The Chama Charmer, New Mexico

  • Distance

    119 Mi.

    (192 KM)
  • Days

    2-3

  • % Unpaved

    90%

  • % Singletrack

    40%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7

  • % Rideable (time)

    97%

  • Total Ascent

    11,176'

    (3,406 M)
  • High Point

    11,050'

    (3,368 M)
Set to a skyscape of Simpson-esque clouds, New Mexico abounds with high pastures, primitive two track, and remote backcountry trails. Beginning on the Colorado border, this long weekend, high elevation route showcases some of the most enjoyable bikepacking in north of the state, making use of the Continental Divide Trail to lace in mile upon mile of singletrack. If hot springs are your style, round off the ride by pampering yourself in the luxurious desert resort of Ojo Caliente, from where public transport will whisk you back to Española, Santa Fe or Albuquerque.
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The Chama Charmer forms part of the Chili Line, a work-in-progress bikepacking route that will eventually run from Durango, CO, to Santa Fe. In the meantime, it makes an excellent 2-3 day escape that showcases some of the best backcountry singletrack in the area.

The ride connects Cumbres Pass, on the Coloradan border, with Ojo Caliente, a hot spring deemed sacred by Native Americans of Northern New Mexico. Running from the edge of the San Juan National Forest into the Carson National Forest, it skirts around the Cruces Basin Wilderness, following the Continental Divide Trail much of the way. As such, please be especially considerate when encountering hikers.

Expect dirt roads, barely-ridden singletrack and primo camping real estate. Terrain is characterised by high ridgelines and rolling plateaux – hovering around 10,000ft/3050m – with eventual views out to the imposing shoulders of the Brazos Cliffs. Pastures are generally lush and green, and lakes punctuate the route, including Lagunitas and Hopewell. What’s more, the ride can be connected by public transport on either end. To do so, you’ll need to time your trip during the week and tie in your travels with the Blue Bus schedule – see ‘Extras’ for the relevant timetables and ‘Trail Notes’ for a suggested long weekend itinerary.

It’s a paved but enjoyable stretch between the two settlements of El Rito and Ojo Caliente , with a sweeping descent into the baking hot desert, as piñons and junipers replace high country ponderosas. If you need to trim down the ride, the same Blue Bus that runs from Ojo Caliente also stops in nearby El Rito. And if you want to extend the ride, you can hop onto the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which also passes through El Rito. Just be sure to fill your boots at the wonderful El Faralito Mexican restaurant – it’s a classic stop for Divide racers.

The Chama Charmer is almost completely rideable, bar one small section. After crossing the Vallecitos River, there’s a short bushwack to contend with. A new portion of singletrack on the CDT is currently being cut – it may well have been finished by the time you ride this.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Mile upon mile of remote singletrack, mellow and flowy for the most part.
  • Equally enticing backcountry two track.
  • Lots of great camping potential.
  • New Mexico’s trademark starry nights.
  • Depending on winter snowfall/snowmelt, this route is best ridden from June 1st to 1st November. Watch out for monsoon season storms from mid-July until early fall, as they will transform the trails into mud.
  • Bring a bell so you don’t startle hikers.
  • Much of the ride is at high elevation. Expect cool nights, even in summer.
  • Given the profile of the route, it’s best enjoyed from north to south.
  • If you can, hitch a ride from Chama to Cumbres Pass, to save yourself a paved road climb.
  • ‘Blue Buses’ take 2 bikes. Occasionally, drives will allow a third on board. But don’t count on it. Trays will fit up to 3in tires once partially deflated.
  • Camping opportunities abound in the area, given that most of the route is in National Forest.
  • Lodging is available in Chama and Ojo Caliente.
  • There are no resupply points en route, except at the very end in El Rito. Stock up in Chama or before.
  • Be sure to refuel on delicious Mexican fare at El Faralito, in El Rito(11am-2.30pm, 5pm-8pm, 575-581-9509).
  • There are plenty of eating options in Chama – including Red Mountain Pizza – as well as a small grocery store.
  • Being predominantly alpine in nature, the route is relatively well watered. Still, it’s worth having the capacity to carry 4L of H2O, given the amount of ridgeline riding.

There is one small section of CDT trail being built (as of July 2016) that should be completed soon. In the meantime, it requires a short connecting bushwack – approx 63 miles in.

The CDT runs through Canjilon Lakes (junction mile 69). However, the trail is unmaintained in this area – with numerous trees to climb over – so we’d suggest descending on FR 559 instead, as indicated by this gpx.

