Trail Guide: Lincoln National Forest

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Smokey Bear
Ranger District

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Things You Need to Know

1.  Please read the Non Liability Statement below.

2.  The Traffic Light (at the top of each trail page) tells you about the condition of the trail.


Red -- the trail is CLOSED to the public  by Forest Service order
(most likely for safety reasons).

Yellow --  the trail is damaged or difficult to follow -- it is open, but extra caution is required.

Green -- the trail is open for routine use.

Links to Good Stuff

-- written by John W. Stockert


The author has made a serious effort to obtain accurate and up-to-date information about all the trails presented in this website.  In many cases  he has personally walked the trails; in other cases information has been obtained through interviews with knowledgeable individuals or the descriptions in the second edition of Trail Guide: Lincoln National Forest.  Every effort has been made to convey information as accurately as possible.  However, errors do occur when one is dealing with thousands of pieces of data.  In addition, wildfires or storms can change trail and road conditions overnight, or a trail may be closed, improved, or relocated.

When planning a hike, especially on remote or little used trails like many in this guide, it would be wise to check with the district ranger office nearest the trails you plan to hike to obtain maps and the most current conditions.

Injury is always possible, even on level terrain.  The responsibility for being in appropriate physical condition, having adequate supplies, and being safety conscious must rest with the users of this resource.

Neither the author nor any personal and/or businesss associates can be responsible for any injuries or damages that may result.

Copyright: What you can and cannot do.

 I claim copyright for all parts of this website and paper publications resulting from it.

 Now let’s deal with the details.  I have made extensive use of topo maps and GPS tracks prepared by the US government, and specifically by the USDA Forest Service.  All of that material is in the public domain, and while I can use it without further permissions, I cannot restrict others from using it.  However, when I crop a topo map that I have downloaded from the Forest Service website, and put it dashed lines to show trails and other symbols, that improved product is subject to my copyright.  Others can use the underlying topo map, but they require my permission to use my improvements.  Similar arguments apply to any text material, layout, etc.

 I grant to all users, free of charge,  the right to print any material on this website except that they may not prepare a publication for distribution at a profit.


(1)          You may print out copies of the web pages to help you with a hike.  You can print out multiple
               copies of web pages of web pages for you hiking/biking group, but you cannot make a profit
               on it.

(2)          You can even print out a copy of the whole book, but you cannot make a profit on it.

 (3)          You can download material from this website to your smartphone, tablet,  what ever similar
                device, subject to the restrictions below.

 (4)          You can link to this website.


(1)          Copy, move, etc any copyrighted material from this website to publically accessible media.
You cannot publish a newsletter or book, copy material to another website, post material on
                Facebook, etc.


(2)          Make use of short quotations – allowed under “Fair Use” – without including, in a way that
               the user will easily know, the source of the material.


I am a reasonable person and you can contact me at if you would like to seek permissions or discuss financial deals.

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Safety in the Forest

 I have seen lists of what you must take with you to be safe.  Many times the lists lose credibility because they prescribe more than is needed for a particular hike.

 Let me put some basics before you, and we will work together on the important topic of safety.

 1.   The National Forest is a forest; it is not a city park.  You have to take responsibility for you own safety.

 2.  Plan A is “Everything works fine, whether I worry about it or not”.  Plan B is “Something may go wrong with Plan A, and I want to get home to my loved ones in good shape.”

 Prudent folks live by Plan B. 

If you are hiking a well-defined trail, you probably need only a basic map.  If you are going cross country, you need a good paper map and a compass (Not your phone or GPS unit – batteries run down).  I mean a decent “Boy Scout” compass.  You cannot reliably follow a straight course in rough country without a compass.

 How do you get home if you sprain an ankle or suffer some similar injury?  For me, I often hike alone and I take the following precautions.  I tell someone what trail I am going to hike and when I expect to be home.  Hiking alone, I rarely go cross country – if I do I tell someone where I generally expect to be.  I tell my wife, but you might want to leave a note on the dashboard of your car.  I carry a police whistle – three short blasts on the whistle repeated at intervals of a few minutes can be heard a very long way.

