Now that you have likely had a chance to sample some of Santa Fe’s best eats, it’s time to put on your favorite pair of kicks so we can make room for more food. Whether you are into walking, hiking, biking and/or running, love stunning views and endless azure blue skies, Santa Fe is a city for all seasons and promises to be your indoor and outdoor heaven on Earth.
The powerful and alluring combination of well more than 200 restaurants (mostly independent ones), more than 300 sunny days, over 50 miles of trails and 1.6 million acres within the Santa Fe National Forest, you may never want to leave The City Different–and these are certainly some of the top reasons we moved here.
For the novice hiker or expert athlete, the vast terrain of sandy to rocky grounds and scenic landscape filled with aspen, juniper and piñon trees and ubiquitous cacti will entertain, enchant and enthrall. I mean, who wouldn’t be ready to sign up for their next hike when, even at low altitudes, the scenery is breathtaking and the vistas stretch on for miles and miles and miles, like this?
No matter where you launch your outdoor excursion in Santa Fe, be prepared to carry plenty of water because the altitude, sun and lack of humidity will drive you to drink–lots of water. Even if you’re not hiking or exercising while visiting, be cognizant of the need to drink more water than normal. Your skin will thank you. And, if you are taking man’s best friend along for the adventure, please be sure and have water for Fido, too.
Easy, Starter Trails
Randall Davey Audobon Center & Sanctuary
Located at the end of Upper Canyon Road within a 135-acre wildlife sanctuary, this very simple hiking trail* is well manicured, clear of debris and is mostly on sandy ground making it a perfect place for beginners, families with young children and grandparents who want the experience of an effortless hike merely to be in touch with nature.
This short trail is a true sanctuary where you can enjoy a peaceful walk without coming into contact with another person. Feel free to stop along the way and linger at one of the many benches that are thoughtfully positioned throughout the area. Perhaps while you are strolling or sitting and relaxing, you will be lucky enough to spot a few of the 190 species of birds that are found in the sanctuary’s various ecosystems.
*Dogs are not allowed on this trail
Santa Fe Canyon Preserve
A generous gift from the Nature Conservancy (and other generous donors), these 525 acres of open space includes a short but varied 1.3-mile hiking loop.* Walkers will find more than 140 species of birds, the original Santa Fe river, active beavers and Northern Leopard frogs. Located near the Randall Davey Audobon Center where Cerro Gordo and Upper Canyon Road come together, this historic and rich preserve provides access to visitors and locals alike seeking to bond with nature and work up an appetite.
Since the start of the preserve in 2000, the Conservancy has worked diligently to restore the land to its natural state and devised a short hiking loop that highlights the rich history of Santa Fe, its delicate ecology system (the city’s original Old Stone Damn, built in 1881, is part of the preserve ruins) and brings to life the incredible array of wildflowers, wildlife and nature that attract so many to Santa Fe.
The loop around the reservoir and historic dam site is fairly simple with only a few elevated or steep areas that require a tiny bit more effort. The trail is poised with tall and canopied trees and bushes that serve as welcome shade. Walkers particularly enjoy the sounds of the many species of birds which is music for the ears and soothing.
I especially love how the fallen trees now serve as intentional borders for the trail–a true sign of sustainability, creativity and resourcefulness.
Though this trail does not have any views, the intense connection you feel being one with the happy birds, water and wildlife (snakes included) make this brief hike intimately distinctive and accessible to all ages and conditions. The Santa Fe Canyon Preserve also serves as a trailhead for the 22-mile Dale Ball Foothill Trail System.
*Neither dogs nor bikes are allowed on this trail
Dorothy Stewart Trail
Named for American printer, printmaker and artist Dorothy Stewart, who settled in Santa Fe in 1925, this 1.9 mile trail connects with the South Dale Ball trail network and is located near St. John’s College and Upper Canyon Road.
This trail is a favorite because it is fairly easy terrain for both kids and beginners and allows visitors to acclimate to the 7,000 feet of elevation. The reward for this simple hike is majestic and panoramic views of Santa Fe.
Dale Ball Trails
A few miles from the Plaza and located in the foothills of the spectacular Sangre de Cristo mountains are the illustrious, renowned, extensive and impressive Dale Ball Trails. This scenic and acutely well-mapped network of 22-miles of trails* spanning north and south is ideal for beginner hikers and families with small children or more mature adults, as well as more experienced hikers, bikers and runners.
These dense but well constructed and cared for trails are named after Dale Ball, a local resident who took this project on and conceived, designed and constructed the entire system. The immense amount of land was generously donated by the city, county and private donors. Ball then enlisted the financial support of various public and private entities, as well as experts when it came to the construction and creating way-finding signage.
The trails are broken into three areas: North, South and Central. The North is considered the easiest and is filled with spectacular views of the city and Albuquerque. The Central loop links into La Peidra. The South trails are widely known as the most technical of the three with a breathtaking reward of views of Santa Fe, Jemez and Sandia mountains. The South loops link into Atayala and Dorothy Stewart.
The super-easy navigation system features a simple numbered and coded sign at each trail junction making it almost foolproof. If you are looking for something a bit longer than the typical 1-3 mile mapped out hike, the Dale Ball Trails also connect to other area trails, including the Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve, Dorothy Stewart, La Piedra and Atalaya Trails. Most of the trails butt up against the Santa Fe National Forest which ensures for rich and thick tree growth and plenty of areas with abundant shade.
*Dogs on leashes are allowed on the Dale Ball Trails
More Advanced Trails
One of the most popular trails within the Dale Ball Trail system is the Atalaya, near St. John’s College. This nearly 7-mile trail of densely forested area is busy with courteous hikers, bikers and runners seeking an outdoor excursion.
Considered a moderate trail, the views at just over 9,100 elevation are well worth the trip. However, I have listed it as better for the more advanced and physically fit hiker because this is a 3-4 hour trek and that requires a bit more conditioning and preparation.
Sun Mountain Loop
For a complete guide to the area’s trails, visit the http://trailsallianceofsantafe.org/local-trails/
Check out this super cool interactive map of the comprehensive Santa Fe County Trail System.
As I continue to explore the vast hiking trails in and around the city, I will continue to share my experiences with you, so stop back in to see where my next outdoor adventure leads.