Carson National Forest

Page 2 of 2   |  
Article Menu
Horses in Carson National Forest
Horses in Carson National Forest (Rich Reid/National Geographic/Getty)

Named for Kit Carson, noted frontier scout, the Carson National Forest offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the West including the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a portion of the Pecos Wilderness, and Wheeler Peak, 13,160 feet high and the highest point in the Southwest. Indian cultures that flourished in the shadows of these somber heights were followed by the Spanish settlers more than three centuries ago. The Carson is part of the Forest Service's Southwestern Region. The Forest Supervisor maintains his headquarters at Taos from where he oversees the activities of seven District Forest Rangers. District Offices for the 1.5 million-acre forest are at Canjilon, El Rita, Gobernador, Penasco, Questa, Taos, and Tres Piedras.

The high, cool country of the Carson National Forest is, geologically speaking, a southern extension of the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Ranges of Colorado.

West of Tres Piedras is high plateau land from 8,000 to nearly 11,000 feet. Open parks and meadows alternate with stands of spruce, fir, and aspen. Across the Rio Grande Gorge to the east, Taos lies at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Red River Canyon, Hondo Canyon, Taos Canyon, U.S. Hill, and the Rio Pueblo give access to the scenic delights of perennial mountain streams, high alpine valleys, and virgin spruce-fir forests. Far to the west the isolated Jicarilla District occupies a lonely land of high mesas covered with ponderosa pine and juniper.

There are 86,193 acres of wilderness in the Carson. Wilderness is land set as part of wild America, where man can be a visitor. The natural environment has not been disturbed. Travel is restricted to foot or horseback. No mechanized equipment is allowed. Wilderness areas include: Wheeler Peak, Latir Peak, Pecos, Cruces Basin, and the Chama River Canyon. The Columbine-Hondo Area has been proposed as a wilderness.

Recreation Opportunities
The Carson National Forest offers unlimited recreational opportunities in any season. The magnificent mountain scenery and cool summer temperatures lure vacationers to enjoy the peace and quiet for fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking. Winter activities include skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. The locally popular Sipapu ski resort is situated in the Forest.

For those who want to get away. Thirty-nine campgrounds are available; 11 have drinking water and toilets; 28 do not have drinking water. The Carson provides opportunities for backcountry car and backpack camping. With a few exceptions, visitors can roam the woods at will, wrapped in a cloak of peace and quiet.

Big game animals roam the Carson. They include mule deer, elk, antelope, black bear, mountain lion, and bighorn sheep. There are also many species of smaller animals and songbirds. Wildflowers abound. Forest personnel work closely with the State Game and Fish Department to provide the best wildlife habitat possible.

The Carson has 400 miles of sparkling clean mountain streams and many lakes that offer outstanding trout fishing. There are rainbow, eastern brook, German brown, and cutthroat trout. Among the more popular fishing streams are the La Junta, Santa Barbara, El Rito, Rio Pueblo, Rio Hondo, Red River, Rio San Antonio, and Rio Grande. Better known lakes include Hopewell, Cabresto, Trout, Canjilon, and Lagunitas, all accessible by road. The Wildernesses hold several more. Many are stocked with native trout by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

There are 330 miles of trails, some maintained by volunteer groups. Opportunities abound for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and four-wheel-drive exploring. Many summer hiking trails and forest roads become cross-country ski and snowmobile trails in winter.

Some of the finest alpine downhill skiing in the US is found in Taos Ski Valley, Red River, and Sipapu Ski Areas. All are located within the Forest. In addition, Angel Fire Ski Area is located on nearby private land.

Scenic Drives
Scenic drives in the forest include sections of the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos, Taos-Eagle Nest-Red River loop; and Tres Piedras to El Rito or Tierra Amarilla.

Towns Nearby
Chama, Cimarron, Questa, Farmington, Taos, and Tierra Amarilla.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 12 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Page 2 of 2


park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »

Ask Questions