Every once in a while a bit of writing reminds that me not everything worth doing and seeing in New Mexico happens around a dining room table. So today it’s my pleasure to host Scott Moses, who has something to say about the great New Mexico outdoors.
Few places combine natural beauty with a rich and interesting history better than those in the New Mexico wilderness.
Yet the state is often overlooked when compared with some other vacation spots in the Western United States.
So if you’re looking for a relatively unexplored region of the country to get your fill of rugged desert scenery, Native American mythology, and star-filled skies, New Mexico is the place for you.
Below are seven of the top wilderness areas in New Mexico. The first four are located in the Southern part of the state.
And each of these amazing places offers a one-of-a-kind experience.
New Mexico Wilderness, South
Gila Wilderness Area
As the largest designated wilderness area in the state, the Gila is also the world’s first officially designated wilderness area, and for good reason. This massive region follows the different forks of the Gila River and boasts a number of unique and diverse ecosystems.
The Gila Wilderness has a little bit of everything ~ from spruce-fir and quaking aspen forests at the higher regions to lowland piñon and juniper to desert scrub brush.
There are dozens of places to visit throughout the area. But the cliff dwelling ruins left by the Mimbres people are definitely worth putting near the top of your list.
Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area
The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area borders the Gila. Actually, it’s part of the larger Gila National Forest. This area follows the Black Range Mountains and a portion of the Continental Divide weaves through its peaks.
There are over 200 miles of trails throughout this wilderness area.
And the scarcity of water makes it one of the most “wild” and less visited areas in the country.
But if you’re looking for solitude and don’t mind bringing along a good amount of water, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area is a great choice for a getaway.
Blue Range Wilderness Area
The Blue Range Wilderness is another area worth exploring.
It’s in the same region as the Gila and Aldo Leopold Areas and borders the Arizona border.
And from the Mogollon Rim, the spectacular escarpment running through portions of this wilderness area, you can take in fantastic views of the surrounding valley.
The Blue Range is also a great place to spot rare wild animals. These include the timber wolf, the cougar, and the white-nosed coati.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is made for bird watchers.
This beautiful area, home to many Native American groups, is located along the Rio Grande River in Southern New Mexico.
Literally, hundreds of species of birds and other animals live in this region. Yet most people come in the fall to watch the migration of thousands of sandhill cranes.
New Mexico Wilderness, North
Pecos Wilderness Area
The Pecos Wilderness Area, founded in 1980, spans over 345 square miles. (This means you’ll have plenty of spaces to explore!)
It’s located near the southernmost point of the Rocky Mountain Range, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains,
Now, unlike other parts of New Mexico wilderness, the Pecos Wilderness Area is cool and forested.
A landscape of narrow canyons, tree-covered slopes, and mountain tops make this wilderness area a great place to escape the desert heat. Here you can enjoy mountainous terrain that few people associate with New Mexico.
Bandelier National Monument
The Bandelier National Monument offers perhaps the best combination of desert ecosystems with Native American history.
Ancestors of the Puebloan people who today live in the nearby Rio Grande Valley once made their home on Bandelier’s Pajarito Plateau.
If you visit the Bandelier National Monument, you’ll want to take the time to hike the Yapashi Ruins Trail. This ancient Native American route takes you through canyons and across plateaus to ruins the Puebloans call a “sacred enclosure.”
That makes this hike a mystical experience you can´t miss.
Carson National Forest
While not technically a wilderness area, the Carson National Forest near Taos in Northern New Mexico is too spectacular to leave off this list.
The lush tree-covered slopes and vibrant streams ~
~ couldn’t be more different from the other wilderness areas mentioned earlier.
If you make it to the Carson National Forest, be sure to hike the 5-mile round trip Gavilan Trail. This unique trail begins at 9,000 feet and takes you through meadows filled with dozens of types of wildflowers.
On a clear day, you can see all the way into Colorado as well.
Plan Your Get Away to the New Mexico Wilderness
If you’re planning a perfect vacation out west, it’s always a good idea to combine a visit to a well-known national park with a stopover to a less visited area. While the national parks offer access to some beautiful areas, the hundreds of wilderness areas, national forests, national monuments and state parks also offer wonderful natural areas.
Scott Moses lives in Brooklyn, New York.
And escapes the city every chance he gets.
But when he’s not backpacking in the Adirondacks, skiing the Catskills or walking his favorite pooch, you can find him writing about national parks and other remarkable outdoor places to see all around the U.S. at his blog Live Once Live Wild.