Open to hikers, bikers and horses, the trails surrounding Santa Fe provide free nature therapy 365 days a year. Leave valuables at home rather than in your car, make sure you take plenty of water and look for signs that help you stay on track. And say hello when you pass another group. That’s how we roll.
Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve
Hit the I-25 Frontage Road just past the Downs of Santa Fe for this hidden treasure, maintained by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. A wide, flat trail takes travelers on a walk as short as a third of a mile to a spring-fed pond, ringed in cattails and frequented by dragonflies, bullfrogs and the like. A great place for bird-watching, and with plenty of places to sit along the way, go for a slightly longer distance on easy loop trails. Hours are limited and seasonal, but docents keep it open now on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am-3 pm.
This quintessential fall walk is stunning when the aspen reveal their gorgeous golden hues, but it’s accessible for every season. While the forest road makes it easy to follow, the steepness of the climb satisfies your need to feel exhausted by your recreational endeavor. Choose how high up the road to go, with grand views that start when you get out of the car and rewards that get better with each step. It’s an 11-mile round trip to the top, where you can stop for a rest in a ski shack and see the microwave towers atop Tesuque Peak. Go early, though, as by noon on a weekend day, the parking along Hyde Park Road near mile marker 12 at the trailhead can feel a bit like Trader Joe’s.
Close to the city, this trailhead was the home of the late New Mexico Supreme Court Judge John T Watson, whose family was always hospitable about letting hikers traipse through on their way to summit of Sun Mountain, about a 6-mile round trip. Neighbors rallied to buy the land instead of letting it go to developers, then they turned it over to the city as a permanent conservation easement. Look for the green signs on the east side of Old Santa Fe Trail near Sun Mountain Road. (Hint: You'll feel like you are directly centered in front of the half-circle-shaped mountain when you're at trailhead.) See the city glimmer in the morning light after a heart-pumping climb that gains about 1,400 feet.
A maze of options opens up in La Tierra's more-than-25-mile trail system, accessed from several trailheads off Camino de los Montoyas from Hwy. 599. It's a choose-your-own-adventure outing, with loops tripling back on themselves as they follow ridgelines that offer views east toward the city and the vista of the southern Sangres, and west to the Jemez. Or opt to meander through arroyos and basins that, on wet summers, can fill with wildflowers. Bikers can hunt down technical trails that include banked turns and jumps, and the bravest of the brave can dive into the dirt jumps and freeride jump park near the Frijoles Trailhead. A map, which may come in handy, is included in the Santa Fe Foothill Trails Guide put out by the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, which builds and maintains these trails.
Bear Wallow and Borrego Trail
This popular 4-mile loop offers a quick option to tour through some of the Sangre de Cristos, dip your feet in a stream, and feel just a bit of burn climbing 800 feet of elevation change. Whether you opt for clockwise or counter, the hike will drop down Borrego or Bear Wallow trails to the Winsor, follow a short stretch along Tesuque Creek and then back up. Make sure you catch the turns or you'll pop out in Tesuque or at the ski basin—or set up a shuttle or have a rescue-ready friend to call. Keep an eye out for bears in spring, wildflowers in summer and bright aspens in fall. The trailhead sits about 8 miles up Hyde Park Road toward the ski basin, with modest parking in the paved lot on the left.
Want More Ideas?
There’s no better resource for making the most of the city’s outdoor bounty than the Sierra Club’s Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area. First published in 1981 as a quarter-inch-thick book with scribbled maps, it’s now in the seventh edition and includes detailed topographic maps, provided with the help of Travel Bug, and instructions to see 56 places including waterfalls, alpine lakes and overlooks. Beware of instructions like, “Walk through the open meadow” and “Stay on the left margin of the boulders.” But if you pay attention, the guide won’t let you down. You can also make copies of just the pages for the hike you’re heading on and leave the bulky text on the coffee table. If you need a bucket list, start ticking these off. You’ll be in good company.
Still More, and Wilder, Ideas
The Wild Guide Passport to New Mexico Wilderness tours through this wild state’s wildest places. As birthplace of the wilderness movement, New Mexico boasts a lengthy list of wilderness and wilderness study areas, and they’re compiled in this guide from the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
“There are a lot of areas in here that people would just not find any other place, in any other resource,” says Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
Trail information is limited to a single option in formal wilderness areas—a taste, and inspiration to dig deeper.
National forests, monuments and parks stretch across the state map, but wilderness is different.
“Wilderness areas are the one area where you can go where you don’t have to hear the chainsaws, you don’t have to smell the smoke from motors and hear the noise, and it’s really about having a few places left that we want to protect that are free from all those motorized, mechanized activities of modern civilization, and I think that there’s something very spiritual in that,” Allison says. “These are areas that are governed primarily by natural forces, and they’re self-willed, and they’re wild, and we’re a small part of that. To experience that, I think, is different, and humbling, and grounding.”