Hiking The Skyline Trail

The 3rd most popular hiking trail in New Mexico.

  New Mexico, US


  July 28, 2016

Northeast of Santa Fe, the Skyline Trail is a 50 mile hiking trek winding a semi-circle through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains mostly in the Pecos Wilderness Area.

To reach the main northeastern trailhead from Santa Fe, take Washington Avenue north for a half mile from the Santa Fe Plaza. Turn right onto Artist Road, which becomes SR475. Continue 14 miles to the end at the Santa Fe Ski Basin. This trail can be picked up at its actual starting point at the top of Tesuque Peak by following Forest Road 150 from Aspen Vista to the top of Tesuque Peak and then picking up the trail along the ridge to Lake Peak. The trail from Forest Road 150 is closed to horses, llamas, and other stock. The long winding dirt road to the top of Tesuque Peak is closed to motor vehicles. Alternatively, an easier access to the Skyline Trail is to start from the ski area and follow the chair lift to the top of the ridge. Backpackers and horses can take Winsor Trail 254 from the ski area to Puerto Nambe where the Skyline trail connects.

Section 1 (14 miles ) - The trail goes north up Santa Fe Baldy ridge and then switchbacks down the north side of the ridge to the lake. This section of trail is normally snow-covered until late June and can be treacherous in late spring and early summer.

The Skyline Trail continues along the drainage at the far northeast corner of the lake basin, switchbacks rapidly down to Winsor Creek, and follows the creek for one mile to another junction with the Winsor Trail. The Skyline Trail continues north on a moderate grade past Stewart Lake, passing junctions with the Winsor Ridge Trail 271 to the east and later the Johnson Trail 267 to the west. After the junction with Cave Creek Trail 288, there is a steep eroded climb to the north and then a steep drop into Horsethief Meadow.

SECTION 2 from Truchas Peaks to Cebolla Peak (12 miles) - From Horsethief Meadow, follow the trail east and downstream along Horsethief Creek. After a half mile, the trail begins to climb the hillside to the north. The trail climbs steeply out of the canyon, reaches the top of a ridge, and drops quickly into Panchuela Creek. Over the next one and-a-half miles the trail climbs to the intersection with Rito Perro Trail 256. Skyline Trail turns north and begins the steep, rocky, and eroded climb to the top of the Pecos Baldy ridge. The rocky trail then descends the north face of the ridge to the lake and the junction with Jacks Creek Trail 257.

From the junction with Jacks Creek Trail, Skyline Trail continues north along Trailriders Wall. This portion of the trail should be avoided during lightning storms and severe weather. After two and-a-half miles the trail begins a gradual descent near the junction with Rio Medio Trail 155. The trail continues north through the forest, passing obscure junctions with South Azul Trail 255 and Chimayosos Trail 246. After passing Truchas Lakes, the trail intersects Jack s Creek Trail 257 at its northern end.

SECTION 3 (10 miles) - This east-west section of trail runs the length of the Santa Barbara Divide. Starting from Jacks Creek Trail 257 on the west, there is first a junction with West Fork Trail 25 to the north (Carson National Forest) and then with Beattys Trail 25 to the south. Several more miles along the divide brings one to Middle Fork Trail 24 to the north (Carson), Pecos Trail 24 to the south, and East Fork Trail 36 to the northeast (Carson).

Along this entire section of trail, there is virtually no shelter and water is difficult to find. Continuing along the ridge the trail finally drops to the saddle between the Rio Valdez and the Rincon Bonito, intersecting the Rio Valdez Trail 224, North Fork Trail 269, and Pecos River Trail 456. The trails can be difficult to follow in this eroded hummocky area. Skyline Trail continues east through some forest and then emerges into a large alpine meadow.

Continue to the east, looking for guide posts and cairns. There is no trail tread visible in the ground. At the junction with Trail 274 to Santiago Lake, the trail turns sharply south and goes through a series of meadows and wooded stands, following the edge of the Divide. Use tree blazes to find where the trail enters the forest from the meadows. The trail eventually intersects Gascon Trail 239 in a large grassy area north of Cebolla Peak.

SECTION 4 from Cebolla Peak to Elk Mountain (14.5 miles) - From the junction with Gascon Trail 239, the Skyline Trail continues south through a large grassland on the eastern divide. There is a cairned route along the east side of Cebolla Mountain as well as a trail on the west side. The most important thing is to continue south of the ridgeline. There is no visible tread in the grasslands. In many places the trail is obscure and there are multiple cairned or blazed routes. It is not necessary to cross the quartsize fields. Look for routes around them.

Approximately six miles south of the Gascon Trail junction is the junction with Rociada Trail 250. The trail maintains its southerly direction, alternating between forest and meadows. After two more miles, the trail intersects Los Esteros Trail 226 and after about five miles it intersects Porvenir Canyon Trail 247. The 1.5 miles of trail from here to Elk Mountain receive much more use than the portions of trail to the north. The trail leaves the Pecos Wilderness just before arriving at Forest Road 646.

SECTION 5 (10 miles) - From Elk Mountain, the trail enters the recently burned forest on the south facing slope and soon parallels a fence. The trail follows the fence line for a considerable distance straight down the slope. This section of trail is not passable for horses or bicyclists and footing is difficult for hikers. At the bottom of the slope the trail joins a road and follows it to the south for a short distance before veering off to the left along the fence line

There is one meadow where it may be difficult to follow. Otherwise the trail is entirely in the forest. The trail brieflt becomes quite narrow crosses a dirt road (Forest Road 92). In this stretch it goes up, down and around a series of small hills. A signed junction for the Na-na-ka Trail 217 is found at Bull Creek Saddle. Continuing south, the narrower trail climbs steeply from this saddle and then goes up and down a series of knobs. The forest is more open in this section and it is easy to wander off the trail.

The trail continues to climb at a very gradual incline to the junction with the trail from the Valle del Toro. Recently widened as a result of the fire, this now looks more like a road. To drop down through the Valle del Toro to Bull Creek and Forest Road 86 turn right (west). To continue on this trail, bear to the left. The trail, very wide in some sections, continues to follow the divide to the south, passing through forest and some meadow. As you get closer to Black Mountain, it passes through some small clearings with exposed soils and very few trees. As the trail starts the final climb up a small hill to Black Mountain the tread becomes more obscure. At the top of the climb the trail bears left and goes through thick forest to emerge in about one mile at the Black Mountain Road (Forest Road 203).

Overall, Skyline Trail is the 3rd most popular hiking trail of all 39 hikes in New Mexico.

Local Contacts:  SFNF (505) 753-7331 or 988-6940; NM Tourism (800) SEENEWM.

Best Season:  Apr. - Oct.

Average Difficulty:  Difficult

Base Camp:  NFS Big Tesque Campground; Old Santa Fe Inn; Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas, NM

Luxury Loding:  Inn of the Anasazi, Santa Fe; Bishops Lodge

Breakfast Restaurant:  Pasquels, Santa Fe

Reference Source:  click here http://www.fs.usda.gov/santafe/

GPS:  35.7858, -105.7939

Date Published:  12/26/2015

Date Updated:  7/28/2016

ID:  12193

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