One of the most ancient forms of outdoor winter transportation is making a strong comeback these days. In the last couple of years, the number of people partaking in snowshoeing—a low-impact, cardio-beneficial form of snow recreation—has increased drastically. Snowshoeing is, after all, far cheaper than downhill skiing, snowboarding or cross-country skiing (rentals average $10-$20; $100-$300 to purchase your own).
The activity is gentle on the body, yet burns between 400 and 600 calories per hour. And, oh! The places you can go! When the snow covers the abundant desert and mountain terrain surrounding us, the snowshoe explorations and destinations become nearly limitless; snowshoes allow their wearers to journey into depths of wildernesses for which boots and skis may not be adequate. And opportunities to view winter wildlife abound.
Paradoxically, this desert of ours provides us with some of the most beautiful areas for days spent walking on top of powdery white water. Below are three of the best snowshoe destinations in and around Santa Fe.
Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area
Located just off of Highway 38—a two-hour drive from Santa Fe—is the Enchanted Forest. The area is geared specifically toward cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and, on certain trails, dogs are allowed to tag along.
Enchanted Forest is a good place for a first-time snowshoe experience, as snowshoes are available for rent, and there are nine miles of trails allotted solely to snowshoeing. Yet, while there are trails especially for snowshoes, shoers are able to amble along the cross-country paths as well—provided they do not trample the ski tracks.
More than 20 pristine backwoods trails wind among pine and fir, and glorious views abound in the snowy solitudes of the Enchanted Forest. If one day isn’t enough, or if you’re pining after some winter camping, yurts are available for rent ($65-$125) so that you can warm yourself by the woodstove and enjoy the silence of a snowy night.
Valles Caldera National Preserve
Across the valley from Santa Fe, in the beautiful Jemez Mountains, is one of the Earth’s six ancient super-volcanoes. The volcano’s open-meadow top makes for wonderful wanderings through the snow on these cold northern New Mexico days. Valles Caldera offers snowshoe rentals ($10-$15), groomed trails and, on certain winter days, nighttime hours for those who enjoy hiking in the solitude of cold night, under the light of the moon and stars. Though a day-use permit is required for most trails, the Coyote Call Trail and the area surrounding it is free.
Most trails are maintained especially for snowshoers and cross-country skiers, but the adventurous are free to wander off the trails and into un-trod territory. Many visitors, both on and off the beaten path, have been graced with eagle, deer, coyote and elk sightings. What could be a more glorious way to spend a winter’s day than walking on top of the cold white snow on what once was a hot and active volcano?
Santa Fe National Forest
And then, of course, there’s the simple pleasure of not having to travel far for your outdoor adventure. Wouldn’t it be nice to snowshoe to your snowshoe destination? On days when the snow covers the ground even in town, strap on the snowshoes and wander into the Dale Ball trail network. If you’re feeling energetic, you may find yourself hiking up and eastward into the National Forest. Or, park along Hyde Park Road and snowshoe the Aspen Vista loop, a 10-mile hike of some of the most breathtaking views of the wilderness and valley below. The Winsor Loop ambles along the Big Tesuque Creek, and the Chamisa Trail takes you through beautiful snow-covered meadows and pine forests. These trails are free to use, but you must supply your own winter gear.