Backpack the Vacas Trail Loop

New Mexico San Gregorio Lake Trailhead

Added by Lisa Merino

Such a beautiful oasis in the heart of New Mexico that is remote yet easy to get to via car, then a great backpack journey in. If your looking for a quick escape to the middle of nowhere this is the hike for you!

You start at the hiking at base of the the San Pedro Wilderness at the San Gregorio Lake Trailhead! This particular hike is called the Vacas Trail loop.

For directions: Take US 550 to Cuba (north west of Albuquerque), turn east on NM 126 and go for about 9 miles. Just past the community of Deer Lake, look for the forest road heading north, possible marked Forest Road 70 or there may be a sign to San Gregorio Reservoir.There is a very obvious parking lot where you can leave your vehicle for the day or two or week or so...ha while you are out camping, fishing, hiking, etc! Lots of people like to hunt in this area too. Depending on the season of when you go, you will probably see a lot of wildlife. We haven't seen anything beyond an elk, deer, and small wildlife.

We broke our trip up into a 3 day, 2 night trip! The great thing about the San Pedro Wilderness is that there isn't a lot of elevation gain from where you start, so you can cover a lot of ground and still feel like your traveling well into the mountains without too much incline.

Day 1

Trail queues: - From San Gregorio Trailhead-N on Las Vacas Trail 51 - Stay on Las Vacas Trail 51 as you pass San Gregorio Reservoir - Keep Left on Vacas Trail at Junction with Damian Trail 436

We drove into the parking lot and got our packs ready for our journey. There was a big sign for the start of the trail and off we went! You may pass people leading up to the lovely fishing lake, but if you keep going you will soon be some of the only people out there. It's ~ 1 mile to the lake there that is breath taking and lots of families go there for fishing! Our journey had us continue on for more seclusion. Our first campsite was only 2 miles from the parking lot due to us leaving later in the afternoon so we didn't travel that long! We set up camp had an amazing meal and enjoyed our quiet evening.

Day 2

Trail Queues: -Head N on Las Vacas 51 from Damian Trail 436 -Keep Left at the Y in the trail, head towards Lucero Trail -Keep Left again at Junction of Upper Clear creek Trail and Lucero Trail

This day we wanted to just explore and take more time hiking and finding a great campsite next to a creek for some fishing. We hiked another 4 miles to our "trout camp." Here we got to fish- catch and release for us, some tiny trout and enjoyed another quiet night of camping. Saw no people this day.

Day 3

Trail Queues: -Head North on Lucero Trail 34 -Take Right onto Anastacio Trail 435 (east) -Take Right onto Upper Clear Creek Trail 417 (South) - At Junction of Upper Clear creek Trail and Lucero Trail head south towards Las Vacas Trail -Stay right, continue on Las Vacas Trail and keep right to head towards parking lot.

This was our power walking day! We were ready to head home and did a little longer loop to make it back to the start of the parking lot. We hiked 8 miles in total.

Pack List

  • Fishing license if fishing
  • No permit needed
  • Backpack
  • Water filter...tons of water to filter from creeks
  • Food
  • Fire starter- fires are allowed, just check the forest service website
  • Warm clothes
  • Layer clothes
  • Bathing suit
  • Tent and gear
  • Hiking shoes
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Backpacking, Camping, Chillin, Fishing, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:




Trail Type:



15 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1000 Feet



Easy Parking
Family Friendly

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How to Get There

18 days ago

Beautiful Scenery

My 12 year-old son and I backpacked this trip, though we walked about 5 miles beyond the prescribed hike, staying close to the Rio Las Vacas. We encountered some elk (and elk hunters), and we found the trip in to be relaxing. However, we walked out on the Palomas trail and ended up walking over the Damian Trail pass, which is very, very steep in parts, making the hike a very challenging journey. I don't recommend going this way unless you're up for a vertical climb. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but we went in the second week of October, and it was very cold at night, even with 15 degree down bags and a Big Agnes tent. Make this trip if you can!

18 days ago

Added by Lisa Merino

Adventuring Since 1989.

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