Just before the first snows fell in Taos County, NM, Terry and I were in the mood for a new trail for our typical Saturday morning hike. One of the few local trails we had not tried was Gavilan Trail in Hondo Canyon on the way to the Taos Ski Valley. We had avoided that trail upon the advice of a fellow hiker who had quipped, “I call that fall on your butt trail,” and went on to describe how steep and unpleasant her hike had been.
Nonetheless, looking for something new, we decided to give it a try. We checked out the map and instructions provided by the Carson National Forest and had learned that it was named Gavilan Canyon as gavilan means “hawk” in the Spanish language. The trail was said to ascend quickly, like a hawk, gaining 2000 feet in the first section of the trail, though it was only 2.2 miles long and the total elevation gain was only 2,200 feet. We reasoned that must mean that the trail would level out nicely after about the first mile. The forest service literature confirmed this, indicating the first section of this trail is difficult but become easier as the trail opens up into meadows near the ridge.
We started hiking with a bit of trepidation, but were pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the hike was. Perplexed by our friend’s description of her miserable hike, we commented to a young woman we met who was jogging UP the trail how much we were enjoying it. She informed us that it was a much nicer trail since the forest service had put in several large switchbacks the year before. This explained the disparity between our experience and that of our friend.
We continued on, thoroughly enjoying our hike. We were climbing but were looking forward to the trail leveling out after we had ascended about 2000 feet, which had to be coming up soon. Well, the new switchbacks had to have lengthened the trail by a good mile or more, making our 4.4 round trip hike more of a 6-7 mile round trip hike. The trail did level out nicely and we tramped through several lovely meadows and topped to have our lunch of an apple and a Clif bar. It was delightful. Much to our dismay, however, once we resumed our hike, the trail quickly began to climb again, even more steeply than before. The entire last mile of the hike was a tough slog uphill that did little to appease my mood at that point.
The moral of this story is, this is a lovely hike if you avoid the end. It is very pleasant and more open than most of the other canyon hikes with can be a bit closed in. The views from the meadows are lovely and worth the hike. But you need not proceed to the top of the ridge unless you are a glutton for punishment. Save yourself the trouble; the views at the top are not as nice as those from the meadow. And feel free to look over the forest service description, but don’t believe everything you read.
Read more about New Mexico campgrounds and things to do in New Mexico.