Another S240 (sub 24 hour overnighter) in the Carson National Forest, New Mexico. Except… since we started at 5pm on Saturday, and finished at 7pm on Sunday, technically it was a 26 hour jaunt. But what’s a couple of hours between friends, hey?
Over the last couple of months, the Carson National Forest has become my local stomping ground. Ranging from low elevation, wizened junipers to 10,000ft verdant pastures, it’s a predominantly mellow but incredibly varied tract of land, laced with a spider’s web of abandoned jeep roads and cross-country singletrack. Last Sunday it was Taos (home to the South Boundary Trail), and this weekend it was back to the west side of the Rio Grande.
As time was tight on this occasion, we shortcut the climb and stashed the car higher and deeper into the forest, instead of striking out from the Hispanic hamlet of El Rito. Our aim was to arc round to the Brazos Cliffs, across to Hopewell Lake, and then pick our way along the Continental Divide Trail (the CDT) – for a taster of the long distance hiking path that links Mexico to Canada. In the event, it made for a fantastic loop: high meadows, primitive dirt roads, a short sting on pavement, some quality singletrack… and to round it off, a loose, grafty, 2000ft climb back up past the headwaters of the El Rito again. Given the brevity of the trip, things couldn’t have gone much better.
We drove up FR559 out of El Rito, turning left towards Canjilon Lakes (continuing on FR559). Abandoning the car, we then climbed north via primitive dirt road, just past 406A, connecting a series of dirt roads towards Highway 64 – meeting it at the point where the paved road does a tight loop (this route stays high on the ridge for the most part, but involves crossing a short section of private land). From there, we turned right on Highway 64 to Hopewell Lake – lots of views of the Brazos Cliffs en route. Behind the lake, we followed an old mining road, FR36A, linking it after a short bushwack with a jeep trail (parallel to the Vallecitos River), that connected in turn with the CDT. Singletrack starts just outside of the Vallecitos Ranch – there’s a small signpost on the fallen pine tree for the trail. Keep an eye out for CDT markers. The trail is steep and rocky at times. The CDT then connects with FR274 back to the headwaters of the El Rito (a 2000ft climb), dropping us off at the junction from whence we came, for the descent back to the car. If you have the time, you could easily link in the singletrack around the Canjilon Lakes (also part of the CDT) to round the loop off – that was our plan.
Unfortunately, the GPS ran out of batteries – I expect it was a good 65 miles in distance. A gpx file of this part of the the CDT might have been useful.
There’s plenty of opportunities for water. The highest elevation of the loop is around 10 500ft, so post spring/pre winter is the best time of year for the area.
Although there’s some tough climbing, and an element of navigation to contend with, the mellow grades and easy-going terrain of the Carson National Forest are ideal for anyone venturing into bikepacking.
Previous trips to the area: