I had set my eye on backpacking in the Sangre de Cristos a while ago, and decided to do some research and try to find a good mix of things to see. The bonus of this area for me is that it's national forest, doesn't require permits, and allows dogs! After gathering a bunch of data, I finalized a 5-day, 4-night hike that covered 36 miles with about 10 more miles of side hikes.
On our first night, we re-evaluated the plan and decided to cut it one day shorter. This required a revision to the route and some trails we didn't have mapped out, but it all turned out great in the end, with the exception of missing out on visiting Pecos Falls.
Day 1 - 10 miles, 1000 feet, 2400aeg
We started from Jack's Creek TH and took the Hamilton Mesa Trail #249 toward Iron Gate Campground. The trail drops 500 feet and then parallels the Pecos River before climbing 1000 feet to the campground at 4 miles. From there we took Mora Flats Trail #250 down toward Mora Flats at about the 8 mile mark. There's a couple of great campsites here along the Rio Mora. Next we headed upstream on Rio Valdez Trail #224 to its intersection with Bob Grounds Trail #270, where we set up camp for the night at a great site a short distance upstream.
Day 2 - 9 miles, 1200 feet, 3000aeg
The day started with a moderate 500 foot climb along the Bob Grounds Trail. The trail climbs up onto Hamilton Mesa, and the upper part is on open grassy slopes where the tread is difficult to find in spots. This area featured my first wolf sighting, though at a quarter mile distance, which is probably just about how far away I'd prefer to be! The next 2+ miles led down to the Pecos River. This stretch of trail has not been maintained in a while and there were several thickets of deadfall that really slowed us down. We took a break at the river, before a quick side trip up to Beatty's Cabin. There are actually 3 cabins and they are nicely appointed and get regular use. There's even running water!
We headed upstream on Beatty's Trail #25 for a mile before turning onto Chimayosos Trail #246, which parallels the scenic Rito de los Chimayosos. This was an unplanned route based on our revised itinerary so we didn't really know where we would camp. We set our minds on a spot along the creek near the 11,000 foot contour and the junction with the Jack's Creek Trail. We were a bit disappointed with the options here, but didn't want to push on any further. There was running water, and enough flat ground for us to make a camp work. So we did!
Day 3 - 8 miles, 1200 feet, 2300aeg
Our morning began with a 1000 foot climb over 1.5 miles to the Skyline Trail. From there it was a mile west to the beautiful alpine Truchas Lakes, set 1500 feet below the crest of the Sangre de Cristos. We took a break here, and I was a little disappointed that our revised plan made this no longer one of our camping nights. It would be a fantastic place to spend a couple of nights! But a pair of backpackers at the lake informed us that the night before had been extremely windy, so perhaps we lucked out after all.
Skyline #251 heads south along the slopes of Truchas Peak for about 2.5 miles before emerging from the forest and heading up along the exposed grassy Trailriders Wall. The next two miles were some of the most scenic of the trip, as the Skyline Trail flirted with 12,000 feet and views in all directions were spectacular. (Side note, this is the only place on the entire trip that there was any hope of cell service at all.) The next mile drops about 500 feet to a scenic lake at the foot of East Pecos Baldy where we would make our camp for the night.
Day 4 - 7 miles, -2700 feet, 150aeg
The weather forecast had always called for a chance of showers on Sunday, so we were all prepared for that possibility. However, on Saturday when I had gotten cell service, I checked for an update and was not particularly pleased by the new information. Words including "severe storms" "damaging hail" "high wind" "lightning" and "possibly a tornado" were not the kinds of things I like to read about when I'm backpacking in the wilderness above 11,000 feet on the crest of a major mountain range.
So we decided to skip any side hikes and get off the mountain early in the day. Even that caught us off guard as we awoke to light drizzle. It was actually quite pleasant in retrospect. These mountains really need the rain, so a chilly, foggy, drizzly morning was actually nice. It made for a great hike out too, with gray skies contrasting the bright greens of the newly dampened trees around us.
We headed down on Jacks Creek Trail again, before meeting up with the lower portion of Beatty's Trail #25 which took us back to the trailhead and completed the loop. We finished on the horse trail rather than the hiking trail, which is about half a mile longer. Thunder rumbled, the rain picked up a bit, and we were on a mission to be done. Back in the truck by 11am!
With the trip cut a day short, we went into Santa Fe for a good lunch before heading back toward Arizona with plans to stop for the night along the way. During the drive we encountered that weather we didn't want to be on the mountain for, and I can unequivocally say we made the right decision! It was some of the heaviest rain and hail I have ever driven through, and only the second time I have ever stopped driving and taken refuge under a gas station canopy.
I really enjoyed this area and would go back in a heartbeat. There are a whole bunch of trails and beautiful streams, lakes, and amazing mountain peaks. All this and it's only about 8 hours of driving from the valley. I'd like to go back in the fall as the aspens here would add an extra touch of perfection to this place. Top 10!
Note: my mileage stats include extras not part of the base mileages listed above.