I hike with a serious walking stick – I plan to be able to hobble back to the car.

 How much water do you need?  In the high desert of the Lincoln National Forest you can use a lot of water.  Unless you have hiked in this area regularly, budget a gallon of water per person per day.   It is tiring to carry the weight of that water, but it is much worse to collapse from dehydration.

 Is it going to rain or get cold?   I don’t hike alone in the back country in the winter months – the cost of a sprained ankle could be death in a cold night.  Your rain slicker can also be a wind breaker!  Lightning is especially common during July and August, the summer rainy season. Stay away from fields and ridges, and lone trees.

I hope you catch the idea.  No need to carry an explorer’s pack on an afternoon walk around the Osha Trail.  On the other hand, enough  things can happen on a hike down long and rocky Alamo Canyon that someone ought to know that you are there.

 Think BIG  --Brain In Gear – and you can have wonderful experiences in the Lincoln National Forest.

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 Electronics and the Forest

 Talk about the bad and the good – that describes electronics and the forest.

 First the risky part.  GPS units, smart phones, cell phones ---all those neat gadgets run on batteries, and batteries run down.  Cell phone service is usually good near Cloudcroft and Ruidoso (but not High Rolls) and falls to nothing a few miles away.  You cannot count on downloading maps or calling for help in remote areas.  You need the basic safety precautions: paper maps, non-electronic compass,  a police whistle, and good sense.  Plan A is the dangerous  assumption that nothing will happen.  Plan B gets you home even if your electronics fail you.

 Now the really neat part.  GPS in the forest is lots of fun.  A friend sent me the GPS coordinates for two UGGS geodetic markers and I hiked to within five meters of each and found them.  Then, of course,  I took measurements to see just how accurate and precise my GPS really was.   I have downloaded GPS tracks for obscure trails and “tracked toward them” when I came to unsigned road intersections.  I have captured tracks and waypoints so that I know just where I was when I took that wonderful picture.   The GeoCache folks think they have most fun of anyone.

 You can download a free topo map of New Mexico that can be installed in the appropriate Garmin GPS units from the following source:

 And I have to share this:  In the Garmin manual that came with my GPS unit, it says something like:  “If you see a cliff and the map in your GPS unit says there is not a cliff, believe your eyes.”

 Think about it:  Make sure that you have a non-electronic Plan B that gets you home safely, then enhance your fun with the electronics!

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 What can I ride on in the forest?  Where?

 First, think about motorized versus non-motorized.  Non-motorized – people on foot, horses, and  bicycles – can go anywhere in the Lincoln National Forest,  except areas that are specifically restricted such as habitat recovery areas.  You do not have to stay on trails; it is OK to go cross country.  .  Sometimes the Forest Service will close established trails or roads to allow recovery from erosion or other damage.  Note however, that some trails are closed to bicycles and/or horses.  One way to find out about such restrictions is to check out the links on the right hand side of the Recreation web page on the Forest Service website.  The links labeled “All Trails for …. District” not only list the trails but also list the allowed uses.

 Links to copies of these files are provided below:

Guadalupe Ranger District    Sacramento Ranger District        Smokey Bear Ranger District

NOTE: I will try to keep these up to date, but best idea is to check with material on the Forest Service website.

Motorized  --motorcycles, ATVs, jeeps, etc  --users need to obtain a current MVUM [Motor Vehicle Users Map] free from a Forest Service office, and follow the restrictions and permissions in that map.  In general motorized traffic is restricted to established routes and may not go cross country.

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 Can I make new trails?

 Even though non-motorized users are not restricted to established roads and trails, they may not “improve the path”, “move that brush”, etc.  The creation of new trails requires environmental assessment through the NEPA process, and that process  should not be short-circuited by individuals.

