Wilderness Areas In The Santa Fe National Forest

Wilderness is described as federal land designated by Congress as a place where"earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain" (Wilderness Act of 1964). Congressionally designated wilderness areas are managed as places where natural biological processes are allowed to occur unhindered by human interference.

The Santa Fe National Forest has over 300,000 acres of wilderness distributed among four different area within its boundaries.

The Santa Fe National Forest Plan Revision team has concluded its public meetings to identify which lands on Santa Fe National Forest may or may not be suitable as Wilderness, however we are still accepting public comments until May 20, 2016. Get involved.


Truchas Peaks with snow, photoIn 1964 Congress designated more than 168,000 acres as the Pecos Wilderness.  In 1980 an additional 55,000 acres were added bringing the total to 223,333 acres.  The wilderness spans two forests, the Santa Fe (198,597 acres) and the Carson (24,736 acres). 

Deep and narrow canyons, long and broad mesa tops, heavily forested slopes, and rugged ridges with peaks above timberline characterize the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the Pecos Wilderness. This small mountain chain comprises the extreme southern extent of the Rocky Mountains.

On the western side steep canyons drain toward the Rio Grande. In contrast, to the east lies the relatively gentle upper Pecos River Valley, an area of broad flat mesas and grassy meadows.

Fifteen lakes offer first-rate fishing, as do 150-plus miles of sparkling streams, where rainbow trout, brown trout, and the NM state fish, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout can all be found. These waters head the Wild and Scenic Pecos River. The high country elevations range from 8,400 feet to 13,103 feet atop South Truchas Peak, the state's second highest point.

The scenery varies from 100-foot-drop waterfalls and crumbled talus slopes to dramatic rock cliffs, towering peaks, and wildflower meadows best caught in July and August. Engelmann spruce, corkbark fir, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, white fir, limber pine, bristlecone pine, and aspen are the predominant timber species. Equally diverse is the wildlife, including elk, deer, bear, turkey, and one of America's healthiest herds of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.

With easy access from Santa Fe, Albuquerque and surrounding towns, most hikers come during the summer months to explore the extensive system of trails.

Pecos Wilderness Trail Update for August 2015


San Pedro Parks Wilderness began as a primitive area, established by the Chief of the Forest Service in 1931. In 1941 the Secretary of Agriculture classified it as a Wild Area and set its acreage at 41,132 acres. It became the San Pedro Parks Wilderness as part of the original Wilderness Act in July 1964.San Pedro Parks Wilderness, photo

Although the elevation averages 10,000 feet above sea level, San Pedro Parks Wilderness is known for high, moist, rolling mountaintops with numerous meadows and large grassy "parks." Dense stands of Engelmann spruce and mixed conifers compete for space with small stands of aspen. San Gregorio Reservoir, a small irrigation reservoir predating the establishment of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, is the largest body of water. Clear streams wander through the forest openings and are usually abundant with trout. Be prepared for frequent afternoon rainfall in July and August. This rainfall enables the meadows to flourish with bluegrass, oat grass, sedge, rush, and Rocky Mountain iris, only to be covered with snow in November. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail crosses through the Wilderness from Cuba, NM to the Carson National Forest. Its route follows along Los Pinos, Vacas, Penas Negras and Rio Capulin trails.

Campsites with abundant water appeal to backpackers, as do the nine major trails. Trails receiving the heaviest use are the Vacas Trail to San Pedro Park (10.69 miles) and the Palomas Trail (3.63 miles), which joins the Vacas Trail. Fall brings hunters seeking elk, deer, bear, and grouse. 


The Chama River Canyon Wilderness encompasses 50,300 acres (2,900 on the Carson National Forest). Congress designated the land a wilderness area in 1978.  In 1986 the Rio Chama, that flows through the wilderness, was designated as a wild and scenic river.

The Wild and Scenic Rio Chama, popular among river rafters and canoeists, runs through six miles of the wilderness. Chama River Canyon Wilderness, photoTrail access is poor above the colorful sandstone bluffs and impressive rock formations that rise to high rims on both riverbanks.

Water levels reflect releases from the upstream El Vado Lake Dam, but you can usually float the river, with portages, all the way from the Colorado border to the Rio Grande through the rainbow-hued Chama River Canyon. Backpackers can hike along portions of the Chama River, then pitch their tents in a secluded wooded campsite above one of the canyon's high-water beaches. Trout often flourish in the river (so bring your gear), and onshore residents include mule deer, black bears, elk, coyotes, and mountain lions. Varying canyon elevations also provide a wide range of vegetation, from low-lying pinion-juniper woodland to ponderosa pine and fir. 

Between 70 and 80 different bird varieties can be found in the Chama River Canyon. Raptors, hawks, and owls perch along the canyon walls and surrounding trees. On the ground, mule deer, elk coyote, black bear among other animals can be seen searching the canyon for food. 


The United States Congress designated the Dome Wilderness 1980 and it now has a total of 5,200 acres. Unfortunately in the past, the Dome Wilderness has been ravaged by wildlfire. The Dome Fire in the 1990s burned the majority of the wilderness. Then in 2011, the Las Conchas fire reburned the wilderness almost completely. This area is currently closed under a Santa Fe National Forest Closure Order. Contact the Jemez Ranger District office for updated information.

The Dome Wilderness is bordered by the Bandelier Wilderness to the east. Dome Wilderness seems dwarfed by the adjacent Bandelier Wilderness, but sometimes the best gifts come in small packages. In this case, be prepared for primitive canyonlands and prehistoric ruins (and take care not to disturb the latter).

You'll also find an abundance of wildflowers and strawberries in spring. From high points near Saint Peters Dome you'll be able to see all the way east to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. To the south you can veiw the Cochiti Lake region, the Sandia Mountains and Manzano Mountains. Elevations peak at 8,200 feet, then drop to 5,800 feet at Sanchez Canyon.

The Saint Peters Dome Trail (6.1 miles) gives access to this wilderness, starting on the north end near the Dome Lookout and losing elevation as it runs south past canyon walls and through stands of large pines, then across Sanchez Creek, a fishless stream that endures periods of extremely low water. The Capulin Trail (2 miles) also begins in the northern portion of the area. The Capulin Trail ends at the Bandelier National Monument boundary.

The trail system entering the area also provides access into the west side of Bandelier Wilderness with several trailheads located along Forest Road 289.


  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate.
  8. Pack animal considerations.

Provided by: Leave No Trace