Features: Birding — Fall Colors — Lake — Spring — Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
This is a fairly new trail built by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp and Carson National Forest in 2010 and 2011. It is entirely singletrack and replaced the old, steep, and eroded route that climbed the avalanche path below the Wheeler-Walter Saddle.
At approximately Mile 1.9 along the Williams Lake Trail #62
, watch for a sign for Wheeler Peak. The trail begins here on the saddle above the lake, heading southeast then climbing east up Wheeler Peak's northwest slopes. The route meanders through mixed-conifer forests then steepens as it begins climbing switchbacks. From here, the route crosses through a steep gully and across a series of avalanche chutes on the approach to treeline. There are several open vistas and good views of Williams Lake and the rugged, high peaks across the basin.
After the fifth switchback, the trail ascends above treeline and levels out into a large glacial basin. Evidence of glaciers receding is apparent in the large boulder fields and moraines strewn across the terrain. There are some great spots to find a good view and hang out or enjoy a snack before making the summit push. Continuing to the south, through a couple scree fields, the tread is narrow and uneven but not technical. There are ten switchbacks before the trail reaches the ridge and joins with the Wheeler Peak Trail #90 near the Mount Walter-Wheeler Saddle. From here, the summit is a short climb to the south (right). At the top, explore a monument explaining why the mountain is so named, a registry paper if you wish to sign and document your summit experience, and plenty of spots to enjoy the 360-degree views of the Sangre de Cristos and the Rio Grande Valley beyond.
There are several alpine routes that can be connected from the summit, linking up with the East Fork Trail #56
and Lost Lake Trail #91
, and the Wheeler Peak Trail #90 leading to Frazer and Bull-of-the-Woods mountains. There is a primitive route traversing the ridge around the Williams Lake Basin that allows summits of Simpson Peak, West Simpson, Sin Nombre, Lake Fork, and Kachina Peaks before descending into Twining and the Village of Taos Ski Valley. This route can be accomplished during a long day, it requires Class 3 climbing as well as experience navigating unmarked terrain.
During winter and spring most years expect to encounter deep snow and significant avalanche potential along this route, understanding and utilizing standard protocol for traveling within avalanche terrain is recommended.
Various wildflowers, groundcovers, subalpine conifers, and firs native to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains can all be enjoyed along this route. Common animal sightings include bighorn sheep, marmots, pika, chipmunks, and squirrels. Deer, elk, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and pine martens are present and may be observed occasionally.