|Elevation Gain||381 ft|
|My Time||1 hr 7 min|
Little Horse Mesa
The Little Horse Mesa Trail is a trail inside of Sugarite Canyon State Park near the town of Raton in northern New Mexico. The trail I took has some steep challenging sections that lead to some great views but is probably best for moderately skilled hikers.
The Little Horse Mesa Trail can be found by taking the Opportunity trail to the northwest. The Opportunity trail has a very small trailhead parking area down the dirt Soda Pocket Road. When you get started on the trail you will immediately have the option to head left or right for the longer Opportunity Loop. I headed left and was immediately greeted by some wonderful wildflowers next to the somewhat overgrown trail.
The trail takes you in and out of some heavier brush with some taller trees. The trail also alternates between a wider path and a narrow path partially seen through some overgrowth. This will go on for just under a half mile with a steady incline between a 8-15% grade throughout. Just under a half mile, and in deeper woods you will come to a junction.
The junction will split the Little Horse Mesa Trail if you go forward and the Opportunity trail to the left. The Little Mesa Trail looks overgrown from the junction which made me want to give it chance!
Up the Mesa
The Little Horse Mesa Trail is narrow, with leaves and branches encroaching on the edges at every step. It is also very steep! The trail is only a tenth of a mile long but has grades as high as 28%! In that short tenth of a mile you will increase about 150 feet in elevation!
The trail takes you from the main trail to the top of the mesa. There is no scrambling or climbing involved just a consistent uphill slog on some rocky surface with branches grabbing at your arms and legs with each step!
The reward for the slog up the hill is definitely worth it! When you clear the last steps of the hill you find yourself on a pristine mesa. The top of the mesa is covered with long grasses, taller trees and thick bushes. In the distance to the north, another distant mesa comes into view. The trail at the top takes a quick turn to hug the lip of the mesa. This trail doesn’t seem to get much use and is narrow and can be hard to find.
As you progress down the edge of the mesa top the views to the south begin to really take shape. The canyon floor becomes visible and views seem to go on forever. Since this is not a very busy trail, I was on the mesa by myself and taking in these views under open blue skies with no other soul anywhere close was a really special moment.
The trail continues in a broken way across at least half of the mesa top. On occasion it would disappear and reappear on the other side of tree or something. It became more and more challenging to follow and I called it quits about a half mile in and returned to where I came up.
The Little Horse Mesa top was one of the most enjoyable times I have had hiking. It was extremely calming to be up here alone and just taking in the views of the mesa top and also back down through the canyon. The moment was so peaceful. It was perfect!
I have put together a time-lapse video of my hike up to the Little Horse Mesa. This is meant to give other hikers a feel for the trail is like. If you enjoy the video make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free to subscribe and you will be first to get the latest updates.
Distance and Elevation
If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 1.94 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 381 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 8,287 feet. I was also moving for a total of 1 hour 7 minutes.
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Most of the trail is flat and relatively easy to handle but the hike up to the top of the mesa is definitely a challenge. The trail to the top is a bit overgrown, rocky and steep. It gets to close to a 28% grade to the top. Once you make it to the top it becomes a much easier hike and is flat but the trail is harder to locate. I am going to rank this one as moderate based on the effort to get to the top of the mesa.
The lower sections of the Opportunity Trail are mostly easy to follow and a fairly well defined trail through the woods. This trail doesn’t seem to have a ton of traffic so there is a little growth around the trial. As you head up the Little Horse Mesa Trail there is a considerable amount of overgrowth on the path and the trail is harder to follow. It also gets much rockier and a lot steeper here. When you make it to the top of the mesa, the trail is not very well defined, especially the farther that you travel. At points on top of the mesa the trail disappears completely. I would recommend a good hiking boot with plenty of grip for this one.
The Little Horse Mesa Trail can be accessed from the Opportunity Trail at Sugarite Canyon State Park near Raton, New Mexico. The trailhead is on Soda Pocket road which does have a gate and can close seasonally. The trailhead is just a small dirt area on the side of the road with room for a couple of cars. There was a port-o-pottie there when I went.
There is an entry fee at Sugarite Canyon State Park. You can purchase a day pass for $5 per vehicle at the park or online.
Wrapping up the Little Horse Mesa Trail
I set out to do the long loop of the Opportunity trail on my trip to Sugarite Canyon State Park. Then I saw the overgrown, rocky trail of the Little Horse Mesa Trail. I struggled up the hill and found myself in on the most serene settings I have been in since I started hiking.
The views of the flat meadows on top of the mesa, combined with the awesomeness of the canyon on the side were fantastic. I sat and stared down the canyon under blue sky and a soft September breeze and just felt good. If you make it to northern New Mexico, this might be one of those hidden gem hikes that you can enjoy for a long time.
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