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 Forest Service Website and Resources

 I encourage you to visit the Lincoln National Forest website  and learn about the many resources they provide.  Click on “Recreation” and go from there. On the home page, over on the right hand side, click GIS resources and check out the many kinds of information that are available for download, including GIS files and topo maps.  Hint: Click on the GIS link, and scan down to the yellow “Softcopy Primary base Series” bar.

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 Using the New Version of the Trail Guide: Lincoln National Forest

 John Stockert worked and worked and produced a wonderful paperback book, Trail Guide: Lincoln National Forest.  My dog-eared copy is here beside me, and on hikes it is a welcome companion.  However, the last update was in 2002, and trails have changed.  New trails have been added, fire and flood have destroyed some trails.  The book, ink on paper, cannot change to match these changes.

 In bringing the Trail Guide up to date, I have created a web site

 Now I can regularly update the website and users will have access to the changes on a timely basis.  The book is printed from an electronic files that I supply to a print-on-demand publisher.  As changes occur, as the web site is updated, I will revise the electronic file, and new orders for the book will get the up to date version.

 The web site also takes advantage of links and downloads of files.  For each trail that appears on the web site, the GPS track (as .gpx) can be downloaded.  When looking for obscure or hard to find trailheads, I routinely download the GPS track to my faithful Garmin handheld and follow my progress as I encounter unsigned intersections and the like.  The book can have only one size map.  Many of the trail pages on the website provide three maps: (1) a map at a size and resolution comparable to that in the book, (2) a map of roughly the same area, but of much higher resolution so that when the map is expanded electronically, fine details can be seen, and (3) electronic copies of the Forest Service topo maps.   Sometimes there a links to other sources of information about the trails.  The website brings together many different types of information.

  But we trail folk still need a paperback that we can stuff in the knapsack and take with us.  We are often beyond web access.  Many areas in the Lincoln National Forest have spotty or no cell phone signal.  Users still need to have basic information stored on paper – a book!  The book is not as fancy as the web site – no links, no colors, no downloads of maps and GPS tracks  -- but in its basic way, it provides a steady source of the core information.

 Use them together and enjoy the Lincoln National Forest!

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 What are GPX files?

 Each manufacturer of GPS equipment has a preferred format for saving GPS data.  However, the GPX format  [GPS eXchange Format] was developed so that users could read/exchange  GPS data taken with other  equipment.

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 How can I make a profile of the elevation changes along a trail?

 The GPX files for data that I have taken myself  (such as T10-LM.gpx) have the elevation  data saved along with the coordinates.  However the Forest Service GPX files (such as T104-FS.gpx) do not have elevation data saved with the coordinates.  For a long time I thought that users would not be able to create trail profiles from the Forest Service GPX files.  Not so—I found a neat website that takes any GPX file, takes the coordinates to Google Earth, retrieves elevations, and presents a trail profiles.  Voila!

 Here is the link:  Click on the link and choose the “View GPX” option.    Click the “Browse” button, and browse to a GPX file located on your computer.

 If you don’t have one ready, you can download the Forest Service GPX file for  T10 Osha Trail from the following link:  T10-LM.gpx  Just right click and download the file to a convenient location on your computer.  If your browser is Firefox or Chrome, the download process will preserve the .gpx file extension.  If your browser is Internet Explorer, it will insist on saving the file with an .xml file extension , because GPX files are in XML format.  Happily, the maplorer program does not care, you can browse to GPX file with either a .gpx or an .xml extension, and it will upload the file and display an elevation profile of the route defined by the GPX file.

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 What is UTM and why should I care?

 UTM stands for Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system, and that definition does not help you very much.  The earth is close to spherical, and we all have learned about latitude and longitude.  The latitude/longitude system works, but most users find it difficult to translate differences in the latitude/longitude for two locations into a good judgment of how to get from one location to the other and what the distance between them is.  In addition, as one goes further from the equator, the distance associated with one degree of longitude differs substantially from the distance associated with one degree of latitude.

