View to Gold Hill Summit


This is a strenuous workout on an easily accessed and brilliantly maintained trail amidst some of New Mexico’s most famous terrain. The summit lies just above 12,700 feet (which might not be the best for recent arrivals from sea level). Love the spectacular? Go.

Driving Directions:

The trailhead lies within the Taos Ski Valley and the entire way is paved. Most folks will ignore the directions below and just follow their car’s navigation system. That said, pay attention to the left-hand turn at the pictured sign. It is a useful detail that might get missed by GPS directions!

Sign saying "Welcome to Taos Valley" where you turn left
Go left at this sign
  • On Interstate-25 (I-25) take exit 276 signed for NM 599.
  • After 0.3 miles, at the stoplight at the end of the ramp, turn left onto NM-599 N
  • After 13.2 miles on NM-599, at a fork, go left onto an exit ramp signed for US-84/US-285
  • After 0.5 miles, where the ramp ends, merge onto US-84
  • After 22.0 miles on US-84 N, at a stoplight, go straight ahead onto NM 68. (US-84 will make a sharp left at this stoplight)
  • After 41.7 miles on NM 68, at a stoplight, turn left onto NM-240 E
  • After 2.3 miles on NM-240E, at a stop sign, turn right to stay on NM-240 E
  • After 0.3 miles past the stop sign on NM-240E, turn left onto Blueberry Hill Rd (there is a small road sign that names Blueberry Hill).
  • After 4.8 miles on Blueberry Hill, turn right onto US-64 E
  • After 0.2 miles on US-64, at a stop light, go straight ahead onto NM-150 N
  • After 14.5 miles on NM-150, at a sign welcoming you to the Taos Ski Area, turn left into the parking area.
  • After 0.3 miles in the parking area, at a Carson National Forest kiosk, park at the trailhed.


Shows the Forest Service kiosks marking the start of the trail
Park in front of the kiosks

The trailhead is part of the paved parking area for the Taos Valley Ski Area. A kiosk for the Carson National Forest has been placed at the start of the Bull of the Woods trail. There is a vault toilet, out of sight from the kiosk but only 100 feet up the trail. On this date the toilet was open but was signed as being unmaintained. I did not see any trash or water facilities. There are no fees. State of New Mexico land use permits are not required.


  • Lowest Elevation: 9430 feet
  • Highest Elevation: 12,711 feet
  • Net Gain: 3281 feet
  • Distance: 4.5 miles (one way)

Trail Description:

Sign directing you towards Long Canyon at a complex trail junction.
Sign at complex trail junction

Follow the single track going uphill from in front of the Carson National Forest kiosk. The trail parallels a gravel road and in 100 feet passes a vault toilet. To your right is the Hondo Rio. In 0.6 miles you will come to an unsigned fork in the trail. Go left (on ascent) to begin a steep ascent. Generally you want to stay next to the stream, but at about 0.8 miles a bold, left-pointing sign will direct you a short ways up onto the canyon wall, where the tread contours back and crosses the creek bed to the east side. There you will find a complex intersection. Look for the sign directing you to the Long Canyon trail. Curiously, these signs seem to be new. Some brave soul in the Forest Service has scrounged enough money to support legible signage! 

Tree shaded trail in Long Canyon
Tree tunnel

Beyond this point navigation is simple. Simply ascend a broad and well-maintained trail that stays close to the stream bed. The initial, challenging angle of the tread slowly eases and, at 1.4 miles from the trailhead, becomes a mellow stroll up the canyon. The trail has a “tunnel through the trees” feel – little sunlight penetrates to the floor. It can be chilly, although on a summer’s day the shade would be very welcome. On this date, at the end of a wonderfully productive monsoon season, the adjoining stream bed held a strong flow of water. Attractive campsites appear at 1.5 miles. There is some deadfall, but active trail teams have kept the trail open.

tree snag before the sole switchback on this route
The Switchback snag

In the upper canyon the woods slowly thin. Subalpine meadows appear. A few deer were seen on this date and bear-sign appeared on the trail. At 3.1 miles the trail appears to run, head-on, into a snag. Look to your right to find The Switchback. Follow this gentle contour as it gradually rises onto the broad meadows that decorate the rim of Long Canyon. On this date there were numerous piles of snow on either side of the trail, but the tread itself remained clear. At 3.6 miles, and almost 12,000 feet above sea level, the trees give up. Montane grasslands dominate the terrain above. A broad and smootly curved highpoint comes into sight. Alas, it is only a false summit. 

view to snow clad Wheeler Peak
View to Wheeler Peak over the summit cairn (with trekking pole as wind sock)

The tread ascends to a point west of the first false summit (to your left, on ascent) and hits another signed intersection. Here you will see that the first false summit is the rounded end of a ridgeline leading from a steep-sided, tooth-like emminence. Is that the summit? Nope! Pick up the Lobo Peak trail as it continues to ascend along the west-facing flank of this second false summit. Past it you will see a third prominence that, finally, is the true summit. The views from the top are spectacular. To the west lie the broad, open flanks of Wheeler Peak. To the north and south lie the long spine of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The eastern view-shed descends into the Moreno Valley and then up into the Cimmaron Range.  This is a famously windy summit. You might be able to crouch down inside stone-wall protected bivy site, although it was snow-filled on this date. Otherwise, descend back to the tree-protected meadows for a well earned lunch. Return the way you came.


By New Mexico standards, this is a high peak. If your party includes people who are not (yet!) acclimated to altitude then you might want to choose a different initial outing. Even acclimated hikers should be aware of acute mountain sickness symptoms.

The stream flow on this date was robust, but it might be dry at other times of year. Bring along extra water. Even when there is plentiful water you would want to filter or boil it before using.

As the snowy images attest, this can be a chilly destination in early autumn. Bring extra clothing. A sit-pad and a wind-proof jacket might make lunch at the summit far more enjoyable.

Craig Martin, in 100 Hikes In New Mexico, points out that there is a parallel trail going up the east rim of Long Canyon. He suggests using that parallel trail to make a loop in the middle of this ascent. I looked for the point where the ridge trail re-joins with the Long Canyon trail but failed to find it. Either it is very faint or it was obscured by snow. It could be a great variation on the hike.


The SummitPost site notes that this trail overlaps with one of the approaches to Wheeler Peak (New Mexico’s high point). They suggest that you camp here and get both peaks in a single weekend. Also, they suggest dining in Taos. Excellent suggestions!

This route describes a trail in the bottom of Long Canyon. An online description of an alternative route on the Gold Hill Trail, running up the eastern rim of Long Canyon, can be found at Taos Trails.

Anne’s Travel’s has an extensive report on this trail, with several photos that do much to capture the alpine feel of this route.

StavIsLost rates this hike as “tame” (which is perfectly sensible, if you’ve read about his ventures into not-tame areas). His photos do a great job of capturing the leap from dark canyon bottom to open mountain tundra.

Some of the earlier reports observed numerous blow downs along the Long Canyon Trail. Evidently a trail team did much to clear this trail in 2019, many thanks!