Orographic Clouds and Moon-Set over the San Mateo Range


In 2014 this guide used “spectacular” and “lush” to describe the Apache Kid Trail to the San Mateo Lookout. Numerous fires have since afflicted the San Mateo Range, but much of the recent damage occurred in the Vick’s Peak Fire of 2020 . This year’s Bear Trap Fire in the San Mateo Mountains burned the west-facing slopes north of Blue Mountain (the range’s high point) but fortunately did not affect the trail described here. The range remains spectacular, but “lush” is grimly absent. 

The original intention for this hike was to climb from Springtime Campground to the crest, then turn south on the Shipman Trail. To my eye the Shipman Trail seemed obliterated (but – see “Links”, below). In contrast, the Apache Kid Trail going north on the crest remains obvious. It seemed reasonable to switch focus to the hiker-friendly tread.

Please be careful. This hike is currently a poor choice for a rainy or windy day!

Driving Directions

  • On Interstate-25, between Socorro and Elephant Butte, take Exit 115 for Route 107.
  • From the north:
    • After 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn east (left) onto NM 107
    • After 0.1 miles on NM 107, at a T-intersection, go right onto Old US-1
  • From the south
    • After 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn east (right) onto NM 107
    • After 100 feet on NM 107, at a T-intersection, go right ont Old US-1
  • After 11.7 miles on Old US-1, go west (right) onto Forest Road 225 (signed, gravel bed). Note that there is an unsigned fork at mile 12.3, where you want to go right to stay on FR-225.
  • After 13.4 miles on FR225, where FR-225 makes a 90º left hand turn, veer right onto 225A (signed for Springtime Campground)
  • After 0.4 miles, enter the campground.

FR-225 is falling into poor repair. The road crosses several washes and some of these crossings have developed steep banks. There is no assurance that you could get a low clearance vehicle across them. Patient and prepared drivers might possibly shovel at these embankments to make them passable. As you get closer to the campground you enter burned patches and encounter football-size rocks strewn across the road. Thoughtful driving would be needed to preserved the sedan’s oil pan. The threat of deadfall across the road is real. Bring a saw and a shovel. A winch or a come-along could be handy.


Springtime Campground

The trailhead for the Apache Kid Trail #43 is in a well-maintained campground. Some of the surrounding trees were scorched, but most have survived. The campground offers three-sided shelters, picnic tables and fire rings. There was no potable water service nor trash service. On this date water flowed in places along the canyon bottom, but it would be wise to bring your water with you. Day hikers should park in the turn-about just before the Campground’s cattle guard. Please leave space so that folks pulling horse trailers can maneuver. The trail entrance (signed) is found just uphill of the cattle guard.


Note! Once again I forgot to turn on my GPS at the start of the hike. The data starts near the crest (at the junction with the Shipman Trail) and then up to the fire tower and all the way back to the trailhead.

  • lowest elevation: 7390 feet
  • highest elevation: 10,130 feet
  • net elevation: 2740 feet
  • distance: 4.1 miles (one way)

Hike Description:

Trail rises to the headwall shown here!

Leave the campground and begin weaving through alternating patches of badly burned and lightly scorched terrain. The canyon bottom has a very mellow grade. Burn debris occasionally obscures the tread but the hiking is easy. In 0.4 miles the trail pokes gingerly to the north, into a rocky waterway. It abruptly loses its nerve and bolts south followed by a sweeping turn to the northwest. This allows the tread to enter the bed of the neighboring canyon where you again enjoy mellow, stream-side hiking. Gorgeous rock spires populate the skyline above. Sadly, you must peer past the charred remains of ancient ponderosa to see these sights. At 1.1 miles the mellow quality fades and switchbacks ensue. The trail designers have done a wonderful job, making the ascent beneath towering cliff faces and across steep canyon walls a joy. The higher you go the smaller the green patches become. At 2.2 miles, on the crest, the forest devastation is almost universal.

