With the National Parks' Every Kid in a Park program, fourth-graders across the country and their families get free access to national and state parks, forests and public lands. New Mexicans are especially lucky to be surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes and historic sites, so you won't have to go far to get the most out of the passes before they expire at the end of August.
Research has shown that access to nature can play a role in mental and physical health and can improve academic performance. Julie Anne Overton, the public affairs officer for Santa Fe National Forest, hopes that "[the passes] will launch our kids on the path of stewardship. … Our parks and forests belong to all of us, so every kid should get to enjoy them."
This year Elena Kayak, the sustainability program specialist at Santa Fe Public Schools, worked with the Santa Fe National Forest to get a pass to every fourth-grader enrolled at SFPS—but if your kid has lost lost theirs, you can get a new one by stopping at the BLM office (301 Dinosaur Trail) or the Santa Fe National Forest Headquarters (11 Forest Lane).
Before you plan your trip, check the park's website (search nps.gov or emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD) to find out about current conditions, possible closures and permitted activities, such as fishing, biking, building a fire, bringing a dog on the trail and so on. Check each park's visitor center for Junior Ranger activity booklets.
You might not have cell service at the park, so share your itinerary with someone and grab a map before you set out. Check the status of forest fires at nmfireinfo.com and make sure you've researched how to safely build and put out a campfire if you plan to stay overnight. Bring enough water, sunscreen and an extra layer in case weather changes. Talk loudly or wear something that jingles to keep bears at a distance. Don't leave food out, don't feed the wildlife and follow the leave-no-trace philosophy by taking your trash with you when you leave.
Learn more at everykidinapark.gov.
There are nearly a dozen national and state parks located within an hour's drive of Santa Fe that are perfect for a day trip.
At Bandelier National Monument, a trail leads up a narrow canyon past cliff dwellings built by Ancestral Puebloans that you can explore by climbing up series of wooden ladders.
Distance from Santa Fe: 40.8 miles
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Cochiti Pueblo offers a magnificent hike through the towering conical rock formations carved by 7 million years of weather, ending with breathtaking views from the mesa above. Just make sure you enter the full name of the park in Google maps, otherwise you might end up at a lone tent rock near Los Alamos.
Distance from Santa Fe: 41 miles
Headed to Albuquerque? Take the morning to stop at the Petroglyph National Monument, one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. Depending on which trail you choose, you can see between 100 and 400 petroglyphs on an easy round-trip hike.
Distance from Santa Fe: 65 miles
For an overnight camping adventure, spend a day at Chaco Culture National
Historical Park, exploring the ruins of an ancient city that was once the cultural and political center of the Southwest. Ancient Chacoans were master astronomers; learn how they constructed their city in alignment with celestial events and glimpse the stars through the powerful telescopes at the park observatory's night sky program.
Distance from Santa Fe: 179 miles
Head south to White Sands National Monument, where sledding down the rolling dunes left by ancient seas is a popular activity.
Distance from Santa Fe: 232 miles
Check out the underground mysteries of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, one of the weirdest and coolest places on Earth; or inside it, anyway.
Distance from Santa Fe: 292 miles