Riding in Lincoln County’s White Mountain Wilderness, New Mexico

Caroline McCoy, who rides the White Mountain Wilderness and the Fort Stanton Trail system almost every week of the year on her Quarter Horse mare, shares photos from Lincoln County's White Mountain Wilderness in New Mexico, as part of the Equitrekking 50 State Trail Riding Project.

photos and story by Caroline Ames McCoy

sunrise nogal peak new mexico

Can't waste any of these beautiful falls days, clear skies, perfect temperatures. This trail starts at Skull Canyon T41, crosses over to the Crest Trail T25, and goes down the Turkey Canyon Trail T40. Here's what we saw at the first light with this side of Nogal Peak in the distance, center frame.

tanbark parking lot nm

My friend, Wolf, and I meet at the Tanbark Parking lot, high above Bonito Lake. Ready?

nm snow on trails on horseback

We were surprised by snow on the trail. The dogs eat snow for a "drink." I pony a second horse to exercise two at a time.

Lincoln County's White Mountain Wilderness horseback trails

Wolf ponies my second horse for a bit of practice for his horse as we climb up Skull Canyon. 

ponying horse nm

At the summit I switch off and ride Lloyd while Wolf ponies Peach. More snow lies ahead on the Crest Trail. Nogal Peak is now behind us.

ski apache nm

Ski Apache is breathtaking in this light.

Riding in Lincoln County's White Mountain Wilderness New Mexico

This land is always beautiful in any season.

corral below horseback riding lincoln nm

We thread our way through the oaks with one of the dogs. What a good little trail dog now at 6 months. Off to the left of Wolf's shoulder, in the background below, we can see the Turkey Spring corrals.

horseback riding nm trails in lincoln

We head down Turkey Canyon right to the left of the troughs, between the oaks. There is no water at the corrals this time of year.

Skull Turkey Canyon Trail Loop new mexico horse trails

There are plenty of water holes to cross later though. 

runnels stables new mexico lincoln

There is more water at the bottom, near Runnel's Stables. What are those sayings? Wet saddle blankets make a good horse... It was a GREAT ride.


How you can go: The White Mountain Wilderness trails are in the Lincoln National Forest. The Skull -Turkey Canyon Trail Loop is approximtaely 5 miles long and of moderate difficulty. Animals should be in condition. There is seasonal water along the trail. This trail is good any time of year except when ice is present. Call the ranger station at (575) 257-4095 for more information.

From junction of Hwy. 48 (between Capitan and Ruidoso) and Hwy. 37, take Hwy. 37 approx. 2 miles N/W to Bonito Canyon Road (FR 107). Take FR 107 west (only way -- good gravel/paved road) approx. 6 miles (you will pass Bonito Lake); go to the junction of 108, Tanbark Canyon. There will be a sign saying "Runnels Stables" at that junction. Park there on the left side in the clearing (enough for 3-4 trailers) and ride up the road about a mile. You will pass a house/barn/corrals. Right past the house, on your left, you ride alongside the fence a few feet and you will come to the Skull Canyon trailhead. You ride up the Skull Canyon Trail T41 for about a half hour to an hour (depending upon the speed and condition of the horses, a fair climb, but easy footing). As you near the top and the trail starts to veer clearly left, you will hit the Crest Trail T25. There is a sign there. Continue left on the Crest Trail (after you have taken in the spectacular views of the valley and Malpais - lava flow - beyond) until you come to the corrals and water troughs as pictured above. Before you get to these corrals, there will be a split in the trail, not marked. Take the left fork. They both end up in the same place, but the left is a little easier. After the corrals you will be starting down the Turkey Canyon trail T40. A little rocky in the very beginning but otherwise easy. There will be a steep canyon on your right with a stream which usually runs most of the year way down below, which you will cross a few times later on. At the bottom of the Turkey Canyon trail you will hit FR 107. Turn left and ride back the short ways to your trailer on the dirt road.

The Argentina/Bonito horse campground, just beyond the Tanbark parking area, is terrific for overnight stays (four large pipe pens which can easily accommodate 2 horses each); but you must bring water and feed for you and your horses. No reservations.

It is strongly suggested that you acquire the White Mountain Wilderness map from the Smokey Bear Ranger District Ruidoso Office (575) 257-4095 (in person or by mail).

About the Author: Caroline McCoy rides the White Mountain Wilderness and the Fort Stanton Trail system almost every week of the year on her Quarter Horse mare, Peach. McCoy is age 74 and Peach is 14. McCoy hopes to ride her partner 'til the end of both of their lives. McCoy makes a photo-journal of many of her rides and is about to publish a book of these rides. Anyone wishing to be on her "My Rides" email list may request to do so via email.