Columbine Canyon to the Meadows

No short text This easy hike is notable for the wildflowers, ending in meadows of flowers. The flowers attract butterflies and other insects. In contrast with many hikes along streams in New Mexico, the stream crossings are on bridges, not slippery rocks.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Carson National Forest; Questa Ranger District
Official URL:Forest Service web page for this hike
Region: North-central; Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
North of Taos; East of Questa.
start: 7998ft; 2438m end: 8461ft; 2579m
min: 7998ft; 2438m max: 8461ft; 2579m
elevation gain/loss: 462ft; 141m.
Assuming you hike back to the trailhead, you gain and lose this elevation.
Length: 4.41mi; 7.10km. Round-trip distance
surface: mixed
condition: Excellent. The bridges for stream crossings are in good condition.
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: None.
Much of the trail is wide.
Fee: $0.00. The trailhead is at the Columbine Canyon campground which does have a camping (picnicking) fee. Park outside the campground to avoid the fee.
Season: May 01 to November 01. The campground (trailhead) is open this season, weather permitting. There are parking spots outside of the campground, so year-round hiking is an option if the road to the campground is passable.
Dogs: Yes. On leash.
Bikes: Unknown.
Handicapped accessible: No.
Trailhead facilities: picnic area. The picnic area is the campground which does have a fee. trash can(s), vault toilet(s), water.
Hike attractions: scenery, wildflowers.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2004-07-15
Time it took us: 4:22. Expect to spend 2-5 hours on this hike.
Usage (people/hour): 7.79. Some of the people were with llamas.
Cleanliness: 9.


Waypoint Type Description
CLMBNTWNTHTrailheadColumbine Canyon trailhead


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Carson National Forest US Forest Service 2002 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) Camino Real and Questa ranger districts and Valle Vidal Unit side of the map
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N from Amazon (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Valle Vidal Unit, Carson National Forest US Forest Service 1999 1:63360 Y from Amazon (purchase)
Wheeler Peak BLM 2001 1:100000 Y from Amazon (purchase)
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

From the stoplight in Questa where NM 522 and NM 38 meet, head east on 38, toward Red River. After about 3.8 miles, you should see the campground on your right. The entrance to Columbine Canyon campground is right after a collection of privately-owned buildings (a motel and a store).

The trailhead is at the back of the campground. Parking at the trailhead is free. There are parking places at the trailhead for 14 cars and two motorcycles.

No short text

About the hike:

American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, butterfly on a sunflower in the sun near the beginning of the Columbine Canyon Trail in Carson National Forest.

The trail starts along the Columbine Creek, where you may find sights like this one---An American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, butterfly on a sunflower in the sun.

Butterfly identification courtesy of Bruce Neville.

The trail is relatively flat, with a gentle climb. If you turn around, you will see a view similar to the one in this photo---The pine/fir forest, and the Molycorp mine tailings.
The view north from near the start of the Columbine Canyon trail.
Columbine Creek
The trail never strays far from Columbine Creek.

This trail was the first that we had hiked that had real bridges over the stream. You will cross four on this hike.

Diana also liked that the bridges gave access further up the tree for looking at leaves, flowers, etc.

Diana Northup on a bridge over Columbine Creek
Sapello Canyon Larkspur
This Sapello Canyon Larkspur was one of the many wildflowers along the trail.
Unfortunately, many of the aspen have been the victim of graffiti. Besides being unsightly for years, cutting the tree like this opens it to pests, especially when it is stressed in years of drought.
grafiti on an aspen
an insect on a geranium
This insect was checking out the geranium.
Because you are walking along a wet area, you will also see sights such as these butterflies drinking. They are after minerals.
Butterflies drinking along Columbine Creek
This cowparsnip has giant (for NM) leaves. They are up to 18in (46cm) across.
This monk's hood flower is aptly named. You can easily imagine this being part of a monk's robe.
talus slope
Talus slopes like these are good places to see animals such as pikas. unfortunately, we did not see any on this hike.
After hiking for about 1.6 miles, you reach this junction. It is a sign that you are almost at the meadows.
Kenneth Ingham at the junction of the Columbine Canyon trail and the
Twining trail.
meadow full of butter and eggs flowers
If the conditions have been right, the meadows will be full of flowers.

If you have not already, turn around when you get to the second junction (the trail to Gold Hill). You have hiked about 2.1 miles so far. After this point, the trail gets much steeper.

When we reached this point, it had begun to rain. Later in the day, it hailed and poured buckets of water. We were glad we had stopped hiking when we did. Unfortunately, since we put the camera away to avoid soaking it, we did miss some nice photos of the return scenery.

Diana Northup at the junction of the Columbine Canyon trail and the Gold
Hill trail.
The trail back down, with a view of stormclouds and mine tailings.
Here, you can see the storm clouds that were to get us after we made it back to the trailhead. You can also see the Molycorp Questa mine tailings.

Plants we saw along the trail:

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