The Taos Traverse route is unquestionably one of the most challenging big mountain runs in New Mexico. The idea is simple: Summit Villacito Mountain, Wheeler Peak, Gold Hill, and Lobo Peak—either direction—in one long push, trailhead to trailhead.
The route starts at the “Cañoncito Trailhead,” located approximately 1.6 miles up El Salto Road from the Village of Arroyo Seco on private land owned by El Salto del Aqua Land Grand. The un-signed trailhead is located on the south bank of Arroyo Seco Creek just before the road crosses the creek. Parking is limited. A self-register permit kiosk is located about 100 meters up the trail. A five dollar per person fee is required to cross the land grant, consisting of the first few miles of this trail before it enters Carson National Forest.
The well-defined Cañoncito Trail climbs to a gap on the west side of South Fork Peak. From this gap, the trail, skirting around the west side of South Fork Peak, fades. Find the ridgeline through the relatively open forest and follow it to the summit of Villacito Mountain. Continue along the exposed ridgeline—off trail—all the way over to Wheeler Peak. Expect this portion, which includes what’s known locally as “The Cirque,” to be slow-going, as several steep slopes and minor scrambling must be navigated.
From the summit of Wheeler Peak—New Mexico’s highest at 13,161 feet—follow the Bull of the Woods Trail to the Gold Hill Trail. Summiting Gold Hill requires a half mile out-and-back (yeah, I know). From Gold Hill take the Lobo Peak Trail, the first mile of which is largely cross-country along the open, rounded ridgeline. Summit Lobo Peak, then descend down the Yerba Tail to its trailhead.
Note: Water is very limited along this route. While water is available along Arroyo Seco Creek and Yerba Creek in the first and last few miles of the route, no other reliable source is available. During wetter seasons, though, water can be found at the headwaters of the Middle Fork Red River between Wheeler Peak and Frazer Mountain, as well as at Bull of the Woods Meadow near the intersection with the Gold Hill Trail. Instead of relying on either of these uncertain sources, cache water (and Coke and cookies!) at Bull of the Woods Meadow, about a two-mile hike from Taos Ski Valley.
Just getting around to posting this, but on July 30, 2021 I managed to complete this route (including Lake Fork Peak, AKA the Halladay Variation) in 12:20:48, slashing approximately 3 minutes and 9 seconds from Jason Halladay's time. I had some lightning/hail/rain/snow to deal with for much of the second half, and strongly considered bailing at various points, but managed to persist and tagged all the summits without getting zapped. Having Jason's GPX track to follow helped immensely as I had not been on most of the route (aside from the Wheeler peak section) prior to this. In good weather I think this route could be done significantly faster. I also stashed a bike to close the loop which worked well. I went unsupported, no water/food stash and no crew or assistance of any kind.
Strava Link is here: https://www.strava.com/activities/5713319248