At 13,161 feet above sea level, Wheeler Peak is the highest mountain in New Mexico, which ranks as the 8th state in order of elevation. Located in the Sangre De Cristo (Blood of Christ) range, it stands guard over the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, inviting all to enjoy its status.
It is not known who made the first ascent of Wheeler, probably the Indians of the Taos Pueblo. But, it is named for U.S. Army Major George M. Wheeler who surveyed much of New Mexico in the late 1870s. For years, the Truchas Peaks, located south of Wheeler Peak, were considered the New Mexico highpoint. In 1948, a survey was conducted by Harold D. Walker which confirmed Wheeler Peak is the highest point in the state. A sub-peak, north of Wheeler Peak, is named for Walker and is often mistaken for Wheeler.
Whether backpacking or dayhiking, Wheeler Peak offers a spectacular outdoor experience. Big horn sheep are abundant but are wary of visitors. There are two main routes to the summit, the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail
, and the Williams Lake Trail
. The Bull-of-the-Woods trail (also called the Wheeler Peak Trail) is 16 miles round trip and is a well-marked class 1 trail, The Williams Lake trail to the summit is approximately seven miles round trip and is a steep class 2 trail, with the final 1000 ft being a rocky scree slope.
The Sangre de Cristo mountain range is a spectacular collection of peaks which stretches 250 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Salida, Colorado. Please note the left side bar which features all the mountains in the Sangre de Cristos, both in Colorado and New Mexico.
From Taos, New Mexico: Drive four miles north on New Mexico (NM) state road #522. At about four miles, and at the first traffic light out of town, turn right (east) on NM 150 and drive for 15 miles until reaching the Taos Ski Valley
ski area. As you arrive at the ski resort a huge "Taos Ski Valley" sign will greet you. Here the road forks. Stay left.
LaCal Basin. Photo by Jeff Moore
For the Bull-of-the-Woods trailhead:
Continue left after the fork and head into the upper parking lot for about 50 yards until reaching a gravel parking lot marked "RVs Only" (which does not apply in summer). There are big trailhead signs in view from here.
For the Williams Lake trailhead:
The key is to get to the Phoenix Grill (Bavarian) restaurant about a 1000 ft higher than the entrance to the ski area. Follow signs to "The Bavarian" restaurant and "Williams Lake Trail." Before reaching The Bavarian (or the Phoenix grill) follow signs to a large hiker's parking lot on the right. From the parking lot, follow the road (pedestrian only) next to the kiosk south past The Bavarian and then past the Phoenix Grill (ski season only) and onward up the road, which is now well marked with signage. (Updated 7-23-06. Courtesy of dgreaser
Wheeler Peak is located in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness
area in the Questa Ranger District of the Carson National Forest
. No fees or permits are required to hike, climb, or camp. There is a 14 day camping limit in the Carson National Forest. The wilderness area begins on the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail between Bull-of-the-Woods mountain and Frazer mountain. On the Williams Lake Trail, the wilderness area begins about two miles into your hike after climbing through the ski area. The first two miles of the Williams Lake Trail, and the first three miles of the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail, is on private property so please respect this. No camping is allowed at Williams Lake. All wilderness rules apply including no mountain bikes, ATVs, or other vehicles.
When To Climb
Late May through November is considered the best time to climb. Winter storms can occur as late as May and June is considered a dry month. July and August are the typical monsoon season, with afternoon thunderstorms being a daily occurrence. September through early November are also dry months with several continuous days of cool, dry, and clear skies. However, storms, rain, hail, and snow can occur in any month. The Bull-of-the-Woods trail is considered the safest winter ascent route, with the west face of Wheeler being an avalanche hazard. Highly recommend getting a very early start in climbing Wheeler Peak. Thunderstorms are an extreme danger in the afternoonn.
Wheeler Peak is in an alpine environment with like conditions. The west face of Wheeler Peak is a loose scree slope which can be unpleasant to climb. Check here for current weather
. Fire conditions change on a daily basis. Check with the ranger station or the New Mexico Fire Information Site
for current fire conditions. Treeline is at approximately 11,000 to 11,600 ft. In winter, Williams Lake basin, the valley leading up to Williams Lake, and the west face of Wheeler Peak is subject to avalanche. Here is a live webcam of Taos Ski Valley (Base of route) to get an idea of current conditions: Taos Web Cam
Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit in the wilderness area except within 100 yards of Williams Lake. La Cal Basin is a good place to camp if hiking the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail as an overnighter.
LaCal Basin. Photo by Alan Ellis
There are several Forest Service Campgrounds
available on NM 150 before getting to the Taos Ski Valley. These include Lower Hondo, Cuchillo De Medio, Cuchillo, Italianos, and Twining. Most can accommodate trailers and tents, and have water and toilets. Twining campground is located at the Bull-of-the-Woods trailhead.
Bull-of-the-Woods Trail (or Wheeler Peak Trail)
Williams Lake Trail
Here are maps in TIF format: Wheeler Peak
and Eagle's Nest
Carson National Forest (Forest Service)
Latir Peak/Wheeler Peak Wilderness (Forest Service)
USGS 1/24 quad Wheeler Peak
USGS 1/24 quad Eagle Nest
Click here to order Forest Service maps.
Wheeler Peak (left) and the Williams Lake Basin with Lake Fork Peak above.
Photo by Jeff Moore
Many thanks to Alan Ellis
for creating and maintaining the Wheeler Peak page for so many years. Nice work Alan!