Looking to get away from it all? Backpacking offers an opportunity to reconnect with nature, escape the stresses of daily life, and experience an adventure in the great outdoors. Fortunately, New Mexico is the perfect place to head out on your journey. From rugged mountains to grassy meadows, here are four backpacking trips to set you on the path to exploring the state’s diverse wilderness — as well as a few tips from the experts.
Intro to Backpacking
If you’re new to backpacking, Ron Lautenbach, an experienced backpacker and professional hiking guide, recommends borrowing or renting the priciest items
— such as your tent, sleeping bag, and pad — to determine if you enjoy this activity. Borrowing gear is also a good way to learn what styles and brands you prefer.
You will have to invest in a few things, however, like hiking boots or trail runners, and perhaps a backpack to make sure it fits you properly. You will also need to borrow or purchase a few backpacking essentials, which can vary depending on the scope of the trip, according to Ron. “My best advice is to read a beginner’s guide to backpacking from a reputable outdoor sports outlet like REI,” Ron said. “They, and many others, have beginner articles including a required and optional gear list for backpacking.”
Popular online stores to purchase backpacking gear include REI Co-op, Backcountry, CampSaver, Moosejaw, and Eastern Mountain Service. No matter your skill level, research your destination before heading into the unknown. Learn about the flora and fauna in the area and check the weather, the altitude, and if there will be water sources along the route. Always let someone know where you are going, and call the area’s main office or visitors center before you leave to make sure there aren’t any fire restrictions or closures.
Hitting the trail
Little Bear Canyon Trail, Gila National Forest
Take a relaxing soak in nature when you visit Jordan Hot Springs in Gila National Forest. The springs are 6 miles from the visitors center via the Little Bear Canyon Trail. The route includes about 15 river crossings — some as high as waist level, depending on the time of year. Bring a pair of
sandals or water shoes if you don’t want to submerge your hiking boots in water. Hiking poles can also assist with river crossing. There are several camping spots near the spring, which gets as hot as about 94 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Park Service. “[Little Bear Canyon] is a beautiful and peaceful place to backpack and is ideal for those new to backpacking as it has its challenges but it is a well-worn trail,” said Shaun Duttle, a resident of Mesquite, New Mexico, who has hiked to Jordan Hot Springs a couple times. “It’s easy to follow but difficult enough to leave you feeling accomplished when you get to the hot springs itself.”
Rim Trail, Lincoln National Forest
Escape the typical desert landscape by exploring the Rim Trail, made up of green meadows and aspen, pine, and fir trees. Located on the western rim of the Sacramento Mountains, the trail spans 30.5 miles with several access points along its route, making it easy to customize your hike. “The Rim is the most scenic [trail in Lincoln National Forest] by far with lots of views of the basin, and the trail grade is moderate for most any user,” said Marcie Kelton, recreation staff officer for Lincoln National Forest. Popular portions of the trail include Cloudcroft to Laura Rabon Karr Canyon and Karr Canyon to Sunspot Solar Observatory. Hikers can set up camp anywhere along the route, as long as they don’t block any access points. There are no water sources on the trail.
Wheeler Peak Trail, Carson National Forest
If you’re up for taking a bit of a road trip, travel further north to Carson National Forest to experience the breathtaking beauty of Wheeler Peak. “Wheeler Peak has adventure and discovery for every level,” said Ron, who has led several group trips to the summit. “It has leisurely hikes to experience Williams Lake. It has peaceful camping in lush, beautiful wilderness, and [at 13,161 feet elevation] it has a challenge to reach the highest point in New Mexico.”
Access the Wheeler Peak Trail via the Twining Campground, next to Taos Ski Valley. The trail is easy to follow, and camping areas are available at La Cal Basin. Here, hikers can rest before heading up Wheeler Peak. Take in the spectacular view from the top, and don’t forget to sign the registry to let others know you made it.
Organ Needle Trail, Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument
Located east of Las Cruces, the Organ Needle is a trail for the bucket list. It’s the highest point of the Organ Mountains with an elevation of about 8,990 feet (some older sources cite it as 9,012 feet), according to summitpost.org.
“It is a beautiful, unique mountain wilderness that will challenge the strength, will, and perseverance of any who attempt it,” said 78-year-old Ron, who has hiked the Organ Needle 88 times in his lifetime. Those who do reach the summit will be rewarded with an expansive view of White Sands National Park and the deserts and peaks spread throughout New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. While experienced hikers can complete this trip in a day, others, who prefer to take it slower or who simply want to experience the sunset and sunrise from the top of the world, can opt to make this an overnight trip and camp at the summit. Access the start of the Organ Needle route via the La Cueva Trail in Dripping Springs Natural Area. If staying the night, arrange for someone to drop you off and pick you up so your car isn’t left in the lot when the area closes.
Organ Needle can be difficult to navigate, requires some climbing, and has no water sources, so go with an experienced hiker or guide the first time you attempt this hike.
Written and photography by Alexia Severson
Additional photography by Laura Rabon, Lincoln National Forest,
and Shaun Duttle
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com