Tucked high up in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Red River, New Mexico is the ideal place for outdoor adventure. From fly fishing and hunting to rock climbing and mountain biking, there are almost endless options on this stop along New Mexico’s famous Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.
With perfect summer weather, high mountain lakes, colorful wildflowers, and plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, Red River is the perfect place to explore some of New Mexico’s most remarkable terrain, and one of the best ways to do that is on foot. With trails ranging from easy walks along the river to challenging routes to nearby mountain peaks, there is something for every level of hiker near Red River.
Here are eight of the most beautiful hikes in the area.
Note: The town sits at about 8,600 feet in elevation, and many of the hikes go higher than that, so always bring plenty of water when you hike, wear sunscreen, and take your time to adjust to the elevation.
1. Red River Nature Trail
Distance: 1 mile Difficulty: Easy
This trail is great for beginners, people adjusting to the high altitude, children, or anyone just looking for a beautiful walk. It runs along the base of the mountain by the Red River, meaning the air will be refreshing and a tad bit cooler. The trail is clearly marked with signposts that explain the history, animals, plants, and geology of the area. This hike is a great introduction to what Red River has to offer.
2. Mallette Park Nature Trail
Distance: 0.25 miles Difficulty: Very Easy
This quarter-mile loop is even easier than the Red River Nature Trail. Like most trails in the area, it has lovely scenery, but perhaps the best part is the little cave you can duck into. The trail starts just left of the tennis courts and follows the stream until a dirt road. This is the perfect hike for small children.
3. East Fork Sawmill Park Trail 55
Distance: 7.2 miles Difficulty: Easy to Intermediate
The trail itself isn’t that technical, but the elevation is what makes this one a little more challenging, especially if you’re visiting from sea level. You’ll gain about 1,350 feet in elevation across the 3.6 miles on your way out, topping out at 10,950 feet. The trail runs along a ridge, drops into the valley of the East Fork of the Red River, and passes through a stunning meadow, often filled with wildflowers, offering plenty of places to stop for a break and take in the views.
Sawmill Park is also home to a 1,000-year-old bristlecone pine tree. These amazing trees are found mostly in the Southwest United States and can live over 5,000 years making them the oldest living organisms in the world.
4. Pioneer Creek Trail
Distance: 6.8 miles Difficulty: Intermediate
This trail follows an old mining road built at the end of the 19th century. Gold, silver, and copper were mined in the area through the 1920s, so this hike is the unique opportunity to see remnants of those times. (Don’t get too close, though—abandoned mines can be unsafe.) The trail has some steep sections and tops out at a mine near private land, which is the turnaround point. This trail is also open to mountain biking and horseback riding, so stay aware of your surroundings and be prepared to run into other trail users.
5. Middle Fork Lake Trail
Distance: 4 miles long Difficulty: Challenging
If you want to more a challenge without more distance, the Middle Fork Lake Trail is a good option. It’s a little over two miles each way and reaches an elevation of 10,840 feet, passing through forest and along waterfalls. There is a creek crossing involved, but you can always test your balance on the log that lays across it if you don’t want to get your feet wet. As the name implies, the trail ends at Middle Fork Lake. Be prepared for several switchbacks to get to the end, but it’s definitely worth it for the view.
6. Lost Lake Trail 91
Distance: 10 miles Difficulty: Challenging
This trail is pretty tough, so not the best option for beginners. It’s five miles each way and reaches 11,495 feet in elevation, so you’ll want to be acclimated to the elevation before trying this one. The hike follows diverse terrain up a mountainside along a creek, steep slopes and slide drainages, and has many switchbacks. The views through the forest are stunning and once you get above treeline and on the ridge, a meadow opens up in front of you.
Lost Lake is part of the Wheeler Park Wilderness and you can fish there with a state license. The lake is stocked with native cutthroat trout.
7. Goose Creek Trail 65
Distance: 11 miles Difficulty: Challenging
This hike is no walk in the park, as this steady climb goes from 8,800 feet to 11,630 feet in over 5.5 miles. Depending on the time of year, there may be a few creek crossings, and look for a waterfall, too. You’ll pass through meadows and a peaceful aspen grove on your way to Goose Lake. The trail gets a bit more difficult to follow towards the end, so look for the blazes on the trees and a sign for the lake. This hike is a great one to try before (or instead of) tackling Wheeler Peak.
8. Wheeler Peak
Distance: 14-20 miles Difficulty: Very Challenging
The most difficult hike on the list and the highest point in New Mexico, summiting Wheeler Peak will take you up to 13,161 feet. The hike is 7-10 miles one-way, depending on which route you take, so plan to be out for a whole day (or two if you decide to backpack). The views at the top are unforgettable and you’ll probably see some bighorn sheep on your way up.
There are two options for this hike. The first is shorter and starts at Middle Fork Creek. The downside is that there’s no designated trail and the terrain is a bit rough the first mile, but you’ll eventually reach a clear trail. If you want to save time and are an experienced hiker, this might be a good option. Otherwise, take the longer route from the Lost Lake Trail to Horseshoe Lake. Climbing from the lake and over the dam to the ridge is steep, but it’s pretty smooth sailing from there to the top.
No matter which route you take, you’ll earn bragging rights for climbing New Mexico’s highest peak. The best time for this hike is late May through November, but afternoon thunderstorms are common in the summer, so you’ll want to hit the peak early.
Surrounded by mountains just waiting to be explored, there is tons of hiking near Red River, making it the perfect base camp for summer adventure.
Written by Melanie Hamlett for Matcha in partnership with New Mexico Tourism Department.