 UTM divides the surface of the earth into 60 zones and assumes that each zone is flat enough that it can be approximated by a plane.  Now we get back to those X-Y graphs you hated in school.

In the description for T5005 Benson Canyon Trail you will find the UTM coordinates for the lower trailhead lists as

 13 S

 The “13 S” is the zone.  Don’t worry about it.  All of the Lincoln National Forest is in zone 13 S.

 The next number is the “easting” in meters (not yards or miles).  If you will, it is the “X coordinate”.  The last number is the “northing” in meters (not yards or miles).  If you will, it is the “Y coordinate”.

 Now let’s do an example.

 You may have read in the National Enquirer that the secret to long life and good health is buried in a golden box  at UTM 13 S 433649 3633883.  The UTM coordinates of the T5005 trailhead are 13 S 433699 3633813.  What do should you do to get the golden box?  First drive to the T5005  trailhead.  Once there, carry out the following calculation.

Easting:                 Target  X – Present X = 433649 – 433699 = -50

Northing:               Target Y – Present Y = 3633883 – 3633813 = +70

 You will need to go 50 meters to the west in order to decrease your easting.  You will need to go 70 meters to the north in order to increase your northing.  And, of course there is no need to do all of one before doing the other.

 Note:  If you and meters do not get along very well, remember this.  Distance in meters plus 10% of this distance   =  distance in yards (close enough for trails).  50 meters is approximately 55 yards.

 Take Home Message: With UTM coordinates you can easily determine how far to go

 Different devices have different ways to activate UTM.  I can do it on my Garmin unit, and I am pretty sure that you can delve down in the menus for your unit and choose to have your location coordinates displayed as UTM.

 On my Garmin, it does not matter which system I am using when I take the data.  When I change from lat/long to UTM the unit automatically changes the display of the route coordinates.

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 How can I buy the book?

First of all, Lynn Melton does not run a store, so don’t even hope to buy one directly from me.  

The revised version of the 6” x 9” book came out in May , 2014, with separate volumes for each of the three Rangder Districts -- Guadalupe, Sacramnto, and Smokey Bear.  You sprobably cane buy all three volumes  at the Sacrmento and Smokey Bear Ranger District offices, and only the Guadalupe volume at the Guadalupe Ranger District office.  Matt Willett is likely to stock the Sacramento volume at High Altitude in Cloudcroft.  Happy Hiker in Ruidoso is likely to have the Smokey Bear volume. 

The Public Lands Interpretative Association [] sells all three volumes online.

Vendors: If you want to stock the book and want your name listed here, pop me an email :

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About Lynn Melton

 Lynn Melton taught chemistry and conducted nationally funded research at the University of Texas at Dallas for 41 years before retiring in 2013.  He also taught courses to help middle school science teachers become better.  He still lives in Richardson, Texas, but between March and December he tries to be at his cabin east of Cloudcroft for three week each month.

 About 2005, he took advantage of the invitation in the preface of John Stockert’s Trail Guide: Lincoln National Forest and got to know John Stockert.  There was a progression from “I’ll help you get out a revised edition” to “I’ll take it on and you help me” to John handing over all his original materials, with a devilish grin on his face,  as he realized how much space in his house he would free up.  Fortunately he has been active in helping me put this new version together.

 Lynn Melton has hiked all the official trails in the Sacramento Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest.  In the Guadalupe Ranger District he has hiked all but one of the trails near Sitting Bull Falls, all but one of the trails in the south area, and few of the trails in The Cave Canyon area.  He has relied on conversations with Tom Rohrer, a longtime volunteer there, to fill him in.  In the Smokey Bear Ranger District he has hiked all of the trails in the Ruidoso area, and only few outside that area.  He has, however, driven to every trailhead in the Smokey Bear Ranger District that is accessible by his high clearance 4WD vehicle.  He has relied on  the 2002 edition of the trail guide and advice from  individuals knowledgeable about various parts of the Smokey Bear Ranger District to help him.

 He has volunteered with New Mexico Rails to Trails and with the Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum.

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