Hillsides of bare aspen trees, with their alabaster trunks and rocky cliffs shining silent in the sun, mark the coming of late fall to Taos. With many sunny days ahead, this is a good time to visit the forest.
Hopewell Lake Trail is located about an hour northwest of Taos past Tres Piedras in the Carson National Forest. In addition to being a beautiful trek through the trees along Hopewell Ridge, this trail is also significant because it is part of the Continental Divide Trail that runs from Canada to Mexico.
Hopewell Lake is a day use area with picnic shelters and restroom facilities. There is a campground just beyond it. Fishing is allowed at the lake, which is stocked by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
To find the trail, look for the group picnic shelter and the trail sign on the hill just above it. A short segment of trail leads through the aspen and evergreen forest to the campground. Follow the campground road and look for the trail sign on the right to rejoin the route. The path crosses an open field and once more heads into the forest, first turning west and then south.
Because it is part of the Continental Divide Trail, the route is marked with frequent “CDT” emblems on posts and trees. There are also rocks stacked into small cairns that help hikers keep on the trail. A gradual uphill climb leads to a gate marked by the CDT symbol. Pass through the gate and cross Forest Road 91B.
There are fire rings that mark the areas used for camping by some of the through hikers who are making the trek from border to border. On a recent visit, a dusting of snow on the ground showed prints of rabbits, squirrels and coyotes — and there were signs of elk and deer as well. Many birds could be seen including the bright blue Steller’s jay and a variety of woodpeckers. Off to the east are views towards the ridges and plateau beyond.
The trail continues, sometimes following a forest road and other times along a single track section. Watch for the light blue CDT markers to stay on the trail. After about 2.5 miles, the path reaches an overlook to the south and east toward Burned Mountain at 10,192 feet.
This is a nice spot for lunch and makes for a good end of a day hike. For those who want to hike farther, the developed part of the trail continues for another 14 miles.
To return to the trailhead, retrace your steps to the picnic shelter where you began. This section of trail rises about 375 feet, beginning near 9,730 feet and ending at 10,111 feet.
The group picnic shelter marks the site of the mining town of Hopewell. Established in the late 1800s, it was a gold mining camp of about 2,000 people and had its own post office, before the gold ran out. According to Robert Julyan, author of “The Place Names of New Mexico,” the mining camp was likely named for Willard S. Hopewell, who was engaged in cattle and mining enterprises around 1878.
Remnants of the town and the mining operation are visible along the road that follows Placer Creek to the southwest. The road goes through a series of gates and past a sign that describes the restrictions on panning for gold in the area.
Continental Divide Trail
This trail traverses 3,100 miles between Canada and Mexico. “It follows the backbone of the country,” says Jeff Mugleston, CDT coordinator for the Carson National Forest. He says that there are more than 750 miles of the trail in New Mexico.
Not all of the trail is complete, although there is a goal to have the route in place in the Carson National Forest by 2018, according to Mugleston. When done, there will be a total of 105 miles in this section of the forest. Work began in 1978 with an Act of Congress authorizing the creation of the trail. A general route was planned and then the work began to locate the trail on the ground. This part of the route is not actually on the Continental Divide, but miles away, because the national forest offered the most promising length of public land that could accommodate the trail.
Last year about 225 hikers made the trip northbound from Mexico to Canada. Mountain bikes are allowed on certain sections of the CDT trail that do not pass through wilderness areas. Future plans include constructing a formal trailhead at the site of the group picnic shelter and improving signage. As the trail is completed, it will join the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails as options to cross America from north to south.
Temperatures are dropping and snow may be found at any time, especially at higher elevations. Be sure to add warm layers, a hat and gloves to your backpack — and carry plenty of water and high energy food with you.
From Taos Plaza, go north on Paseo del Pueblo four miles to the intersection with U.S. 64. Turn west towards the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and go just over 27 miles to Tres Piedras. Continue west on U.S. 64 for another 19 miles to Hopewell Lake. Turn left at the sign just past mile marker 205. Find the group picnic shelter next to the closed road and look for the trail sign. Certain times of year, there is a fee to use the area. Check the entry kiosk for instructions.
For more information
Contact the Tres Piedras Ranger District at (575) 758-8678, or visit the office located just west of Tres Piedras. For more on the CDT, visit continentaldividetrail.org. For those planning a through hike, consider the CDT hiker app from Guthook Hikes LLC.
Brown is the author of the Taos Hiking Guide, winner of the 2016 New Mexico-Arizona book award for sports and recreation. The guide is available at local retailers and at nighthawkpress.com. Reach Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.