Backpacking in New Mexico: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in New Mexico: Two backpackers on a desert trail in New Mexico

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in New Mexico offers the chance to explore breathtaking natural landscapes, from vast deserts and towering mountains to deep canyons and ancient Native American ruins in the “Land of Enchantment.”

In this guide, we’ll share essential tips and the TOP 5 multi-day trails to tackle in New Mexico. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker seeking a new challenge or a beginner eager to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, the Land of Enchantment has something for every adventurer.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in New Mexico

  • What to expect: Get ready for a mix of landscapes that change a lot, from deserts to mountains. This will test your navigation, endurance, and outdoor skills. Be prepared for tough trails that aren’t well-kept, not much water (you might need to store or clean it), extreme weather like sudden floods and heat waves, and the chance of meeting wildlife—make sure you know what to do.
  • Essential gear: In New Mexico, you’ll need important gear like gaiters, bear canisters, and a water filter due to the tough terrain and conditions.
  • Wildlife: You’ll find various hazardous wildlife, including black bears in forests, mountain lions in remote areas, rattlesnakes in deserts, scorpions in the south, black widow spiders in shaded spots, ticks that can carry diseases, and javelina, wild pigs that can be aggressive. 
  • Wild camping is allowed in certain public lands with rules varying. US Forest Service-managed wilderness areas, like the Gila Wilderness, follow Leave No Trace guidelines. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcels generally permit it, but rules differ. National and state parks mandate designated campgrounds. Regulations on Native American lands vary, so permission is crucial. For more options, explore wilderness and BLM lands.
  • Best times to go depend on the region and weather. Opt for deserts from fall to spring to avoid extreme heat, and mountains from July to September before heavy snowfall. For quieter trails, choose spring and fall. Beware of spring winds and summer monsoons, which can cause thunderstorms and flash floods.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in New Mexico

Here are the best multi-day backpacking trails in New Mexico:

1. National Recreation Rim Trail

The Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico showcases a quintessential American landscape of rolling hills and dramatic rock formations under a wide open sky

Length: 30.5 mi / 49 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 5147 ft / 1569 m
Location: Lincoln National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 12 200 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Offering stunning vistas through forested areas, the challenging 30.5-mile Rim Trail (T105) near Mayhill, New Mexico is a rewarding point-to-point backpacking route best tackled May through November, with its well-maintained paths giving way to grueling uphill and downhill stretches that test endurance, especially between sections 2 and 3, before hikers can indulge in a celebratory pizza in Timberon after completing the strenuous multi-day journey.

2. Truchas Peak Loop

Massive boulders bask in the warm sunlight, scattered across the steep mountainside in the Pecos Wilderness

sarowen, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 30.1 mi / 48.4 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 6719 ft / 2048 m
Location: Pecos Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 12 700 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 30.1-mile loop trail near Tererro, New Mexico provides a secluded backpacking, birding, and camping experience best enjoyed from May through September, with well-marked but faint trails leading to the opportunity for class 2 scrambling to summit peaks, stunning aspen views, and reliable water sources along the route.

3. Lake Katherine via Winsor Trail

At Katherine Lake in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness, the tranquil waters reflect the peaks of the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests towering above

Photo by Laurie Drake

Length: 14.1 mi / 22.7 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 2982 ft / m
Location: Pecos Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7300 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 14.1-mile out-and-back trail near Tererro, New Mexico is a popular route for backpacking, camping, and fishing from April through October, featuring a long wooded walk with strenuous switchbacks leading to the pristine alpine beauty of Lake Katherine, set in a classic cirque with views of Santa Fe Baldy and potential bighorn sheep sightings, along with reliable water sources ideal for an overnight backpacking trip.

4. Beatty’s, Jack’s Creek, Skyline and Pecos Trail Loop

On a partially cloudy day, the rugged landscape of the Pecos Wilderness stretches out in a breathtaking vista of mountains, valleys, and evergreen forests

Photo by EvanCurtis

Length: 35.5 mi / 57 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 7723 ft / 2354 m
Location: Pecos Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 15 100 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 35.5-mile loop near Tererro, New Mexico is a secluded backpacking and camping journey best undertaken June through September, rewarding efforts with extraordinary Skyline views and the iconic summit of Pecos Baldy, but requiring navigating thick downfall and cow traffic on the lower sections of the trail to access the limited but scenic campsites near Beatty’s Flats.

