By Johnny Hughes - Elite Outfitters
The Crest-Nogal Peak Trailhead accesses the north-central portion of the White Mountain Wilderness Area. This Trailhead is the northern terminus of Crest Trail (#25). Most hikers, who originate hikes from this location, are hiking the Crest Trail. Side trails usually drop quickly down into a canyon and offer no loop opportunities without using roads. The Crest Trail extends to the southeast for 22 miles to it’s southern terminus at Monjeau Peak. A shuttle vehicle is necessary to hike the entire trail.
Novice to advanced hikers can enjoy this area. The views are exceptional as the trail follows the spine of the mountain range. Novice and intermediates should stick to the Crest Trail. Advanced hikers can use this Trailhead as a jumping point to more remote portions of the Wilderness.
To reach the Crest-Nogal Peak Trailhead from Ruidoso, take US Hwy 48 north approximately 5 miles past the Ruidoso Village limits, to the junction with Highway 37. Turn left onto Highway 37 and go approximately 1 mile to the intersection with Bonito Lake Road (Forest Road 107). Turn left onto Forest Road 107 and follow it approximately 8 miles to the intersection with Forest Road 108. Turn right onto Forest Road 108 and wind up it for 4½ miles to the Trailhead. Forest Road 107 is narrow, but paved the first 4 miles, and improved dirt thereafter. Forest Road 108 consists of semi-improved dirt but is passable by 2-wheel drive high-clearance vehicles. Cars are not advised on Road 108.
The elevation of the Trailhead is approximately 8,720 feet.
Trail Distance - 22 miles
Net Elevation Change - 7,700 feet (4,500 feet up, 3,200 feet down)
Highest Elevation - 11,200 feet
Hiking Crest Trail (#25) in a day is not feasible. It is best hiked over three days with a light pack. Although the trail follows the ridges, for the most part, the up and down is brutal. The trail is well signed, and fairly easy to follow. Beware, hiking from Nogal Peak to Monjeau has more climbing than doing the reverse hike from the Crest-Monjeau Peak Trailhead. Hiking the entire Crest Trail should be attempted by advanced hikers only.
The Crest Trail starts out sidehilling around the south face of Nogal Peak until it reaches the main spine of the range and a trail intersection. Tortolita Trail (#54) begins here and extends north along the west side of Nogal Peak and beyond. It’s followable but very rough. Skull Trail (#41) drops down Skull Canyon to the Road 108. Water Trail (#53) disappears into Water Canyon. You’re on your own there.
After 3 miles, Turkey Spring is reached. A log/fence enclosure is present around a seep area. A stock water trough is present and usually has water. None is available for humans unless you’re really thirsty. Turkey Trail (#40) intersects the Crest Trail at Turkey Spring and it drops down to Road 107.
Just past Turkey Spring, Clear Water Trail (#42) makes a detour loop and comes back to the Crest Trail near Argentina Spring.
Argentina Spring is the first real chance for water. Another log/fence enclosure is present here as well. Just below it, there is a catch basin that usually has water. If not check the ¼ mile of Argentina Trail (#39) below the basin for more springs that are possibly flowing.
A logical choice for a first night’s camp is at the intersection with Barber Ridge Trail (#49). A large, level camping site is present here. A semi-reliable spring is present about 75 yards northeast of the camping site in the head of the draw that drains down into Lincoln Canyon. Again, great in wet seasons, possibly dry during drought. There’s just not much water on top.
All of the trails going off the east side of the range will end up at the Argentina/Big Bonito Trailhead. Most of the trails going off the west side will disappear and leave you hung out to dry.
The next chance for water is Bonito Seep. The seep is located just past the sign marking the intersection with Big Bonito Trail (#36). It usually flows except during dry seasons.
The Crest Trail now climbs almost 2,000 feet over the next 4½ miles to the top of the ski area. You will feel the altitude on this climb.
Just past White Horse Hill, the Crest Trail intersects with Aspen Trail (#35) and Three Rivers Trail (#44). Aspen Trail is your last chance to drop down to the Argentina/Big Bonito Trailhead. The Three Rivers Trail plummets 3,500 feet over 6 miles to the Three Rivers Campground, the only Trailhead on the west side of the range.
Approximately ½ mile south of Elk Point, a spring is present beside the Crest Trail. A poly tube protrudes out of the ground and good water can be found here.
A suggested second night’s camp is on the ridge above Ice Spring. This spring has excellent water and is actually the headwaters of the North Fork of Rio Ruidoso. At night, you can see the lights of Roswell 70 miles to the east. This location is over 11,000 feet in elevation.
The remainder of the hike to Monjeau Peak is mostly downhill. Scenic Trail (#15) drops to the ski area parking lot and is the last chance to leave the Crest Trail. No water is present along the remainder of the trail, so fill up at Ice Spring.
Just before the Crest-Monjeau Trailhead, you will reach the intersection with Rodamaker Trail (#18) and Telephone Trail (#16). These trails drop to Bonito Creek and Eagle Creek, respectively.