Wilderness Areas

Wheeler Peak Wilderness

Picture of Williams Lake WaterfallThe Wheeler Peak Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1964.  It is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and spans 18,897 acres of land northeast of Taos, New Mexico within the Questa Ranger District.  Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico, is the highlight of this area rising to 13,161 feet.  This feature attracts many visitors, making the Wheeler Peak Wilderness the most heavily used within the Carson National Forest.

Many of the high peaks and ridges in this area are covered by alpine tundra, rare in the American Southwest.  Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep are abundant in this habitat type year-round and are generally quite curious, allowing visitors to gain a close look at these interesting residents.  The Wheeler Peak Wilderness is also home to elk, mule deer, golden eagles, marmots, martens, picas, mountain lions, and black bears.  Perhaps the most unusual resident of this area is the White-tailed Ptarmigan found in the alpine tundra.

Approximately 40 inches of precipitation fall here annually, making the winter months ideal for downhill and cross-country skiing, as well as snowshoeing.  Avalanche danger tends to be high due to the nature of winter patterns and generally low moisture content within the snow pack.  Winter users should be aware of the risks associated with travel in avalanche prone areas.  More on Wheeler Peak Wilderness.

Northern Pecos Wilderness

Photo of Rio De Las TrampasThe Pecos Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1964.  Jointly managed with the Santa Fe National Forest, the Pecos spans a total of 223,333 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains southeast of Penasco and north of Santa Fe.  The Carson manages about 25,000 acres north of the Divide trail, this is the least visited portion of the wilderness.  Currently, the Pecos is the largest wilderness area managed by the Carson and is under the jurisdiction of the Camino Real Ranger District.

Elevations in the Pecos range from 8,000 to 13,103 feet atop South Truchas Peak, the second highest point in New Mexico.  Stands of spruce, fir, pine, and aspen are interspersed with canyons, mesas, rugged peaks and ridges, clear streams, meadows, and multiple lakes.  The topography and scenery are diverse creating myriad opportunities for recreation and special niches for some of New Mexico's more unusual wildlife.  Elk, mule deer, black bear, turkey, and Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep can all be found in the Pecos.   More on Northern Pecos Wilderness.

Latir Peak Wilderness

Photo of Latir Ridge Trail #85The Latir Peak Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1980 and spans a total of 20,000 acres north of Questa, New Mexico within the Questa Ranger District. This remote area contains deep forest cover interrupted by meadows and streams with alpine tundra and alpine lakes found at higher elevations.

Cabresto Lake is the most popular access point to this area. From the lake, the Lake Fork Trail follows Cabresto Creek north to Heart Lake, Baldy Mountain, and Latir Mesa.

Cruces Basin Wilderness

Photo - Looking west over the BasinThe Cruces Basin Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1980. This is the smallest wilderness on the Carson, spanning 18,000 acres just south of New Mexico/Colorado border. It is located northwest of Tres Piedras in the southern San Juan Mountains within the Tres Piedras Ranger District.

Lack of designation of trails and difficult access contribute to the pristine nature of this wilderness providing excellent opportunities for solitude. All trails in this wilderness are either informal, fisherman, or game trails with one well established route entering the wilderness from Osha Canyon on the southern border.

Mountain plateau surrounds and forms the boundary of the Basin with the Brazos area adjoining to the west and southwest. Elevations range from 8,600 to 10,900 feet featuring spruce, fir, and aspen forests interspersed with grassy meadows and prominent rock features. The lush meadows found throughout the Basin provide important summer range for elk. Mountain lions, black bear, and many other bird and mammals can be seen as well. Diablo and Beaver Creeks, located in the southern portion of the Basin, are popular with fly fisherman due to their abundance of brook trout.

Historically, this area was used by sheep herders for summer grazing.  Carvings from these travelers can still be seen on many of the aspens along historical routes.  Today cattle have replaces many of the grazing sheep, occupying several allotments within the Basin.  The lack of designated trails keeps this area relatively pristine, but also requires visitors to be able to navigate using a map and compass or GPS unit if planning to venture beyond established routes.

Columbine-Hondo Wilderness

Fall scene of grassland meadow with fall aspen and evergreen trees in backgroundColumbine-Hondo Wilderness is a 44,698-acre  Wilderness is located within the Questa Ranger District.  The area was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System on December 19, 2014 by Public Law 113-291.

Headwaters to the Rio Hondo and Red River as well as three peaks which rise to or above timberline.

Elevations in the wilderness range from 7,861 ft. to 2,710 ft. at Gold Hill. The other principal summits of the wilderness area are Lobo Peak (12,113 feet) and Flag Mountain (11,946 feet). The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness is separated from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness to the south only by Highway 150 and the Taos Ski Valley.