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My Life Outdoors

Johnson Lake – Backpacking in the Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

Three alpine lakes in four days. Thats all anyone had to say to convince me to spend a week in New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness. We had been planning a guys trip since January. Our goal was to hit Johnson’s lake, swing down to Stewart Lake, and finish it off with the Grand Finale: Lake Katharine and 13,600 foot Santa Fe Baldy.

Johnsons Lake – Pecos Wilderness, NM
Pecos Wilderness

We made the eight hour drive from Midland to Pecos NM, on Sunday July 29th. Since we had spent so much time in the car we decided to only hike in a short distance before picking a campsite. On the map it looked like the Caves on Cave Creek was about a mile in a half from the trailhead. We planned to camp there, but soon found the topography in the area unsuitable for a good nights sleep. We hiked in another couple of miles before finally finding a decent flat spot. That night we slept to the sound of two small mountain streams. It was going to be a good week.

Cave Creek
The Caves on Cave Creek
Inside the caves on cave creek. Water was flowing out of the creek and deep into the caves. We didn’t go in but for just a few feet. 
Crossing Cave Creek

As it turns out it was a good thing we hiked the extra miles that day. The climb to Johnson’s Lake the next morning proved exhausting, but the view of the lake was worth every step. We took off our packs and took in the views of the majestic lake. First order of business was to find a good campsite. We walked a ways around the lake until we found some higher ground with some good flat spots. We set up camp and went to enjoy the lake.

Cut off to Johnson Lake
Hiking up to Johnsons Lake
Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake
Finding a good campsite at Johnson lake
Setting up camp. You can barley see the lake in the background through the trees.
Looking back at camp from the lake

Several from our group had come just for the fishing. It didn’t take long before the fly reels where casting in the clean mountain air. I went to snap some pictures just as a cut throat trout snagged a fly. We would be eating fish tonight.

Fishing at Johnson Lake – Pecos Wilderness NM
Cut Throat Trout from Johnson Lake
Frying up fish at Johnson Lake – Pecos Wilderness

After awhile the fish stopped biting. The water was so clear we could see them as they swam up to the flies, only to turn away in disgust. With no more fishing to be had, a few of us decided to take a swim. The water was freezing even in the middle of August, but the swim was refreshing none the less.

Swiming in Johnson Lake

That night we slept well under the stars. The next morning was going to be a long day. We planned to hike down to Stewart and then up to Lake Katharine (More on that coming Soon). It was a great start to a great trip.

Map to Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake Elevation Profile

I highly recommend the Map and Guide book featured below. The map is published by the Santa Fe National Forest Service for the Pecos Wilderness Area. I use it extensively when hiking in the Lincoln National Forest. Purchase it through this link and help support MyLifeOutdoors.

The Hike:
7 Miles One Way
Starting Elevation: 8312 Feet
Ending Elevation: 11,088 Feet
Elevation Change: 2,776
GPS File: (GPX Format)

Getting There:
Panchuela Trailhead: 22 miles north of Pecos on NM 63: 35°49’45.35″N 105°39’25.27″W
Caves:  35°50’53.44″N 105°41’22.54″W
Johnson Lake:  35°51’16.67″N 105°44’9.28″W

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