The Twin Sisters are tucked away in the Pinos Altos Range and within the borders of the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). With an elevation of 8,341 feet and a prominence of just 410 feet, this peak probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The lower south summit has an elevation of 8,186 feet, but lacks peak prominence. The CDT runs along the western base of the mountain, but there is another trail on the north side that winds around the mountain and terminates before reaching the summit.
This is a unique summit in that there is a negative net elevation gain. The trailhead is at an elevation of 8,570 feet, about 230 feet higher than the summit. With the ups and downs along the way though, the hike is a little more interesting, but not overly challenging.
From the summit, there are great 360-degree views of the surrounding forestland. Pinos Altos and Silver City can be seen to the southwest. To the southeast you’ll get a great view of the Santa Rita Mine, the longest continuous mining claim in the western United States. Its open pit stretches 1.5 miles across and is nearly 1,500 feet deep. It is believed that the ore in the vast majority of Mexican copper coins minted from 1800 to 1840 originated from Santa Rita, where copper was mined as early as 1799. Prominent Cookes Peak also stands out to the southeast. Black Peak, the high point of the Pinos Altos Range at 9,029 feet, lies directly to the north and essentially along the route to Twin Sisters.
Black Peak can be summited in the early going en route to Twin Sisters. Although Black Peak enjoys the prestige as a prominence peak, Twin Sisters, in my opinion, is a more worthwhile summit objective. The hike on the CDT to reach Twin Sisters is scenic and enjoyable, and with the great views from the top of Twin Sisters as opposed to the restricted views on Black Peak, there is no comparison. Unless you are a list-chaser, Twin Sisters wins hands down.
From U.S. Highway 180 just east of Silver City, take NM Highway 15 north for about 15 miles, passing through the town of Pinos Altos and by the Cherry Creek and McMillan campgrounds along the way. Turn right onto Forest Road 154 (about 7.5 miles past Pinos Altos). FR 154 will take you southeast before curving and running west. Travel about 6.5 miles or so on FR 154 until you get to the CDT trailhead.
FR 154 is a maintained dirt road. Passenger vehicles should be able to safely reach the trailhead in the absence of extreme weather and snow.
Route to Summit
As a general overview of the route, it begins at an elevation of 8,570 feet at the trailhead, ascends to 8,860 feet near the summit to Black Peak, then descends to 7,935 feet at the base of Twin Sisters. This makes for some elevation gain on the return leg. The grade of the trail is easy - nothing too steep - and winds through dense forests providing plenty of shade on warm days.
The vast majority of this route entails a nice Class 1 hike on a well-maintained trail. The CDT trailhead sign has two arrows. Follow the right arrow on the trailhead that leads southwest. You will gradually ascend for about the first 0.6 miles of the hike where the trail leading to Black Peak will intersect the CDT to the right, its summit about a 0.2-mile detour away.
The trail will drop in elevation from here until you reach the base of Twin Sisters. About 2.5 miles into the hike, you will reach an intersection with other trails. There are three signs posted; follow the sign for “Pinos Altos”.
Once you are near the north base of Twin Sisters, leave the CDT and start working your way up the slope while you try to locate the trail that leads most of the way up. This trail, which is not the CDT but is well defined, begins at 32.89454 N, 108.18117 W. It runs south along the west slope of the mountain then curves around towards the east between the two summits that comprise the Twin Sisters. The trail terminates south of the summit. From here, it becomes a 0.25-mile Class 2 route to gain the summit.
This route is about 7 miles round-trip with about 1,850 feet gross elevation gain.