Cumbres Pass CDT Trail South Hike – 07/12/2023

This post is for a 2nd hike that we made with Jay, Nancy, and Bo during a camping trip to Cumbres Pass and the Trujillo Meadows campground (10,000 feet elevation and above). Check out the 1st hike, Red Lake Trail Hike – 07/11/2023.

The Drive In

Repeating here The Drive In from the post for the 1st hike:

We chose to avoid I-25 and US 84, both busy roadways, and instead chose a route through Cuba (I-25 to Bernalillo, then US 550). Four miles beyond Cuba we turned right on NM 96. Upon reaching the sharp right turn of NM 96, we turned left to continue north on NM 112. The first 27 miles is paved; from there to El Vado dam (19 miles) the road is well maintained gravel; we kicked up quite a plume of dust behind us at 35-45 MPH. Tho’ a  sign warned us of the possibility of a delay of up to 2 hours, we took our chances – and won – no delay at the El Vado dam.

The road to cross El Vado dam is interesting. It is one lane down a very steep incline, then very narrow lane across the dam itself. We were OK with the R-Pod but would not attempt to cross here with anything larger. From there, NM 96 is paved to the intersection with US-84; then it was on to Chama. Borrowing the remainder of The Drive In from the post for last year’s trip:

“We drove from Albuquerque to Chama and continued on NM 17 up to the crest of Cumbres Pass (the highway becomes CO 17 as it passes into Colorado). For a good part of the way, Hwy 17 follows the tracks of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, aka Cumbres and Toltec Railroad to the crest where there is a small railyard.

Our campsite in Trujillo Meadows Campground. Atop a hill in the middle of the campground, we had great views in all directions.


Continuing past the crest for 1/4 mile, we turned left onto FR 118 (a good Class 3 road, tho’ there are some sections of serious washboard); in 2.5 miles turn right at the entrance to the campground. (Adjacent to the campground is Trujillo Meadows Reservoir. There are some sites that look down upon the reservoir and there is a road from the campground entrance to a boating ramp; we did not investigate either.) (We met Jay and Nancy in the same campsite that we used last year.)

The Red Lake trail is a bit further north on CO 17 — 6.4 miles from the turnoff to the Trujillo Meadows Campground. Turn left onto FR 113, a Class 3 road towards Red Lake — 3.5 miles. The road makes a sharp 180° turn to the left — parking is on the right up a short rise.”

The Hike

Cumbres Pass CDT Trail South Hike.PatJayNancyBo.2023-07-12

Notes about the Google Earth screenshot: the graph at the bottom shows elevation of the track (pink area) and speed (the blue line).

All of us agreed – this was among the most spectacular hikes that we’ve taken. I had hiked this trail in 2021 while Pat was attending a workshop in Chama. But I didn’t remember just how spectacular it is; Pat, Jay, and Nancy to brought it into focus for me.

The trail begins from the parking area on the right side of CO 17 at the top of Cumbres Pass, just below (west of) the Cumbres and Toltec train station. The trailhead is well marked and well used – smooth ground through pine and fir forest bordered by grass and many varieties of flowers. It presents easy ascent for about 200 feet of elevation gain (with switchbacks) to get atop a long ridge (about half a mile).

Along the ridge the views are amazing: to the west down the valley with the C&T tracks twisting their way to the top of Cumbres Pass, mountains in the distance to the north, and down the valley of Rio de los Piños and the railroad tracks.

The trail continues on the ridge for 8/10ths of a mile, descending 100 feet or so. It then enters a somewhat dense forest and begins to climb again, an easy ascent in and out of forest with a great overlook 2.2 miles into the hike. This was our plan for the day, 4+ miles – we turned back.

As we hiked along the ridge we kept our eyes on the railroad tracks. Our timing was good – the 10 o’clock train was on its way from Chama. We watched it stop at a water tank, then continue up to the station at Cumbres Pass. What a sight, especially as it rounded the steep end of a ridge on an embankment that must have been a marvel of engineering a 100+ years ago.



It was unanimous – this is among the best trails we’ve hiked – easy with marvelous, spectacular views. And Bo is getting his trail legs.

Jay here: Yep, they don’t say Bo is a Westie for nothing. Terriers are diggers but so far, Bo just digs coming along on the trail. Views from this hike were much better than average for sure, and the train going up the valley was a bonus.



Total Distance:   4.54
Elevation: start  9,964 ft, maximum  10,342 ft,  minimum  9,964 ft
Gross gain:  378 ft.  Aggregate ascending  997 ft, descending  995 ft
Maximum slope: 26% ascending, 27% descending, 7.0% average
Duration: 3:27, Average Speed: 1.3 mph

GPS Track Files for Download
If you haven’t explored these hiking tracks with Google Earth, I urge you to try it. With the virtual 3-dimensional presentation, achieved by panning and tilting the view, you can get a much better idea of the hikes and terrain than you can get from the screenshot above. For some ideas, check out  Using Google Earth Track Files.

Related Posts

Hikes around Cumbres Pass

References and Resources

TrailForks: Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Complete
GAIA GPS:  Continental Divide Trail
MTB Project: CDT: Cumbres Pass to lagunitas (NM Section 31)
Mountain Photography: Continental Divide Trail through the South San Juans
Wikipedia: Cumbres Pass
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad: The Ride of a Lifetime

This entry was posted in 2023, Camping, CDT, Hiking, Northern New Mexico and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cumbres Pass CDT Trail South Hike – 07/12/2023

  1. Vincent H Humann says:

    This is really an informative posting. This such a spectacular area to explore and timing it for a view of the train is such a bonus.

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