The Continental Divide Trail through Ghost Ranch and the Land of O'Keeffe, New Mexico

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14165A, Backpack


  • Trek the Continental Divide Trail
  • View O’Keeffe’s landscapes
  • Learn the area’s history


  • Lodging and meals at Ghost Ranch
  • Paleontological and historical sessions with experts
  • Georgia O’Keeffe tour


DatesSep 20–28, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffBrian Johnson

Trip Overview

The Trip

The fall season is a wonderful time to trek through Ghost Ranch and the Chama River Canyon Wilderness. Join us for a week-long thru-hike on a part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) that has a story to tell. The story will not only explore the unique northern New Mexico culture, it'll step a few years back in time to a creative time for artist Georgia O’Keeffe, then take a giant leap back in time to evidence of dinosaurs roaming this very same land. Hiking with full packs and together in a group, we'll cover up to 12 miles a day at elevations between 6,200 feet and 9,200 feet. We'll hike through Ghost Ranch itself, where we will enjoy an educational program on a layover day. Our practice of ultralight techniques, simple menu planning, and wise water consumption will be underlying themes that will also help us enjoy our wilderness experience more fully.


Day 1: Arrive at Ghost Ranch and get to know each other over dinner and a meeting.

Day 2: After breakfast at Ghost Ranch, we'll shuttle to the trailhead near El Rito. We'll hike from Harris Bear Camp to Yeso Tank.

Day 3: Today we'll hike from Yeso Tank to Middle Camp.

Day 4: After breakfast at Middle Camp, we'll hike into Ghost Ranch for an educational program.

Day 5: Today we'll hike from Ghost Ranch to Rim Vista.

Day 6: We'll hike from Rim Vista to Ojitos Canyon (Chama River Canyon Wilderness).

Day 7: We'll hike from Ojitos Canyon to Fuertes Spring (Chama River Canyon Wilderness).

Day 8: We'll hike from Fuertes Spring to Highway 96, near Gallina. From there, we'll shuttle to Ghost Ranch and enjoy our last dinner together as a group.

Day 9: After breakfast at 7:30 a.m., you are free to depart Ghost Ranch, traveling home or continuing on to your next destination.



Getting There

This trip starts on Saturday, September 20th with 5:30 p.m. dinner at Ghost Ranch, our first night place of lodging, followed by a meeting. Traveling by either car or plane are options for getting to Ghost Ranch. Ghost Ranch is located in north-central New Mexico, near Abiquiu, about 65 miles north of Santa Fe and 120 miles north of Albuquerque.

If you're arriving by personal or rental car, you can drive directly to Ghost Ranch.  US Highway 84 runs north-south through Ghost Ranch. Usual driving times to Ghost Ranch, without stops, are 2.5 hours from Albuquerque and 1.25 hours from Santa Fe. Build this time and any side trips into your travel schedule, so that you will arrive at Ghost Ranch before 5:30 p.m.

If you're flying to New Mexico’s international airport—the “Albuquerque International Sunport,” or ABQ—it is advisable to plan for arrival at ABQ no later than 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. From ABQ, if you are not renting a car, a private van shuttle by advance arrangement can take you to Santa Fe, 55 miles north of Albuquerque.  Then a Ghost Ranch shuttle, also arranged in advance, can meet you at a local hotel and take you the last 65 miles to Ghost Ranch, dropping you off at the front door of the headquarters office. This is a viable travel option if you do not wish to take a car that will be parked at Ghost Ranch for most of the week.

It is also possible to take the Amtrak train to Albuquerque or Lamy, near Santa Fe. Shuttles from the train stations to Santa Fe and Ghost Ranch are available by advance arrangement. For the travel options requiring shuttles, contact private shuttles for scheduling transportation to Santa Fe AND contact Ghost Ranch for scheduling transportation from Santa Fe to Ghost Ranch.  The shuttle schedules available may affect your train or air travel arrangements, so coordinate them together for both the start and end of this trip.

Accommodations and Food

We will be enjoying the rustic comforts of Ghost Ranch for the first and last nights of this event.  It is truly a beautiful place.  Dormitory-style lodging with shared bathrooms will give us a place to land before and after the backpack trip.  The dining hall will be open to us for meals, including vegetarian, while we are there.  On the trail, meals will be simple but satisfying, with a few special treats for variety.  Vegetarian diets can be accommodated.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated moderate/strenuous. We will be hiking up to 12 miles a day on a combination of official and unofficial portions of the Continental Divide Trail. Expect all trails to be in unmaintained condition; most of the trails and jeep roads we will travel will allow for smooth hiking, but occasional segments may be severely eroded or rocky.  Some cross-country travel will be necessary, under the guidance of trip leaders.  There will be up to 1,500 feet of elevation gain on each of two days toward the end of the week. Each participant will start the trip with 12 additional pounds of group supplies, including food. Water will be cached in advance for one waterless campsite, so carrying extra water will not be necessary.  Although we will be hiking each day from Sunday through Saturday, there will be one layover day spent at Ghost Ranch that only requires a few miles of hiking with packs.

Equipment and Clothing

We will be carrying all of our personal and group supplies with us every day on the trail.  To better enjoy our time on the trail, ultralight techniques are highly encouraged! Beautiful clear days will also mean cold nights (35-40 F) and it is also wise for us to be prepared for rain.  Tents are optional; a tarp shelter and ground cloth combined with a warm down or synthetic fill sleeping bag will work fine.  Heavy mountaineering boots are not needed; lightweight boots or trail running shoes are good options if you feel comfortable carrying your pack in occasional rocky terrain and are aware of cactus vegetation.  Each participant should have two one-quart water bottles.  A recommended gear list will be provided in pre-trip correspondence.


  • Poling-Kempes, Lesley, Ghost Ranch.
  • Poling-Kempes, Lesley, Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu.
  • DeBuys, William, Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range.
  • Julyan, Bob, New Mexico's Continental Divide Trail.


This trip includes lands of two national forests, one wilderness area, the Continental Divide Trail, a major dam and reservoir, the site of the state dinosaur fossil, a land grant originating in pre-colonial times from Spain, and Ghost Ranch. It is an inspiring landscape. These beautiful lands are also the setting for a juggling act to preserve mixed-use policies that satisfy the users, from long-time traditional uses to modern outdoor recreation.  Northern New Mexico is unique in its forest lands management, having the only national forests in the U.S. where the socio-economic needs of local citizens are directly taken into account. Learn more about this amazing place that inspired O’Keeffe as we travel the CDT and meet local experts in the paleontology and history of the area.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests.



Brian Johnson has led wilderness outings in northern New Mexico for over 20 years, in all the seasons. Wherever he goes, Brian strives to treat his groups to beautiful vistas, secluded campsites, and stargazing opportunities, fueled by simple but satisfying food. He will relate to you stories of the local history and people of these lands. As a career state employee Brian has served the State of New Mexico in environmental protection efforts, working in renewable energy and mine reclamation programs.

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