If you’re in a hurry, you can drop into El Rito on the large, wide and sometimes dusty FR110. But parallel primitive roads (as suggested in this gpx at mile 79) make for a more interesting ride.

From El Rito, you can catch the Blue back to Espanola and Santa Fe. Or ride onto Ojo Caliente for a soak in the hot springs, and do the same from there.

Suggested weekend itinerary: 

Friday: 5.30pm bus from Espanola to Chama (route 190), arriving 7.10pm in Chama

Saturday/Sunday: full riding days (hitch up to the start point at Cumbre Pass if possible)

Monday: Descend into El Rito for late breakfast/early lunch at El Farelito (11am-2.30pm, 5pm-8pm). Short ride to Ojo Caliente. Soak. Bus back to Espanola (route 190, 30 mins) departing 2.26pm or 5.56pm from the resort.

 

  • RTD website, detailing public transportation in New Mexico. Sometimes easier to ring, as the website is somewhat confusing unless you know the area.
  • Timetable for the Española to Chama Blue Bus.
  • Timetable for Ojo Caliente to Española (this connects with the bus to Santa Fe).
  • Ojo Caliente spa; pamper yourself!
  • Thanks are due to the excellent New Mexico Endurance series, and its Redneck Epic, for inspiration in planning this route.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • That route looks amazing! I need to spend a lot more time in the land of green chilies next year, for sure. Putting this one on the list.

  • Cass Gilbert

    It’s a good’un, for sure. I was really surprised by how much singletrack there was along with section of the CDT… and even more, by how rideable it was. It’s pretty mellow for the most part, too.

  • David Wyrick

    Mellow enough for a gravel grinder with 45mm wide tyres?

  • Cass Gilbert

    My hunch is that it’s much more enjoyable ride on a mountain bike.

  • Andrew Wade

    I remember that view from the Brazos Ridge at the Cruces Wilderness Basin sign. Excited to hear about the future Chili Line route. Northern NM was a highlight of my GDMBR ride and these smaller routes are an easy way for me to get back into that area again.

  • David

    I’m wondering what the water situation is like? Were you able to keep a full stock each day? I imagine this time of year (nearly May) the streams will be full of snowmelt, but like the H2O description mentions, the ridgelines will usually be above those streams.

  • dave s

    Just went up to scout this route and there is still a lot of snow and runoff into most meadows.. id give it two or three more weeks to be doable

  • aeronautes

    The difficulty for this ride is a 7. What does that mean, exactly? I was up at Dale Ball recently and I did okay up there, not great, but I haven’t been mountain biking for long (I grew up commuting over pavement and city park trails). I’m going to be training for this ride to improve my ability and endurance. Doable? Is there a good guide or explanation for the difficulty rating? Thanks.

  • cameron wisener

    Is there a map recommended to carry for this route? Or is a CDT map sufficient enough?

  • Martin Apolinar

    I am planning on doing this route in a few weeks but i cant the gpx file to work. Is there another place that has it, or do i need to learn how to use my computer?

  • Cass Gilbert

    If there’s an issue, you can download directly from RWGPS (for free) as a gpx or kml.

  • Cass Gilbert

    There’s nothing especially technical about this ride, from a mountain biking point of view. But it’s remote and at altitude, so I’d consider those to be the the main challenges. If Dale Ball feels a bit overwhelming, I’d definitely hone your skills a little more before heading into the backcountry.

  • Cass Gilbert

    A CDT map should be fine, which you could supplement with the Carson NF map too for a broader overview of the area.

  • Martin Apolinar

    Was up there last week and there is still a lot of snow from Crubres pass until the Brazos Ridge. There are also a ton of downed trees that will make your first day really fun.

  • Dylan

    How many downed trees are we talking? 1 per mile….or worse? Considering heading up there mid-July….hopefully at least the snow will be gone by then

  • Jamie Shaffer

    Hey, so coming from living at 6000ft of elevation how much will I notice the 10000-11000 of elevation, and how much do you have to haul ass to finish this route in 3 days? Thanks!

  • Cass Gilbert

    I think that very much depends on the individual – I don’t think it would be a major issue, as 6000ft is a good base. 3 days is just fine. The riding itself can be done in two (especially if you hitch a ride up the paved pass to the start of the CT). It’s the logistics that push it to a potential 3 – getting to Charma and back again.

    I did hear there’s some blowdown on the trail after the winter though – not sure when/if that will be cleared up.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’m curious about this too. Would love to know how much, roughly, a ‘tonne’ is. Thanks!!

