Note: Wheeler Peak is closed to the public for a week in late August every year for a Native American tribal ceremony. Check with the U.S. Forest Service for more info.
Wheeler Peak is the highest mountain in New Mexico, but it is not a particularly spectacular, jagged summit. The Sangre de Cristo Range in northern New Mexico is largely a high but gentle range of rounded summits with unusually high treelines--very few other places in the world have forests above 12,000 feet. The arbitrary Colorado-New Mexico boundary passes just south of 14,069' Culebra Peak, meaning New Mexico just misses out on getting a fourteener, and Wheeler Peak isn't even the furthest south major rocky mountain peak. That honor goes to Truchas Peak (13,103'), just a shade lower than Wheeler and the southernmost thirteener in the American west.
The main reason people visit the Wheeler Peak vicinity is to ski at Taos Ski Valley, a world-class ski resort on the neighboring peak to the south.
Wheeler's summit is visible from the eastern reaches of the ski area, and the ski area road provides paved access to the usual trailhead for the peak.
Despite the lack of climbing challenge and rugged pinnacles in the Wheeler Peak area, the above-timberline scenery is still very pleasant and a nice area for hiking and backpacking. La Cal basin, high on the north ridge of the peak, is a pretty alpine bowl, and to the north and east of Wheeler Peak its namesake wilderness offers solitude away from the state high-point peakbaggers often found making their way to the summit.
From the Taos Ski Valley ski area parking lot, there are two usual routes
to Wheeler Peak. The traditional and scenic route leads uphill towards Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain before making a sharp right turn to traverse over Fraser Mountain, La Cal Basin, and Mount Walter (a barely discernable subpeak) to the summit. It's a long but possible dayhike--just get an early start to be off the ridges before the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms in summer.
The other route heads up the valley of the Lake Fork to Williams Lake, and from there directly up to the summit. A recently constructed trail makes this route the quickest and easiest route to the top, but you miss out on the scenic above timberline traverse of the traditional way.
Notes from Tom Krajci
Hiking to the summit of Wheeler peak is a day trip. But it can be a long hike if you take the scenic route through Bull-of-the-Woods pasture. I recommend this route for the scenery. The shorter route is via Williams lake...but you spend zero time travelling across high alpine meadows.
If you hike Bull-of-the-Woods pasture route, give yourself at least 4 hours to get there and 3 to return. It's 8 miles out, 8 miles back, and you gain about 3,700 feet from the Taos ski area parking lot.
This is a heavily travelled route, so if you want solitude in the moutains, go elsewhere. However it's not a technically demanding route. I met parents, kids (13 was the youngest), and grandparents on the summit. Comfortable shoes, plenty of water, sunscreen, and a small pack to carry warm clothes, are all you really need. It may be warm in the valley, but especially on the windswept ridges above 12,000 feet you may need to cover up.
Start early in the day, especially if the summer monsoon is established because clouds will develop by noon, with thundershowers soon after.
My round trip hike was seven and a half hours, with 45 minutes on the summit.