Backpacking Travel to Horseshoe Lake, Pecos Wilderness, NM

Our backpacking travel to Horseshoe Lake started out with a trunk-full of backpacks and travel mugs of Starbuck’s coffee. A two-hour drive from Santa Fe and we were at the parking area found at the end of NM Forest Road 161.

Directions can be tricky!

There were so many trees blocking our path, it was like making our way through a giant pick-up sticks game. We either had to make our way around the large trees or take the time to climb over them.Columbine

Following directions from a Backpacker magazine article, we hiked the 1,500 ft ascent in 3.3 miles. There were beautiful wildflowers, a few groups of hikers, and an overly friendly German shepherd that tried to bowl me (Sonja) over. I have to say that I’m not a fan. If you have a dog that’s fine off-leash, that’s okay, but if it’s going to jump on people while they are carrying a heavy pack, leave them on a leash!

Anyway… We turned on what looked like it might have been an old trail for Horseshoe Lake. From there, we quickly lost the trail but kept the ridge to our west.

A Cold Hit of Weather

The weather started moving in and a cold breeze was blowing. When it started raining we got a little off

Storms can come up fast in the mountains. Be prepared!
Storms can come up fast in the mountains. Be prepared!

course, falling below the magazine article’s suggested 11,800 feet. When we started freezing, our fingers going numb, we quickly set-up the tent and huddled in our sleeping bags until the cold storm passed.

We were relieved when at 4:00 PM the sun came out again, so we packed up the wet tent and found our way to a ridge until we could get a good view of our surroundings. And what a view! We could see the peaks around us, and the ridge we were sure the lake was near. From there we oriented our way over fields of rocks and marshy areas towards the lake and in a few hours we had happily found Horseshoe Lake.

Location, location, location

Unfortunately, we weren’t alone; one other tent with two campers was already there. But considering our last trip to a Pecos Wilderness lake included about 30 other campers, one of whom had a dog that kept barking all night, this was a treat.

Choosing a spot to set up the tent was a hard choice, as we had to decide which flat area had dead trees less

Our campsite near Horseshoe Lake
Our campsite near Horseshoe Lake

likely to squish us in our sleep. Then we had a satisfying dinner of cheese filled noodles, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and a little butter and some chocolate chip cookies.

Bear Bags!

Rebecca put up the bear bag far away from our tent, unlike our other campers that Rebecca saw their bear bag was about 5 feet from their tent and at a height that she could reach up and grab.  FYI: The idea of a bear bag is that #1 you don’t want it near your tent and #2 you don’t want the bear to be able to reach it.

The next morning was beautiful with a slight breeze across the lake. There is nothing so relaxing as standing at a quiet lake with a cup of hot coffee in hand. We took our time enjoying the morning and then had a choice. We could either hike straight up to the top of the ridge and find trail #36 or orient back through the forest over the maze of downed trees. We decided to take the ridge.

Up and over

It was a tough climb, but there is nothing more motivating to keep moving then two thunderstorms developing on either side of you while you are above tree-line. But we lucked out, the storms were stationary and at most we got sprinkled on.

Meanwhile, when we reached the top, we saw a strange creature standing among the rocks. We tried to

A marmot
A marmot

figure out what it was and couldn’t wait to rush home and find out what it was. We had never seen a marmot before. We were as curious about him as he was of us.


FYI: The Backpacker magazine article makes it sound easy, but this trip is not for beginners. For example, the “slope” they mention under #9, is a 1,000-foot ascent in 1 mile. If you try to follow the old, unkept trail, you will probably loose sight of it. Always make sure to carry a topographical map of the area you are hiking, and know how to use a compass.

Originally posted on 7/11/12 (I’m moving my old travel blog to my WordPress site and republishing this content.)

Have you recently been to Horseshoe Lake? I’d love to hear your input on how it went! Please comment below or send me an email.


Hello. I’m Sonja Dewing. I am a Writing Professional: Technical, business, and instructional writing, as well as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers. If you need a Writer, drop me a line.

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