The birthplace of Smokey the Bear, discovered here as a cub in 1951, is a rugged piece of mountain real estate that straddles something that's unusual in New Mexico: an east-west-running range. Numerous canyons cut into the north side of the rocky range, while rocky outcroppings distinguish the region to the south. The terrain flattens now and then along the main ridge, and then opens out into meadows and groves of aspen. The Wilderness measures 12 miles long and two to six miles wide, with elevations varying from about 5,500 feet near the eastern boundary to 10,083 feet on Capitan Peak (sometimes called El Capitan Mountain). At the lower elevations, pinion and juniper woodland flourishes, with ponderosa pine making an appearance midslope, followed by mixed conifers (Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, corkbark fir, and pine) on the main ridge. The original Smokey, the world-famous symbol of forest fire prevention, lies buried in nearby Capitan, but plenty of his kinfolk still reside in these woods. Other denizens include large populations of mule deer and wild turkey, both of which attract hunters in the fall (as do the black bears). Anglers can try to catch small brook trout at Pine Lodge, Copeland Canyon, Kelly Canyon, and Seven Cabins Canyon. Of the dozen or so hikes in the Wilderness, 8.2-mile Summit Trail follows the main ridge and probably offers some of the best views. Foot traffic is usually heaviest on the Capitan Peak Trail, which takes 5.7 miles of steep switchbacks to reach El Capitan's summit.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Capitan Mountains Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
New Mexico Wilderness Act - Public law 96-550 (12/19/1980) To designate certain National Forest System lands in the state of New Mexico for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System, and for other purposes