Sauntering in the Sangres – Latir Peak Wilderness

There are some trips where I want to walk all day and immerse myself in the rhythms of the day. Watch the sun rise as I break camp and walk into the twilight of the waning day.

A trip where many miles are covered and where much elevation is gained.

This trip was not that kind of a trip.

It was a trip of a slower pace. Where we are in camp early and where we sleep to the sound of the falling rain.

It was a trip with Ms. A.

And it was an enjoyable one.

The chosen trip for Labor Day Weekend was to the Latir Peaks Wilderness in northern New Mexico.

The web page link sums up this area best:

Relatively unknown and untraveled, the Latir Peak Wilderness is classic southern Rocky Mountain high country-emerald meadows, alpine grasslands and tundra, small, clear lakes, spruce-fir forest and some of New Mexico’s highest peaks.

From Latir Peak’s rounded summit, look north and you can see, hazy in the distance, the jagged fang of Colorado’s 14,317 -foot Blanca Peak; the view to the south reveals 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain. In the company of southern Rocky Mountain giants such as these, the grassy 12,000-foot mountains of the Latir Peak Wilderness might seem easy to overlook. Indeed, many people do, for this, the fifth-smallest New Mexico wilderness, attracts few visitors. Yet four of the state’s 20 highest mountains-Venado Peak (12,734 feet), Latir Peak (12,708), Latir Mesa (12,692), and Virsylvia Peak (12,594)-are here.

The intimacy of the area was just right for the trip Ms. A  and I wanted to do. Small and scenic with low mileage.

Ms. A is working full time while in pursuit of her masters degree ; any free time spent together is a valuable commodity.

And the Laitr Peaks Wilderness would prove to be the perfect place to spend this holiday weekend together.

The trip started by driving up a rough jeep road to the shores of the man-man Cabresto Lake.


As we made our way up the trail, someone was all smiles.  It was her first overnight trip since April and she was relishing again being in the wilderness.


We made our way through the mixed blue spruce and aspen forest and to above treeline. The sky was overcast but the views still dramatic. Some easy off-trail hiking brought us to the summit of Cabresto Peak.



The ridge walk was beautiful.  At the top, we had views to the Rio Grande Gorge and the surrounding volcanic plain.

The summit register of this seldom visited peak goes back to 1967!


We descended back to the trail (after not paying attention and following an old, non-maintained trail for about a mile! 🙂 ) and made our way along the ridge.



As we approached the part of open tundra that would lead up to Latir Mesa, we decided enough climbing (over 3500′ gain in ~8 miles…a long day for my better half!) was done for the day and it was time to call it good.

We descanted down the Lagunaita drainage and made camp not far from a small creek and sheltered in the dense trees.

Just as I put the final pole in our shelter, the rain started coming down.

The hard rain lulled us into a comfortable nights sleep in our water tight and comfortable shelter.

The following morning, we slept in as we waited for the early morning drizzle to clear.

It proved to be a good choice as we gained the ridge in weather that had clearing skies and weather turning sunny.

The above treeline ridge walk was stunning.

Many the rock formations were found along the ridge as well.


We continued further up the ridge. I was often reminded of my first backpacking trips in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.




We left the trail and headed up to Latir Peak.

Just before the summit, I spied four big horn sheep!


These majestic creatures were part of the herd we spied in the distance the day before. To see the up close was an unexpected surprise.

After admiring the bighorns, we attained the summit.


After Latir Peak, we hiked off-trail and down to the larger of the Latir Lakes.

The lakes were pristine, quiet and beautiful.


From the third Latir Lake (starting from the one highest in elevation), we hiked cross country. We stumbled upon a ‘ghost trail’ the lead through the talus and to the saddle we wanted to climb.  From the saddle, the ghost trail continued and and off (and occasionally marked with cairns) to Heart Lake.

Until Latir Peak, we had not seen any people..and only from a distance at the peak.

At Heart Lake and the trail leading back to the car, we started seeing people up close.

The Latir Peak Wilderness is a little used area. But, what backcountry use there is seems to congregate at Heart Lake.

No matter…perhaps a dozen people (based on cars we saw back at the trailhead and tents we saw at Heart Lake) in a wilderness area on a holiday weekend is unbelievable to someone used to the Front Range hordes. A quick hello to one couple heading up the lake in the late afternoon and we again were by ourselves.

The hike down the trail was in again in the mixed blue spruce and aspen forest that was scenic in a away that (again) reminded me of my first backpacking trips back in New Hampshire.



The hiking down proved to be easy compared to the day  before.

