For a Challenge: Wheeler Peak
The state’s highest mountain, in Carson National Forest, reaches 13,161 feet. Start early from the trailhead at Taos Ski Valley, and as you wind your way through alpine tundra vegetation you might encounter marmots, pikas, elk, mule deer, and golden eagles. Although the spring thaw means you likely won’t need snowshoes, it’s wise to be prepared with MicroSpikes or YakTrax.
Length: 15 miles round trip / Elevation: 9,400 to 13,161 feet / Strenuous
You might also like: Santa Fe Baldy, La Luz Trail (Sandía Mountains near Albuquerque)
For a Waterfall: Sitting Bull Falls
A paved path leads to the foot of this 130-foot waterfall 43 miles west of Carlsbad. Arrive in the morning, when the sun illuminates the swimming pools below the falls, then continue up the trail to the area above the falls, on your way to Sitting Bull Spring. You’ll find many wildflowers and aquatic plants here during the summer. Just beyond the spring, perch on the canyon rim for a spectacular panorama of the Lincoln National Forest.
Length: 3.8 miles round trip / Elevation: 5,250 to 5,500 feet / Easy
Also consider: Trigo Canyon (Manzano Mountains near Belén), Jémez Falls (near Jémez Springs)
For a Bizarre Landscape:
Hoodos, spires, arches, pinnacles, and mushroom rocks are just a few of the otherworldly formations you’ll encounter as you trek across the colorful eroded badlands of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, near Farmington. Long ago, the area was
a coastal swamp, filled with trees
and primitive mammals, reptiles, and dinosaurs. Today the wetland has been preserved as a desert wilderness. Pleasant temperatures make this time of year suitable for exploring this exposed landscape. You won’t find designated trails, but you can follow the well-worn flat areas surrounding the washes.
Length: 4 miles round trip / Elevation: 5,770 to 5,859 feet / Easy
Also consider: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument (near Cochiti Lake),
Chavez Canyon (near Chama)
For Caves: Cave Creek
Start at the Panchuela campground in the Pecos Wilderness. From the trailhead, you’ll hike alongside the Panchuela and Cave creeks. The gentle incline is lined with wildflowers and thick vegetation in summer. The water eventually disappears into a series of caves—and so will you, if you’re not careful. The caves are cold, wet, and slippery; come prepared with a headlamp, warm clothes, and practical shoes.
Length: 6 miles round trip / Elevation: 8,320 to 9,100 feet / Easy
Also consider: North Slaughter Canyon (Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness near Carlsbad)
For Solitude: Mogollon Baldy
If you’re in for more than a day hike, this two- to three-day excursion culminates at a remote mountaintop fire lookout in the heart of the remote Gila Wilderness (during the summer, a Forest Service ranger is stationed here). To summit, you’ll follow Trail 182, starting at Sandy Point, along the crest of the Mogollon Range, the highest mountains in southern New Mexico. Just before reaching the peak, you’ll trade the dense forest for stunning views of southern New Mexico and Arizona.
Length: 24 miles / Elevation: 9,132 to 10,770 feet / Moderate
Also consider: Blackwater Hole (Coronado National Forest near Animas), Capitán Peak (Capitán Mountains near Capitán)