The Best Trails and Hikes Around Santa Fe

Hiking in this enchanted land is a must, with options varying from light to vigorous. Accessible all-season terrain is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts who relish canyon lands, peaks, and elevation inclines—not to mention pristine air and picturesque tableaux. Expect to see flawless aspen groves and wide panoramas of Santa Fe and the surrounding desert, and don’t forget to carry water.

Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
The popular Dale Ball Trails system offers 23.4 miles of interconnected high-altitude desert trails in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where piñon and juniper forest greet sturdy ponderosa trees as you ascend to higher altitudes. The system passes pretty close to town, and navigation is simple thanks to clear trail markers. If you’re so inclined, follow the steepest path along the ridge to the top of Picacho Peak. The reward for your hike is a breathtaking 360-degree view.
Upper Canyon Rd & Cerro Gordo Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
For an easy, tranquil hike close to town, try the Nature Conservancy Loop, nestled between the Santa Fe National Forest and Upper Canyon Road. Running through a former reservoir site, the gentle 1.5-mile trail offers a pristine and nature-filled walk through a 500-acre swath, home to indigenous birds, beavers, bobcats, and mule deer. The adjacent Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary (named after the late Santa Fe artist) exhibits a timeline of the area alongside local plant and pollinator gardens where you can view native beehouses. The center also hosts guided walks.
Forty miles southwest of Santa Fe, you find the awesome, magical Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, a series of mind-blowing, conical sandstone formations that resemble indented ocean waves. Chose from one of two trails—one on ground level, the other through the slot canyons. Don’t forget your camera. Tip: There’s not much canopy in the high desert, so make sure to bring water, and pack sun lotion and a hat.
1105 La Cuchara Road
For a welcome reprieve from city life, steer to the northwest part of Santa Fe to find this network of 25 miles of easy, multipurpose trails. Simply stroll, take a long run, or hop on horseback to wind through a high-desert landscape dotted with wildflowers and sagebrush, under a vast blue sky. For the adventure seekers, there’s plenty of mountain bike terrain (for all levels), and for advanced BMX riders, a designated Trash Pit welcomes more technical freestyle riding and stunts.
208-250 Hyde Park Road
The fantastic Aspen Vista Trail is higher up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along a rocky, dirt road. The trailhead commences at 9,900 feet and tops out at 12,000 feet (at the summit of the Santa Fe ski basin) and provides more exertion and challenge. You will be rewarded with stellar views. Obviously, at the peak of autumn, you’ll want to keep your camera handy.
Winsor Trail, New Mexico, USA
Located close to Santa Fe, the Winsor Trail is a 10-mile (point-to-point) stretch, which appeals to hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. Should you start from the top, there’s several dramatic elevation shifts as the trail weaves through aspen and pine forests and meadows, and then you enter dry, rocky terrain. Downhill riders will relish the easy cruise, and those who want to practice endurance should consider the rigorous upward climb.
Atalaya Mountain, New Mexico 87505, USA
Starting from a trailhead at the small campus of St. John’s College, the Atalaya Mountain Trail begins simply and then rises to a steep and challenging 5.4-mile hike that’ll leave you grateful for having made the effort. (Shorten the trek by setting out from the Ponderosa Ridge trailhead, if you prefer). When you make it out of the ponderosa pines and achieve the summit, you’re rewarded with expansive views of the city 2,000 feet below, as well as of the iconic big blue skies of the Southwest.
Entrance Rd
I’m not sure at what age humans develop the skill to stand still and appreciate scenery, but based on a scientific survey of kids who live in my house, it’s not age seven. (On a trip to the Canadian Rockies, as my wife and I snapped photos of the relentlessly picturesque mountains, my son, Luke, investigated how quickly he could break his toy helicopter.) Luke expects Mother Nature to be his playmate. At Bandelier National Monument, about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she is. The visitor center offers kids a booklet of activities that, when completed, earn them a Junior Ranger patch. (You could call it a bribe. We prefer the term incentive.) The scavenger hunt sent us off on the Main Loop Trail in search of birds, trees, and bugs, as well as the feature that sets Bandelier apart and makes it perfect for kids: cave dwellings. Ladders of salvaged wood lead to rooms that the Pueblo people carved out of the cliffs here over 800 years ago. “I don’t want to go up, Daddy,” Luke said. “It’s too steep.” “You’ve got this, buddy,” I said. “Just take it slow.” There were no lines of impatient parents pushing their children to race up the ladder. (We saw no more than 20 people on the trail.) Luke could climb the rungs at his own pace. He paused in triumph at the top, then set off to wander the caves. While Mom and Dad squatted—“Watch out for your bald head, Daddy”—Luke could explore without even hunching. After about 45 minutes, we were walking back toward the visitor center. We crossed a nearly dry creek by hopping hand in hand from one downed log to another and were back in time for lunch, before hunger, fatigue, or boredom could set in. It was a parent’s—and child’s—dream hike. This appeared in the August/September 2014 issue.
1800 Upper Canyon Road
The artist Randall Davey (part of the Santa Fe Art Colony) painted and worked at this former studio turned National Audubon Society on Upper Canyon Road. The land is now a preserved wildlife sanctuary (with a vast variety of birds like the goldfinch) with several trails and a cultural, educational and historical center. Take a hike with stellar views and later tour Davey’s home and art studio with various personal effects. Closed in the winter. And, make sure to call ahead for times when the house is open.
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