Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Cabresto Lake a Great High Country Hideaway

Wanna get away from it all?

Try putting a couple miles of bad road behind you while climbing into the high country to stalk brook trout at a remote mountain lake.

Cabresto Lake above Questa in scenic northern New Mexico is hard to reach but well worth the effort.

The 15-acre lake at 9,500 feet is surrounded by towering mountaintops and provides a peaceful place to escape life’s challenges for a day.

With very limited camping and two miles of narrow, twisty, rocky road to negotiate, the lake sees far fewer visitors than its popular cousin in the valley below, Eagle Rock Lake.

But those willing to make the trip are greeted by a postcard picture scene amid the cool, lofty pines found on the outskirts of the nearby Latir Peak Wilderness.

Self-sustaining populations of colorful brook and cutthroat trout await anglers in the clear, deep waters of the impounded lake.

The steep slopes around the lake can make getting around difficult but like the rest of the venture here, it’s worth the effort.

Anglers equipped with a spin casting rig armed with a Pistol Pete, wooley booger or bead-head below a bubble can be very effective here. But casting a fly line to rising fish could be troublesome for some due to the cramped confines of the shoreline. The creek above and below the lake is far more suited for fly-fishing.

And while anglers love the place and account for most visits, many backpackers and day trippers use the trailhead to hike into the aspen groves and alpine meadows found in the surrounding wilderness.

The altitude here can leave some flatlanders breathless so taking a few days to acclimatize before visiting might be necessary.

A lone vault toilet stands in the lakeside parking lot and visitors can help keep it clean and usable by bringing one’s own toiletries and cleaning supplies.

There are a few hardscrabble, primitive campsites to be found near the parking lot and a few others are carved out on the cliffside overlooking over the dam and creek below.

 Those hardy enough to spend a night here should be extra mindful of keeping a clean campsite to avoid attracting wildlife. The surrounding wilderness is home to lots of bears, mountain lions, coyotes, skunks and raccoons. Pack out your trash to help keep it clean and usable for others.

Just getting to Questa is part of the journey with travelers apt to come across plenty of great scenery along the way.

Those heading north to Questa on N.M. 68 through the Rio Grande Gorge between Espanola and Taos will find many tempting spots to stop along the river.  

A great side trip along the way includes jumping off N.M. 68 at Pilar and following the river to the Taos Junction Bridge

The Rio Grande as seen from the Taos Junction Bridge.
After crossing the bridge the road turns to dirt and climbs to the top of the canyon wall. Low slung, passenger cars navigate this road all the time so don’t be afraid to continue. At the top the road returns to asphalt and then splits with one branch continuing to head north along the Rio Grande Gorge. Along the way there are plenty of pull-offs that lead down to the canyon’s edge where the views can be spectacular. Those lucky enough may spy a group of bighorn sheep climbing the canyon walls or resting among the bushes on top. 

Travelers continue down the road to its intersection with U.S. 64 where they can then get back to the other side of the river by crossing the Rio Grande Gorge bridge. 

Visitors can park at the well-kept rest area here and walk out onto the bridge for even more spectacular scenery before continuing on to Questa. Stepping out onto the 600-foot high bridge and looking over the railing at the river far below is not for the faint of heart. This side trip can be made either going to or coming back from Questa. Consult a map for more details.

The Rio Grande, 600 feet below as seen from the Gorge Bridge.

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