trail
- Beautiful country
- Lots of wildlife
- Busy trail
- Prone to bad thunderstorms
- Early start
When most people think of Taos, NM, they think of the world class skiing during the winter. What they don’t realize is Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state is right there as well.
At 13,161 feet, Wheeler Peak attracts hikers to its summit by the bushels and is a fantastic class 1 hiking experience during the summer with many other options in the area.
While there are a couple of different ways to climb Wheeler Peak, this report focuses on the Williams Lake Trail.
To access this trail, you will drive up through the Taos Ski Valley and head up to the large parking area near the restaurants a ski lifts.
Park here and start following the signs.
Pick up the official trail just after the ski lifts. It’s a very nice single track through the forest. The trail remains well shaded and has a few sections where it breaks out into the open. This lower section also leads to Williams Lake and has a lot of day hikers that just use it for that purpose.
Before you know it, about 2.1 miles in there is a junction. Staying straight will take you to the lake, turning left and starting up hill leads towards Wheeler Peak. There is a sign at this junction.
The trail remains under the forest canopy as switchbacks slowly up the slopes for another mile or so. At this point, you bust out if the trees around 11,600 feet in elevation.
From this point on you will be completely exposed to the elements. Although, the trail is green and absolutely beautiful. Our views were hampered by dense fog, however, it was still evident just how pretty this section was!
The trail follows a series of switchbacks, some of it on talus, all the way to the summit ridge.
After cresting at the top of the ridge at 13,000 feet, the summit push is trivial. We were met with a blasting wind and dense, wet fog once we got to this point.
Turning right on the ridge took us up and over a couple minor bumps and right to the highest point in New Mexico. The wind shelter and plaque came into site and at that point we celebrated my son’s first 13er and high highest summit to date.
Unfortunately, the views were nil, however, the experience was amazing. This was my 8th US State High Point!
Once done at the summit, we walked back to the saddle and continued over to a bump they call Mt. Walter. We jumped 6 bighorn sheep here in the fog which was super cool!
During our descent, the clouds started to burn off and we could actually see the summit and ridge line. Had we of summitted 30 minutes later, we might of had some views!
The Final Word
Although we did not have any summit views, I had an awesome time on this mountain. The weather actually made it a more memorable experience I think. I would actually hike this mountain again and would love to add on the bonus peaks that are nearby for a longer day.
If you find yourself in New Mexico and want a moderate challenge, Wheeler Peak would be a great trail to start. Just be prepared to start early in advance of the thunderstorms and crowds.
Like Humphreys Peak in Arizona, Wheeler is a prime example of high pointing and peak bagging in the southwest!