Trail Less Traveled – Taos to South Fork – Part 1

Getting from point A to point B in the southwest presents many options using back roads and trails. On my June trip this summer I took an interesting route that I had been eyeing for the last few years. My objective was to find an off road route from Taos to Lake City taking the trails less traveled. At a later point I will connect this onto Ouray.

Carson NF

Having just finished exploring Rio Grande del Norte National Monument it was time to head North from Taos. The route I chose was to take me through the Carson and Rio Grande National Forests and along part of the Continental Divide Trail.

FS Road 83

I started this segment at the NFS Ranger Station in Tres Piedras, New Mexico where I checked on the trail conditions and purchased paper map of the National Forest. Leaviing the Ranger Station I headed north on USHW 285 looking for FS83. Finding this trail I headed west and into the mountains.

Pups playing

Slowly climbing through the trees I progressed deeper into Carson National Forest. Finally breaking out into the open I could see the tail following the ridge line up through the rolling meadows.

Turning north on FS 167 and then FS 133 I finally encountered FS87 and headed west again. FS87 is the direct route from USHW 285 into Carson NF and is a well maintained gravel route.

History can be found in very out of the way places. While passing through a fantastic aspen grove I stopped to take a look at the trees and found many names carved in the trees from the early 1900’s. From what I can tell the carvings were made by Hispanic shepherds from the valley floor.

Historic carvings

Reminiscent of the trees I just passed through, I encountered a group of ranchers moving their cattle to the high pastures for the summer.

Cattle drive

The road continues to climb towards the Cruces Basin Wilderness. Reaching Laginitas Campground FS 87 becomes rocky track continuing west as the Continental Divide Route. Climbing through the trees I encountered a number of spots that had been mud holes during the wet season, something keep in mind on future trips.

As the trail turned north I started to catch glimpses to the east of the Cruces Basin Wilderness. Pulling over on a high ridge I was able to enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of mountains and valleys extending to the east as far as I could see. The trail continues for some time on this high ridge until turning west and dropping through the trees fallowing a rocky track.

View into Cruces Basin

Reaching the valley floor I found that I could not head west towards the top of Cumbres Pass. Looking at the map later I determined that the route I wanted to follow extended through native american lands and even though I could see roads on the other side of the valley I had no way to connect with them.

The route continues heading north and I finally crossed the border into Colorado.  Loosing altitude that route has been eroded by many heavy rains and is only passable on a small double track that has been established right next to the gully.

The route continues to descend for sometime into the Rio de los Pinos valley. Nearing the bottom I could see the Cumbres and Toltec rail lines following a scenic route along the other side of the valley and the Rio de los Pinos winding its was through the narrow valley.

Reaching the bottom it was time to get my FJ Cruisers toes wet in a well established river crossing. Exiting the river the trail immediately starts climbing up the north side of the valley and reaches the back county rail station at Osier after a number of switch backs.

Rail Station

The road continues the to the ridge top heading east through meadows and groves of aspen trees. Cattle grazing along the way have been brought up from the valley floor to summer on the high ridges.

Turning north the well established road continues to the valley floor where I find blacktop and Highway 17. I must leave the dirt and head west to find the next back county segment of this trip.

Additional Photos

Carson NF Segment 1



Tomas has lived in Colorado since age 5. Having grown up on the Western Slope of Colorado lots of time was spent in the Desert Southwest. Tomas' father introduced him to the love of 4 wheeling at an early age in the high mountains around Aspen, Colorado. While an avid Mountain Biker, Tomas and his Family enjoy adventures in the mountains and desert in the remote locations that can only be reached by 4wd. Day hikes are always a must when on the family trips. While enjoying outdoor activities he wants to share his love as a certified 4wd trainer and ski instructor. Tomas also enjoys caving and cave exploration. Tomas currently resides in Colorado Springs. 

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