EACH FALL, NORTHERN NEW MEXICO’S glimmering aspen groves draw hikers and leaf peepers to bathe in the golden light. But for those willing to go farther afield, the Land of Enchantment’s color wheel turns from yellow to ranges of orange, pink, and brilliant red. Here are three autumn hikes to expand your palette.
FOURTH OF JULY TRAIL
Named for its fireworks-like display of fall foliage, the Fourth of July Trail is one of the few places in New Mexico where you can see bigtooth maple turn yellow, orange, and fire-engine red. When the ground is covered in leaves and the maple colors mix with the orange oak leaves, deep evergreens, and pink shrubs of the understory, this hike immerses you in the visual wonderland of the Manzano Mountains. The first mile of the trail leads through the most spectacular portion of the canyon. A five-mile loop and spur trail take you to the ridgetop for tremendous views of the Río Grande and Estancia valleys. This trail is very popular, so go early in the day or during the week to ensure a parking spot.
Peak foliage: Early to mid-October
Distance: One mile or five miles
CATWALK NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL
In early November, huge Arizona sycamores, a species found only in the Southwest, form a colorful canopy over Whitewater Creek at the mouth of the Catwalk National Recreation Trail. The trees’ unique mottled gray-and-sage bark brings to life the reaching, twisted branches and large orange and brick-red leaves. Sycamores thrive and grow to heights of 80 feet in several canyons in the Gila National Forest. Thanks to their horizontally spreading roots, the hardy sycamores stayed in place during the catastrophic flooding in 2013, following the Whitewater-Baldy Fire, that wiped out the catwalk. The rebuilt walkway is bolted into the narrow slot canyon walls hovering up to 20 feet above the water. The trail continues a half mile beyond the end of the catwalk, where the creek cascades over the pink and orange rhyolite volcanic rock and forms a whispering waterfall and swimming hole. The U.S. Forest Service has several projects planned in summer and fall 2023 to restore access to Whitewater Trail No. 207, which climbs the mountain to Hummingbird Saddle.
Peak foliage: Early November
Distance: 1.25 miles
Difficulty: Easy (catwalk portion is ADA accessible)
COLUMBINE CANYON TRAIL
Following a creek to a high alpine meadow below Lobo Peak, this out-and-back trail in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness oscillates between yellow aspen groves, flowering mountain meadows, and evergreen forests. During summer, the trail is loaded with a rainbow of wildflowers, including numerous varieties of its namesake: columbines. Walk this trail at the end of September to encounter the last of the season’s yellow and purple wildflowers with fall golden leaves overhead. Due to the trail’s remote location, you may have the golden groves to yourself.
Peak foliage: End of September to early October
Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty: Moderate (the last 1.5 miles are difficult due to steepness)
Read more: From the trembling of aspen gold in the Tusas Mountains to a riot of red, orange, and yellow in the Gila National Forest, the wonders of autumn in New Mexico spark a desire to get out and explore.