“A short and popular trail that has significant elevation gain. It is great for a quick out and back!”
— Bob Mosher
Birding · Cave · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife · Commonly Backpacked
Easy access and moderate terrain, plus the views are amazing.
Most of this trail is within the Wheeler Peak Wilderness—no mechanized equipment, drones etc.
This trail takes you from the upper base of Taos Ski Valley to a popular scenic lake, about half way to the summit of Wheeler Peak. Although a relatively easy hike, there is almost 1,000 ft. of elevation gain along the 2 miles
Need to Know
Although it's graded, the road to the trailhead is steep and often snowpacked during winter; 4 wheel drive is recommended
Winter travelers should be aware of the avalanche hazards along the trail, debris may be present during Spring and early Summer. As of 2018 there is no official avalanche forecasting center for this area, the Northern New Mexico Avalanche Exchange is a public forum where useful information can be found and shared:NNMAE.org
During summer 2018 the Phoenix Lodge is being rebuilt, expect to encounter construction sites and possible route alterations to access the trail.
***As of August 2018 ~ a new private neighborhood is being built where the historic Public access route for the Williams Lake Trail crosses private land. The Carson National Forest is rerouting the Williams Lake Trail across the Lake Fork of the Rio Hondo so it will be on Public Land instead of the privately held property. The new route has been established and should be completed in the near future. Currently, as this new neighborhood is being developed, several acres of trees have been cleared ~ the trail follows the approximate historic route, there are signs and barriers directing hikers through the development area to where the trail crosses back onto Public Lands by the Wheeler Peak Wilderness boundary.***
From the parking lot the trail passes the Bavarian Lodge at the bottom of Lift 4 and follows the east side of Lake Fork Creek across private land for approximately a half mile. After passing the lift, continue onto an old road leading south (to the right of a private driveway), follow this for a few hundred feet then look for the trail branching to the left just past a small stream. ***Across the next quarter mile follow the signs and trail barrier markers across the new development until the trail reenters Public Lands.*** Look for the Wheeler Peak Wilderness sign before crossing the Peace Chute avalanche path.
The route begins in Engelmann spruce stands, crosses a series of open avalanche paths and near the upper end opens up into meadowland and scattered rock fields before reaching a saddle above the lake at the junction with the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67
Williams Lake is a natural glacial lake which does not have fish because it freezes during winter. Camping and campfires are not permitted along the lake's shore to prevent damage to soil and water quality, per Wilderness Area protocol select a campsite at least 300 feet from streams, springs, and lakes. There are some good sites along the forest on the southwest side of the lake, and a primitive trail leading to a waterfall.
History & Background
During the late 1800's prospectors discovered gold and copper in this area, William Frazer began mining in Twining which produced modest amounts of sulfide ores into the early 1900's. A small mine is found on the east side of the lake, longtime locals say that Frazer worked this mine by hand until the gold was played out. Although there is no documentation of this prospect site, the earliest references to Williams Lake were from this time. There is debate among local historians about whether the lake is named for Frazer, or for Bill Williams who was most likely a fictional character attributed to stories throughout the Rocky Mountains of an early 1800's trapper.