Carson National Forest


A cool morning in Carson National Forest
A cool morning in Carson National Forest
Looking down a trail through the aspens in Carson National Forest

Carson National Forest is 1.5 million acres of some of the most gorgeous mountainous countryside on Earth. Located in Northern New Mexico, Carson National Forest is home to Wheeler Peak (elev. 13,161'), New Mexico's highest mountain. Also within the boundaries of the Carson National Forest are the ski areas of Red River, Sipapu and Taos Ski Valley. On nearby private lands you'll find Angel Fire Ski Resort and the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area.

The 100,000-acre Valle Vidal Unit was "donated" by Pennzoil Corporation (seems they had an IRS problem) to the people of the United States through the US Forest Service in 1982. This prime piece of real estate was once a private playground for Herbert Hoover, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Cecil B. DeMille.

Valle Vidal is being managed to enhance its wildlife - especially the 2,000 trophy head of elk. Motorized travel is restricted and there are special hunting and fishing seasons and bag limits. In addition to regular hunting and fishing licenses, Habitat Improvement Stamps are required. These are available at local sporting goods and department stores along with regular hunting and fishing licenses.

Valle Vidal has two campgrounds and numerous parking areas for those heading into the back country. In addition to trout streams throughout the unit there are several fishing ponds, including one set aside solely for children.

Looking at the fire-ravaged hillsides of Latir Peak from Questa
Latir Peak Wilderness from Questa

Carson National Forest includes some 86,193 acres of wilderness and proposed wilderness. In wilderness areas, foot and horseback travel is allowed but no mechanized equipment (not even mountain bikes or hang gliders).

Carson National Forest has 400 miles of mountain streams and many lakes, most of which are stocked with native trout by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. In addition to the mule deer, antelope, elk, mountain lion, black bear and bighorn sheep, the Forest is inhabited by many species of smaller animals, songbirds and raptors (red-tail hawks, falcons and bald eagles).

With more than 330 miles of trails and forest service roads, there's lots of opportunity for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and 4-wheel exploring. In the winter time, most of these same trails and roads become excellent snowmobile and cross-country ski trails.

Looking east across the valley to the north ridge line of Wheeler Peak
The north ridge line of Wheeler Peak
Looking across a small lake to an evergreen-filled valley in the Tusas Mountains
In the Tusas Mountains

Carson National Forest Recreation Areas

The list below is of developed campgrounds within Carson National Forest. A lot of them are managed by private concessionaires who charge fees for their maintenance and management. However, while some restrictions apply, we can camp almost anywhere in the forest. We do have to be careful, though, because many thousands of us humans visiting the forest can cause quite an impact on the land, the vegetation, the streams and ponds, the mountains, and the wildlife. But if we minimize all traces of our visits, that which the forest seeks to preserve will be preserved and future generations will never know we were here.

Camping limit in any one spot is 14 days. Preferred campsites are at least 200 feet from any water source, have a spot for a tent that doesn't destroy any vegetation (better yet: try a hammock with a tarp instead of a tent), and is out of sight of a trail (unless it is a designated campsite). You might also wear sneakers or light shoes to avoid trampling the vegetation. Instead of a campfire, try using a portable stove (it leaves no unsightly scars on the landscape and never burns out of control). If you must have a fire: keep it small and use only fallen, dead wood. You don't need a fire ring but you do want to clear away anything burnable for several feet around your fire. Never leave your fire unattended and make sure it's not just dead out when you leave but make all trace of it disappear.

The closer you get to the source of the water, the cleaner and purer it will be. That said, giardia lambia and other water-borne parasites are still present in places in the forest and you never know... you'll probably want to filter or treat all your drinking water. But if you happen to get lost and are in trouble with no water, drink from a free flowing stream: far too many lost folks are found dead next to streams that have perfectly good water, killed by the propaganda that says EVERY STREAM... it's not true. A few years ago a Forest Ranger went around testing stream water all over the Rockies and his published report stated there are more giardia cysts in Denver City tap water than in most streams he tested (the cysts are extremely durable but it takes a particular threshold amount of them in your system to make you sick). Again, the closer you are to the source of flowing water, the cleaner and purer the water will be.

For your feces, dig a hole 5-6 inches deep into the soil humus and bury everything when you are done. Be at least 200 feet from any water. Don't leave any trash anywhere: pack it in, pack it out.