  • Martin Apolinar

    The worst of it was just after the start. By a ton I mean we didnt even bother getting on the bikes for 5 miles. Some sections had trees every 10 to 20 feet others had them every 60 feet or so. They got a lot of snow this year and it shows. It clears up at about mile 20, as you start a descent into the large meadow just below the Brazos ridge.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks for the update. Given it’s the CDT at that point, perhaps those areas will be cleared eventually.

  • Jamie Shaffer

    Would you recommend doing a different route? Was planning on riding this route in 3 weeks, but don’t feel like hike-a-bike for 5 miles.

  • Jamie Shaffer

    Is there a way to avoid the first 20 miles and start around Brazos Ridge? As much as I like hiking, id rather bike.

  • Dylan

    Sooooo we tried to do this route last weekend with little success, unfortunately. It took us 4 hours to do the first 15 miles of dirt!! The problem is that there are 30-40 downed trees within a few miles on the CDT about midway through the first section of single track. Looking at the map I’d estimate this was between miles 15 and 17, it seemed like the downed trees were usually on north facing slopes. Expect very slow goings through this section as you have to stop every 100ft sometimes to hoist your bike up and over some pretty large downed trees. Anywho that was our first hurdle, but then the rains came and turned the roads into peanut butter…. so we decided to bail while on the road just south of Osier Mesa. A little deja vu later I realized we were on the GDMBR, which connects back to highway 17 along FS roads. With our heads hung low, we walked/rode back to highway 17, rode down to Chama, and hitched back to Abiquiu to our truck.

    Aside from the downed trees section, the CDT was surprisingly rideable (and fun!) most of the time. Hopefully the rest of the route doesn’t have problems with downed trees though. I’d like to give it another go when rain isn’t in the forecast, though I’ll probably skip the first section of the CDT by biking 2 miles further up 17 and taking the GDMBR until Osier Mesa where it connects to the Chama Charmer.

  • Dylan

    Yea if you go about 2 miles further on highway 17 you can connect with the GDMBR. You can follow this to Osier Mesa where it joins the Chama Charmer.

  • Dylan

    Sooooo we tried to do this route last weekend with little success, unfortunately. It took us 4 hours to do the first 15 miles of dirt!! The problem is that there are 30-40 downed trees within a few miles on the CDT about midway through the first section of single track. Looking at the map I’d estimate this was between miles 15 and 17, it seemed like the downed trees were usually on north facing slopes. Expect very slow goings through this section as you have to stop every 50- https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f28b9ccabedaf235bc7b55fbf335f75635621a9aae9bc1c19b31cff9027b0e4.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/85af04c21c2a4615ee65644553c2cebe64d9f7ca621cea24f0f62c59bc3c20bc.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f8ce3fd142645fa2d0f271ac68653e472dda2240ad05988ea563acc345bb16f9.jpg 100ft sometimes to hoist your bike up and over some pretty large downed trees. Anywho that was our first hurdle, but then the rains came and turned the roads into peanut butter…. so we decided to bail while on the road just south of Osier Mesa. A little deja vu later I realized we were on the GDMBR, which connects back to highway 17 along FS roads. With our heads hung low, we walked/rode back to highway 17, rode down to Chama, and hitched back to Abiquiu to our truck.

    Aside from the downed trees section, the CDT was surprisingly rideable (and fun!) most of the time. Hopefully the rest of the route doesn’t have problems with downed trees though. I’d like to give it another go when rain isn’t in the forecast, though I’ll probably skip the first section of the CDT by biking 2 miles further up 17 and taking the GDMBR until Osier Mesa where it connects to the Chama Charmer.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks for the update. Seeing Martin’s comment below from last month, where he describes a similar situation – and how long it runs for. Hopefully – being the CDT – it will get cleared over the summer. It seems like the worst of the blowdown runs for some 5 miles, and the rest is clear.

  • Dylan

    Yea I saw that. I think we’re talking about the same section. I thought it was only a few miles, but it might have well been 5. Did Martin finish the route? Unclear from his comments, but if the rest of the route is clear, I can’t wait to give it another go!

  • Jamie Shaffer

    Thanks Dylan, looking at the map it looks like we would take forest road 117 to 87 which then meets up the Chama Charmer route. Is this correct?

