It’s the Water…and a Lot More


by Tim Crisler

Crappies, wipers, trout, saugeyes, bass and walleyes. That’s what many people think about when planning their trip to Trinidad Lake State Park. Or perhaps it’s a day out on a kayak, SUP (stand-up paddleboard) or a speedboat for water skiing in the warmer months. During winter, the truly fish-crazed will drill holes in the ice to reach their quarry. In most cases, the big draw is usually the water. But there is more to this State Park. 

On the north shore of Trinidad Lake is the Reilly Canyon Trail, a four-and-a-half-mile route that parallels the lake and leads through a mix of pinyon pines, junipers and even a few ponderosa pines. This is the quieter, wilder part of the park that very few visitors see. For Jean and Risa, hiking buddies out to do a one-way traverse by means of a car shuttle, the trail is a warm-up for future longer hikes. Their day packs are full of extra clothes, water, a thermos and tiny espresso-sized cups because one of their trail traditions is to look for a vista where they can sit and visit and share their trail coffee. When asked what their motivation is for hiking, they both cited the health benefits to staying active, but the camaraderie out in nature with hot coffee is clearly equally important. Neither of them would likely hike as much if they were to go solo, but having a buddy system in place encourages frequent hikes. Their hikes together inspire deeper conversations, the kind our busy, daily lives allow for all too infrequently. Nature is good for that. 

The Reilly Canyon Trail is an excellent choice for a winter hike because the vast majority of it has southern exposure, meaning snow is less likely to remain after a storm. There are also views out to the lake where there are often over-wintering Bald Eagles standing at the edge of the ice or on shore. Be sure to notice the many examples of petrified wood to be found in the outcroppings and loose talus along the way. Most visitors hike this trail, but it is open to mountain bikes, too. The ride ranges from easy in places to quite rocky and steep in other areas, so maybe not as family-friendly as a hike would be.

If getting in better shape found its way into your New Year’s resolutions, then why not find a buddy who’s done the same and start exploring the network of trails in our region? It’s no secret that if you stay active, you lead a much healthier life than those sitting at home.



The Reilly Canyon Trail is 4.5 miles one-way and 9 miles roundtrip. There are parking areas at either end, with the eastern trailhead beginning in the Carpios Ridge campground and the western end beginning just past the pay station at the Reilly Canyon park entrance. Stop in at the Trinidad Lake State Park Visitor’s Center to get oriented before starting out.

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