We decided to push to the free campground at the lake and spend our last night there.

The lake proved to be active with day users up there to fish…or to spend less than a half hour to simply check out the lake.

A cold beer, a comfy camp chair and a quick tailgate meal proved to be the right combo as we watched the placid lake. With the coming of the night only ourselves and one other couple enjoyed the quiet setting.

Morning came and we drove to nearby Taos for breakfast.

We made our way back slowly and indulged in our past time of checking out local history along the way back. (Santa Fe Trail history  in this case at the small village of Cimarron near the New Mexico/Colorado border.  Well known to many people who started their outdoor adventures via the Boy Scouts.)

Another weekend ended.

Another memorable trip done.

And we are already looking forward to our next trip together.

My trips with Ms. A  are different from my solo ones.

The miles are shorter and the days perhaps less intense.

But they are just as memorable and rewarding.

And to spend time in the wilderness with a person I am making a life with?

It is a gift I hope to enjoy, cherish and look forward to for many years to come.




Getting There:  This page has excellent info on a general route and driving directions.

The approach is a rough jeep road. We saw a Subaru Outback up there and a car with that much clearance should be fine.  We also saw a Volkswagen Jetta up there. Could be dicey with a passenger car with that little clearance…but they obviously did it..probably slowly and carefully!

If you do not wish to navigate this road, there is a large pullout just before FS-134A. It will be an ~2mi walk up the road.

Camping: Cabresto Lake is a free campground that is perfect for the night before the start of the trip. The lake is used for day trippers. Despite what other websites may state, we did not find the area overly busy, esp for a holiday weekend.

Speaking of which, based on a rough tent and car count, we did not see many people at all! Most people (all?) seemed to congregate at Heart Lake. The side of the lake heading towards the ridge had less people. The drainage along the old trail had some nice camp sites no one was using.

The route: We went up the Lake Fork Trail to the Bull Creek Trail to Cabresto Peak. From Cabresto Peak we accidentally followed an old trail by “Cabresto Sur Este” , followed back to the current trail and down the Lagunaitas drainage and camped in the trees.

The following morning we hiked back up to the trail, tagged Latir, headed off-trail to the Latir Lakes, followed a ‘ghost trail’  (my name for a trail on an old map, but not on new ones. Usually not actively maintained) to Hear Lake.  From Heart Lake we followed the Lake Fork Trail back to the car. All told, ~5000′ gain and perhaps 16+ miles total on the modified route we did.

Maps:  The Wheeler Wilderness and Latir Peak Wilderness Map is overall a good map. However, many details (on purpose?) are missing. The ghost trail(s) are obviously gone. But so are maintained trails and features still in use (a cabin and a known, private, camp site open to the public and an obvious signed trail).  I’d also get the Latir topo for more details and features not found on the other map. I found out about some of the features post-hike from this online map.

A note about Latir Lakes: The lakes are on private property but recreational access is allowed for a fee. Contact  the Rio Costilla Co-Op  for more information. Google “Land Grant History” for this fascinating part of history pertaining to southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

Post Backpack Mang’:  The Bent Street Cafe’ and Deli has an excellent breakfast burrito with delicious “Xmas Chili” smothering it for a reasonable price. Ms. A also loved her Southwest-style chicken sausage on special. I sneaked a bite and I thought it was good. 🙂

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12 years ago

OK Mags – you have me thinking that Latir Peak Wilderness needs to be incorporated into the loop. (Latir, Inc.) The scenery, the solitude, the cloven-hooved beasties! Quintessential New Mexico… but especially the solitude. Whether it’s the CDT, the GET, or wherever you go, there you are. And more often than not, it’s yours alone to savor. Thanks for documenting the enchantment!

Paul Mags
12 years ago
Reply to  blisterfree

Glad you liked it! As you mentioned on CDT-L, it may be difficult to get from Latir to the Rio Grande Gorge. But, it would provide a scenic contrast!

12 years ago

Great writing style – you not only give a sense of the place but also convey the mood. Then next time I’m down in New Mexico I’ll follow your lead and try exploring this area – thanks again for your writing!

12 years ago

As always, love the pictures and enjoy reading about your ramblings. My love to Adrianna.

12 years ago

Enjoyed the trip report! Any elevation advantage to taking the loop route clockwise?

fred brown
fred brown
5 years ago

Hiking down to the Latir Lakes poses some risk as you’re trespassing onto the Rio Costilla Park. The lakes are accessible from the north via a 4-wheel drive road after paying a fee. The Rio Costilla Park is owned and operated by the Rio Costilla Cooperative Livestock Association – RCCLA –.