  • Dylan

    Non of the layers in my app have a number for the road. It’s the orange road in the screen capture shown below. The blue dotted line is the Chama Charmer route. The second waypoint you see is the tipi! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/55a6132243bcd9a784e6df78f8cefd1d2a13246e13969d3b5ac9bac8cb4e0ce5.png

  • Jamie Shaffer

    Cool that is the one I was looking at. Thank you for confirming.

  • Jamie Shaffer

    Okay got another question, how is the mud on this route with all the monsoons rolling through? Is it still bikeable?

  • Cass Gilbert

    The worst of the quagmire-style mud tends to be on NM’s high desert dirt roads and trails, rather than in the Carson NF. This said, I imagine things could get very messy straight after heavy rain. For the most part, the trails dry quickly after a few hours of sun.

  • mat long

    Looking to ride this later this month, any updates on the conditions since the last posts of multiple huge tree downs?

  • Stephanie Maltarich

    Does anyone know if there is a shuttle service? I know that’s probably a silly question. We have more than two people and won’t be able to utilize the bus, unfortunately. We can shuttle our cars, but would be better to pay for a shuttle!

  • twowheeledwandering

    A group of us are planning to ride this around labor day weekend. Seeing the talk about downed trees…that doesn’t look like much fun. Anyone know if these have been cleared yet or who we might contact to find our more about that?

    I’m also wondering if anyone can suggest a place to leave a car in Chama as we’ll be more than two riders and the blue bus really only takes two bikes.

  • Jamie Shaffer

    Just finished this route or rather a modified version of the route last week. This thing is a tough bastard!!!!! A couple of trail notes for anyone riding it soonish this “clean cattle tank at about mile 32 has a rotting cow in it so be sure to fill up before or there is a pond after Shunty Climb. Be prepared for a fair amount to dead fall throughout but it is still rideable. If you are feeling lazy towards the end you can take the El Rito forest road (sorry forgot what it is called, but a sign points to and is labeled El Rito). Its ~16 miles of downhill forest road with a nice cold river to dip your bottom in. Fun and tough route with great views, thanks for posting it @cassgilbert:disqus.

  • stuart p pendleton

    Good luck. Wondering how it went. We are going to finish it up this weekend. We started it a month ago and had to bail. Tough route finding and lots of down trees.

  • twowheeledwandering

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ace0e59ff9535fc045890326d6ef21e4b40c7fb9af9023301bc0e55e91a40452.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9c4c2746a1342e287467e5944d9af0cd0678eac4123e4dc6e04417b5090d40c2.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7be764a1562a5cf4456c05731575f950b5b3e6228ac3a6f7014ac662b89d809d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bb506fbf2aaba1328c1b7bb8586b10d1c0663628c64a0c98d390f190bfc4a5e2.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ccaff86ee5417f209abf62d7e22fd639f2698319527c53123d135f65ea1c094d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/46f50824b36a7682cd22bbd9dcdc88269889c4baf5e660127f79e7ec6d782c2f.jpg Hi Stuart. We ended up riding into Luganitas campground from Rt. 17 and then back out the same way we came in, all on FR 87. Two of us were on touring bikes that were not really able to handle some of the rough terrain but our bonus is that we we live in Santa Fe and the elevation wasn’t that hard on us while the third rider had a bike suitable for this riding but had not been living at elevation. It made for a pretty good balance of strengths and weaknesses overall.

    Having said that, we did manage it (one of us with 35mm road tires and 30 pounds loaded on just rear panniers) but there was a lot of hike-a-bike. All in all, we still had a good time and have been inspired to purchase bikes that will allow us to do this sort of riding with more comfort and ease. I would not deter anyone from trying this route with something other than a mountain bike but know that the dirt roads are hard packed and really rough or loose grapefruit sized rocky. My Surly LHT handled the terrain well and while we had no mechanical fails or flats, but it was not the most comfortable ride either.

    Good luck to you! I hope you have a great ride!

  • stuart p pendleton

    Those photos look familiar. Glad you didn’t start on the CDT – would have been impossible on touring bikes. We tried to stay on the course and barely made it to Hopewell lake in 2 longgggg days. This weekend we are trying to finish from Hopewell Lake to Ojo. Planning on 2 more long days. Hopefully there are fewer down trees.

  • stuart p pendleton

    The trail has not been cleared and will not be until next summer. The ride from Hopewell Lake to Ojo is super rideable and way easier than the first half. I would consider starting at Cumbres pass and taking the dirt road to Laguitas and get on the CDT there. It will save you hours and hours of carrying your bike over down trees. Plan for 2 nights and 3 long days.