Developed Campgrounds in Carson National Forest

Campground Name General Area Elevation # of units Season Amenities
Cimarron * Valle Vidal/Questa 9,400 35 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfeesdrinking water
McCrystal * Valle Vidal/Questa 8,100 60 May-Nov Fishing available nearbyfee
Elephant Rock * Red River Canyon/Questa 8,500 21 May-Sept Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking water
Fawn Lakes * Red River Canyon/Questa 8,500 18 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking water
Goat Hill * Red River Canyon/Questa 7,500 5 May-Dec Fishing available nearbyfee
Junebug * Red River Canyon/Questa 8,500 20 May-Sept Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking water
Columbine * Red River Canyon/Questa 7,900 27 May-Sept Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking waterHiking trails
BLM Wild River Rio Grande Gorge 7,300 35 All Year Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking waterHiking trails
Cebolla Mesa Rio Grande Gorge/Questa 7,300 5 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyHiking trails
BLM Orilla Verde Recreation Area Rio Grande Gorge 7,300 23 All Year Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking water
Cabresto Lake Latirs/Questa 9,500 9 May-Sept Fishing available nearbyHiking trails
Cuchilla Rio Hondo/Questa 7,800 3 May-Sept Fishing available nearbyHiking trails
Lower Hondo Rio Hondo/Questa 7,700 4 May-Sept Fishing available nearby
Twining Rio Hondo/Questa 9,300 4 May-Sept Fishing available nearbyHiking trails
La Sombra Taos Canyon/Camino Real 7,800 13 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfee
Capulin Taos Canyon/Camino Real 8,000 11 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfeeHiking trails
Las Petacas Taos Canyon/Camino Real 7,400 9 May-Nov Fishing available nearbyfee
Agua Piedra * Rio Pueblo/Camino Real 8,100 44 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking waterHiking trails
Comales * Rio Pueblo/Camino Real 7,800 13 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfee
La Junta Canyon * Rio Pueblo/Camino Real 9,400 30 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfee
Duran Canyon * Rio Pueblo/Camino Real 9,000 12 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfeeHiking trails
Santa Barbara * North Pecos/Camino Real 8,900 21 May-Oct Fishing available nearbyfeedrinking waterHiking trails
Lagunitas Tres Piedras 10,400 14 June-Oct Fishing available nearby
Los Pinos Tres Piedras 8,300 5 June-Sept Fishing available nearby
Canjilon Lakes * Canjilon 9,900 40 June-Sept Fishing available nearbyfee
Canjilon Creek Canjilon 9,300 4 June-Sept Fishing available nearby
Trout Lakes Canjilon 9,300 12 June-Sept Fishing available nearbyHiking trails
El Rito Creek El Rito 7,600 11 April-Nov Fishing available nearby
Buzzard Park Gobernador/Jicarilla 7,300 4 May-Nov
Cedar Springs Gobernador/Jicarilla 7,300 4 May-Nov

* Site managed by Concessionaire

 
Carson National Forest Trails

The list of hiking trails below is not nearly all the trails that are available in Carson National Forest. This list is just meant to be a representative sample. On the Forest, there is everything from your veritable "walk in the park" to trails that come complete with multiple switchbacks and climbs that could easily leave you breathless, at least until you get to the top and see the view that really takes your breath away...

