This past weekend we hiked Mount Taylor which is an extinct volcano about 50 miles west of Albuquerque on I-40. Mount Taylor tops out at 11,301ft but has a prominence of 4,094ft. I was told to expect some fantastic views and I can say that Mount Taylor did not disappoint. I would actually venture to say this was the best hike to date in New Mexico. It was enough of a challenge but not so difficult that all of the fun was removed. And the views, the views were spectacular. We planned to hike Mount Taylor via the Gooseberry Trail which is the most common route to the summit. All Trails has the route as 6.2 miles round trip with 2,017ft of elevation gain.
Our trip hit a snag called three snoozed alarms at 6am. We both had long weeks so the motivation to get out of a warm bed was not high. Eventually we made it up and on the road with quick stops for gas and coffee. The trip to the trailhead took about 90 minutes. Most of the drive was down I-40 to Grants, NM then onto New Mexico Highway 547 with the last 5 miles down Forest Service Road 193 which was a well maintained dirt road. The trail head was small with only parking for about 5 cars however, we were only the second car there. We got all of our gear on and leashed up our German Shepherd who was coming with for this trip and set off at around 9am with a temperature of around 38 degrees.
The first 1.5 miles of the hike felt relatively flat although it was actually a slight incline. We were in a pine forest that makes for an easy start to the hike. Before we exited the forest we passed through some Aspen groves which I think are the prettiest trees ever. Just look at some of those pictures. Next the hike opened up into a huge field and really started the uphill. It felt weird to be out in a meadow like environment in New Mexico, I mean there was actually grass! At this point our view really started to open up and we get a hint of what this hike will be. The next six tenths of a mile was a solid uphill section that really got the heart rate going but then it eased up for a bit and the the trail wrapped around the mountain. This point had some stunning views of the elevation we still had to gain and of the surrounding hills.
As we continued around we come to see Mount Taylor and across the gully and the couple of switchbacks that lead to the top. I think when you can look across at a mountain and see the trail trace its way up is just one of the coolest sights in hiking. The last 1.2 miles had about 900ft of elevation gain to the summit. The path was a series of three switchbacks that had a bunch of wind exposure. We had to throw our rain jackets back on after warming up earlier. The last switchback provided a bit of a false summit that was a tad demoralizing. However, we only had about three tenths of a mile with not too much incline left to the summit of Mount Taylor.
At the top there is a big summit sign with the mountains elevation. We relaxed for a few minutes to eat snacks and took pictures before starting back downhill to the car. The whole trip took us 3 hours and 13 minutes with 2 hours and 52 of that moving. We covered 7 miles with 2,034ft of elevation gain averaging 2.4mph. We definitely sped way up on the downhill thanks to the German Shepherd tank who wanted to do the return at a solid trot. We stopped at Mount Taylor Coffee Co. in Grants for coffee and a muffin before making the drive back to Albuquerque.
Overall I can’t recommend this trail enough. It had some solid sections of incline but nothing that was just demoralizing or rough on the knees for the descent. Plus who doesn’t love a good series of switchbacks with a wide open view back across the way. The views were fantastic and unlike anything I’ve seen in New Mexico to date. I felt like I was in Colorado. The open fields provided a fantastic view of the Sandia’s and Monzano’s back to the east. Mount Taylor might not be the tallest mountain but its’ prominence completely makes up for it.