5. Middle Fork Gila River Trail #157

The Gila River flows swiftly over rocky terrain just downstream from the towering Coolidge Dam, its waters sparkling in the sunlight

Alan Stark, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 40.1 mi / 64.5 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 990 ft / 302 m
Location: Gila Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 15 300 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The difficult 40.1-mile point-to-point trail near Reserve, New Mexico goes through pretty canyons, meadows, and shady areas of the amazing Gila wilderness. It is great for backpacking, bird watching, and camping all year. Along the way, you may see wildlife and have to cross rivers and go around beaver dams, so you need to know how to follow the trail. It is a challenging but memorable multi-day trip in a special place.

Annual Weather Averages

New Mexico has variable weather due to its deserts and mountains. Summers are hot while winters are cold as seasons change significantly. Remember weather details depend on location within the state:

  • Spring (March to May): Mild to warm temperatures, ranging from 60°F (15°C) to 80°F (27°C). Chilly nights, especially in higher elevations.
  • Summer (June to August): Hot conditions, with daytime temperatures exceeding 90°F (32°C) and sometimes reaching over 100°F (38°C). Cooler temperatures in higher elevations.
  • Fall (September to November): Pleasant temperatures ranging from 60°F (15°C) to 80°F (27°C). Cooling temperatures as fall progresses.
  • Winter (December to February): Cold weather with daytime temperatures of 40°F (4°C) to 60°F (15°C) in lower elevations. Freezing temperatures and snow in higher elevations and mountainous areas.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for New Mexico (Santa Fe):

High °F414755637281828074635041
Low °F192328344251555547372619
Rain/Snow (D*)23334510106433
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if New Mexico is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Colorado and Utah.


Can I have a campfire while backpacking in New Mexico?

Campfires are permitted while backpacking in many areas of New Mexico, but there are important guidelines to follow. In National Forests and BLM lands, campfires typically require obtaining a free permit from the ranger station, and may be prohibited during dry conditions when fire risk is high. Within National Parks like Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands, fires are restricted to designated grills and rings only – no ground fires allowed. Certain wilderness areas and state parks may prohibit campfires year-round to preserve the pristine landscape. Where campfires are allowed, it’s crucial to use existing fire rings when available, gather only dead and down wood, keep the fire small, and fully extinguish it before leaving. Portable camp stoves are a great low-impact alternative for cooking meals. By securing permits, adhering to area-specific regulations, practicing leave no trace fire principles, and exercising caution, you can enjoy campfires responsibly during your backpacking adventures in New Mexico’s immense wilderness areas. But always confirm requirements beforehand to follow guidelines protecting the state’s fragile natural habitats.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in New Mexico?

When encountering wildlife in New Mexico’s backcountry, stay calm, keep your distance, and never approach or feed the animals. Talk loudly or sing to alert bears, mountain lions, and other large mammals to your presence and avoid surprising them. Give them a clear escape route. If necessary, slowly back away without turning your back. Review best practices for using bear spray safely and effectively if you choose to carry it. Report aggressive animals to rangers.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in New Mexico?

Venture into New Mexico’s majestic wilderness for an adventurous backpacking trip immersed in nature, but be sure to plan and prepare. Acquire a detailed trail map before following winding canyon and mesa paths, and inform others of your intended route. Pack brightly colored clothing, first-aid supplies, flashlights, whistles and extra water to stay safe in the arid climate. Watch your footing hiking over rocky desert terrain. Make noise to avoid surprising bears, mountain lions or rattlesnakes. Stay hydrated and focused to fully embrace New Mexico’s natural splendor while keeping safety a priority. With adequate precautions taken, you can revel in the beauty of New Mexico’s backcountry. Stay vigilant, be ready for the unexpected, and remember prudent planning prevents poor performance on a New Mexico backpacking adventure.

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Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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