Trail Name District Difficulty Allowed Uses
4th of July Canyon Questa Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobiles
4th of July Road Questa Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing allowedATVsMotorcycles
Agua Piedra Creek Trail 19A Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing allowed
Agua Piedra Handicap Trail 6 Camino Real Novice Hikers
Agua Sarca Trail 16 Camino Real Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Amole Canyon Ski Trails Camino Real Novice/Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing allowed
Angostura Trail 493 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Angostura Cut-Off Trail 9A Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeing allowedATVsMotorcycles
Apache Trail 70B Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Bear Mountain Trail 28 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Biscara Trail Tres Piedras Novice/Intermediate Cross country skiersSnowshoeing
Buena Suerte Trail 170 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Bull Of The Woods-Long Canyon Trails Questa Expert HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Burned Mountain Tres Piedras Novice/Intermediate Cross country skiersSnowshoeing
Burns Lake Trail Canjilon Novice/Intermediate Hikers
Cabresto Lake Road/Lake Fork Trails Questa Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Cabresto Lake Road FR 134A Questa Intermediate HikersHorsesATVsMotorcycles
Canjilon/Trout Lakes Trails Canjilon Intermediate/Expert Hikers
Capulin/Ice Caves Trail 109 Camino Real Novice HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Capulin Trail 494 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVs
Cebolla Mesa Trail 102 Questa Intermediate HikersHorses
Centennial Trail 100 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Cerro Vista Camino Real Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Columbine Creek Questa Novice/Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Comales Canyon Trail 22 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Cordova Canyon Trail 17 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Cortado Trail 162 Camino Real Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Cumbres Trail Tres Piedras Expert Snowmobiles
Deer Creek Questa Expert HikersHorsesWilderness access
Devisadero Loop Trail 108 Camino Real Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowshoeing
Ditch Cabin to Sawmill Park Questa Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Divide Trail 36 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorses
East Fork Trail 56 Questa Intermediate HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
East Fork Trail 26 Questa Intermediate HikersHorsesWilderness access
Echo Canyon Canjilon Novice/Intermediate HikersHorses
Elephant Rock Motorcycle Loop Questa Expert Motorcycles
Elliott Barker Trail 1 Camino Real Novice HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing
El Nogal Trail 181 Camino Real Novice HikersHorsesMountain bikers
El Valle Largo Trail 70 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersATVsMotorcycles
Exploration Road Questa Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Flechado Canyon Trail 7 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Forest Road 795 Tres Piedras Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Forest Roads 1892 & 1893 Tres Piedras Novice/Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Gallegos Canyon Trail 4 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersATVsMotorcycles
Gallegos Peak Trail 182 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Garrapata Ridge Questa Intermediate ATVsMotorcycles
Gavilan Canyon Trail Questa Expert HikersHorsesSnowshoeingWilderness access
Goose Creek Trail Questa Expert HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Goose Lake Road 486 Questa Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Greenie Peak/Midnight Meadows Questa Intermediate HorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVs
Greenie Peak Road Questa Intermediate ATVsMotorcycles
Hart Canyon Trail Canjilon Novice/Intermediate/Expert HikersHorses
Hidden Lake Trail 45 Camino Real Novice HikersHorses
Horseshoe Lake/East Fork Trail 56 Questa Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesSnowshoeingWilderness access
Indian Creek Trail 27 Camino Real Expert HikersHorses
Indian Lake Trail 19C Camino Real Expert HikersHorses
Italianos Canyon Trail 59 Questa Expert HikersHorsesSnowshoeingWilderness access
La Cueva Canyon Trail 492 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Lake Fork Trail 82 Questa Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesWilderness access
Largo Canyon Tres Piedras Intermediate ATVsMotorcycles
Las Mochas Trail 4 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Lost Lake Trail 91 Questa Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Manzanita Canyon Trail 58 Questa Expert HikersHorsesSnowshoeing
Maquinita Canyon Trail Tres Piedras Novice/Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Martinez Canyon Trail Canjilon Intermediate HikersCross country skiers
Middle Fork Lake FR 487 Questa Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesSnowshoeing
Middle Fork Trail 24 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesWilderness access
Mondragon Canyon Trail 660 Camino Real Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeing
North Boundary Trail 495 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersATVs
Ojitos Canyon Trail 166 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
OK Canyon Camino Real Intermediate Cross country skiersSnowshoeing
Old Red River Pass FR 488 Questa Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Osha Canyon Trail 20 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Pioneer Creek Trail FR 485 Questa Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Placer Fork Questa Expert HikersHorsesWilderness access
Policarpio Trail 13 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Pot Creek Interpretive Trail 2 Camino Real Novice Hikers
Powderhouse-Little Costilla Peak Trail Questa Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Rim Vista Trail Canjilon Novice/Intermediate HikersHorses
Rio Chiquito Trail 121 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Rio Grande Del Rancho Trail 18 Camino Real Novice HikersHorsesMountain bikersCross country skiersSnowshoeing
Rito De La Olla Trail 438 Camino Real Novice HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Salazar Trail Canjilon Novice/Intermediate Hikers
San Leonardo Lakes Trail 30 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesWilderness access
Sardinas Canyon Trail 12 Camino Real Easy/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Serpent Lake Trail 19A Camino Real Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Serpent Lake Cutoff Trail 19B Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorses
South Boundary Trail 164 Camino Real Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Tienditas Trail 70A Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Telephone Canyon Trail 3 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Tio Maes Trail 5 Camino Real Intermediate/Expert HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowshoeingATVs
Tony Marquez Trail 41 Tres Piedras Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
Trail Canyon Questa Intermediate SnowmobilesATVsMotorcycles
Trampas Lakes Trail 31 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesWilderness access
Vallecitos Road 476 Camino Real Easy/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikersSnowmobilesCross country skiersSnowshoeingATVsMotorcycles
Valle De Los Romeros Trail 13A Camino Real Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesMountain bikers
West Fork Trail 25 Camino Real Intermediate HikersHorsesWilderness access
Wheeler Peak Trail 90 Questa Expert HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Williams Lake Trail 62 Questa Novice/Intermediate HikersHorsesCross country skiersSnowshoeingWilderness access
Yerba Canyon Trail 61 Questa Expert HikersHorsesWilderness access