Hike to Williams Lake and Wheeler Peak
New Mexico › Williams Lake Trail
Added by Brian Heifferon
- Bag New Mexico’s highest peak at 13,161 feet.
- It’s either a 4-mile hike to the alpine lake, or a 7-mile round trip hike to the peak.
- The lake’s beautiful and is a perfect spot to fuel up before tackling the peak.
This hike is conveniently located at Taos Ski Valley and offers two primary options: a fun 4-mile round trip hike to beautiful Williams Lake, or a 7-mile round trip hike all the way to the Wheeler Peak. You can’t go wrong with either option, but if you’re up for it, bagging Wheeler Peak is definitely worth the extra effort.
The trail to Williams Lake parallels the Lake Fork of the Rio Hondo and gradually ascends 2-miles through forests towards the lake. Once you arrive at Williams Lake, take some time to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo mountain range and this stunning high alpine lake. This is a perfect opportunity to dip you feet in the water and enjoy a little picnic.
Still have a little bit of gas left in your tank? Continue up the Williams Lake Trail above the lake and you’ll begin to a pretty steep climb up 2,000 vertical feet. This trail has been recently upgraded and now features a nice switch back route to the peak. And the views from the peak are well worth the extra work.
Be sure to check the weather and pack/dress appropriately. The area can be prone to thunderstorms and late season snowfall.
After you’ve bagged New Mexico’s highest peak, celebrate with a beer on the back deck the Bavarian Lodge, conveniently located at the trailhead entrance.
- Light picnic supplies
- Hiking shoes
- Day pack
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Early Summer Hike Up
A couple friends and I hiked Mt. Wheeler back in June. We all had light day gear and were going up the slopes as a day hike that started at 9am. Once we started hiking up the trail that led to the peak, snow was found in the tree line. It was a neat factor in the hike as it blocked some sections of trail and created a decent amount of mud. At some spots, the snow made us take some careful steps around a few switchbacks as a slip would've resulted in a good fall and slide. A few of use brought some Outdoor Research gaiters since we anticipated snow and we're happy to have done so. They helped keep out boots and feet dry. After the tree line was cleared, there was a decent breeze that helped us stay cool. Upon clearing the tree line, the trail started to produce really wide switchbacks. In order to save time, we fanned out in order to minimize impact on grass and plants and schwacked up steep sides of the mountain that were mostly grass. I do not encourage doing this if you are not a strong hiker as the steep climb can wear you out, especially if you aren't acclimated to the altitude. After a few more schwacks, we finally followed one last chunk of trail up to the saddle of the peak. As we hit the saddle, a lot of us were happy to have brought jackets as the wind at the top added a pretty decent chill on a summer day. As we reached the peak, we took a photo op and found a mountain sheep to hangout with. Wheeler Peak is defiantly a great picture and nap spot. On the way down, we decided to live dangerously. Several large snowbanks were still above the tree line and made for great slides down the mountain in order for a quick descent. Again, the gaiters helped us keep our feet dry. The hike down was certainly quicker and it was neat to hike back through an almost different terrain. As it got later in the day, more snow had melted and more watery trails were produced as a result. At the end of the trek, each of us had consumed several snacks, two liters of water each, and thankfully used no first aid gear. Wheeler Peak is a great day hike and I would certainly encourage it and do it again!
Solitude on a Weekday evening
We hiked this on a Thursday evening and only saw a few other people. About a mile of the trail in the forest before the lake is still very snowy but doable in trail running shoes. The lake was still mostly frozen, not much green around it, but still pretty. This would definitely be an amazing place to catch an intense sunrise/sunset.
hike the Williams lake
Such a good hike! If your looking for an interesting twist to this beautiful hike, give it a go in mid winter(make sure there is plenty of snow). You can attempt without snowshoes but just make sure to not step off the hard pack or you will find yourself knee deep in snow. The views of the snow covered lake are absolutely beautiful!
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