Stone Ruins

Past the crest the Apache Kid Trail encounters a Forest Service sign that miraculously escaped the blaze. Startling! If you look to the southwest (sharply to your left on ascent) you might be able to pick out the tread of the Shipman Trail. Once, the Shipman took hikers to Meyers Cabin. Now that tread is all-but-vanished. A patch of forest surivives to the north, however. Stay with the Apache Kid trail as it segues briefly into the green. The tread soon pulls off the crest and drops gently into a bowl that feeds Nave Canyon (to the northwest). Fire blackened snags absolutely dominate this landscape. Reach the central stream that drains this bowl at mile 2.7, where you will find the ruins of an old stone chimney. Just beyond the ruins lies the San Mateo Spring. It is odd to see flowing water in New Mexico without exhuberent surrounding vegetation. The recent fires must have been very hot. The ground story bears widely separated tufts of grass and an occasional mountain mahogany or gray-oak patch. A mix of stone rubble and gravel have replaced the topsoil.

fire tower under clear skies
Fire tower and cabin

The tread follows the stream straight up hill, dallying now and again for a few switchbacks. Crossing an unburned saddle at the top of the bowl, the trail ascends up the fire blackened summit block of San Mateo Peak. This summit block is unusually broad. The angle gets shallower and the effects of the fire get smaller. A switchback pulls you into sight of the old fire tower in completely unscathed condition. In fact, the forest is dense here and wide-angle views are only available from the tower. Ascent on the tower is sketchy. The tower is a series of ladders rising between platforms. The platforms are loosing their floorboards and the remaining boards aren’t trustworthy. The metal ladder to the first platform is no longer bolted at its upper end. Clearly, climbing the tower adds to the risk of your outing. In contrast, the meadow adjacent to the old bunkhouse is a terrific place to enjoy lunch, feel the sun’s warmth and marvel at the green mountain summit. Return the way you came.


view straight down past the missing floor of one of the platforms on the fire tower.
Missing floor on tower platform

A high clearance vehicle is currently all-but-required (alas). Bring a saw and a shovel to address possible road issues. A short plank or two might be useful if you get bogged in the soft bottom of the washes. Winches (or come-alongs) have uses if you should encounter heavier deadfall.

Don’t go if it is going to be windy or wet.

Acute mountain sickness is a possibility at these altitudes. Check your party’s acclimation before heading out. A good summary of causes, signs and symptoms can be found here.

As commented above, forest damage is sorrowful. That said, these mountains are a harsh-but-compelling argument for controlled burns and other . So, pick a safe day, bring a camera, a high level of situational awareness and a willingness to share what you’ve photographed with friends and neighbors. The “spectacular’ and “lush” of other ranges might be better preserved.


There are several causes for confusion in doing searches for this hike. The first is that there are two ranges named for San Mateo (Saint Matthew) in New Mexico. The range described here lies in Socorro County. The other San Mateo Range lies close to Interstate 40, in Cibola County. The second cause for confusion is that this San Mateo range has two highpoints named after San Mateo. The one described here is called San Mateo Peak and has a lookout tower. The one NOT described here lies further south and is called San Mateo Mountain. The latter is much wilder and, with the destruction of the Shipman Trail , much more difficult to access. A possible alternative (not tested!) for reaching San Mateo Mountain would be an approach via Rock Springs Canyon.

A report from October, 2021 says that a team from New Mexico Volunteers For the Outdoors (NMVFO) was able to flag the first two miles of the Shipman Trail. They report following the trail as far as the Nave Spring. I may have been overly cautious in exploring that tread. It is cheering to think that NMVFO found it worth the effort and risk. The NMVFO also worked to open the Apache Kid Trail. Many thanks to these volunteers!

Stav, of StavIsLost, has a report from 2018 that shows conditions just before the fire. So green! The photos show that an old log cabin, fallen into ruin, once adjoined the trail. The “chimney” shown in this report may be all that is left of the fallen cabin.