When planning our trip to Santa Fe, we were excited for the art, culture, and architecture. I was expecting to be transported back to my childhood growing up in the south west. Adobe buildings, the smell of roasting chiles, and mexican food galore. While Sante Fe delivered on all of those fronts, what we didn’t expect was the endless amount of outdoor activities to keep us occupied.
We never would have guessed that our favorite part of the trip would be the hiking. We took to several trails over the 4 days we were there, but three stood out to us above all. Each of the three was incredibly unique, offering glimpses into the history of the people and land from hundreds of years past. Each trail was different in its difficulty as well. From paved paths to rock scrambles, these hikes kept us on our toes and together provided everything you’d want in a week with nature. When the trip was over, we were pretty confident that our favorite hikes of 2016 occurred all within 60 mile radius of Santa Fe.
1. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Our favorite and the most challenging hike on this list is Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the park is filled with geological surprises around every turn. While we didn’t expect to spend long at this stop, with the round trip distance amounting to about 3 miles total, the trail is difficult with steep inclines, narrow passageways, and several rock scrambles. We spent about 4 hours total. With an approximately 1.5 hour drive from Santa Fe, this trip will take the day but is absolutely worth it.
This was one of the trails where we saw several people ill equipped to take the path – lacking the right amount of water and physical ability to complete the return hike. The trail has several steep steps, lose gravel, and downhill slopes, many of which are surrounded by cacti and large rocks. Even on a cool October day, the sun was hot. We each carried about 2 liters of water and finished it all on the hike.
On the hike, you start at the ground level and slowly make an incline up to a lookout area where you feel like you can see all of New Mexico. The rocks slowly transform as looming giants to barely distinct peaks below.
The trail is well marked and easy to follow. Expect to be covered in red dust by the time you reach the parking lot.
More information about Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, including park maps and visitor information, can be found on the Bureau of Land Management website.
2. Santa Fe National Forest
Our trip to Santa Fe was during the first week of October, which happened to fall right at the peak time for the leaves to change in Santa Fe National Forest. It was one of the most beautiful autumn foliage displays we’d ever seen – the forest was in the middle of turning completely yellow. We were advised to visit the park, which falls under the authority of the National Forest Service and Hyde State Park, by our hotel staff. Without their recommendation, we never would have made the trip which is only about a 30 minute drive to the top of the mountain.
We parked near the top of the peak at the Aspen Vista picnic area where trails lead to Tesuque Peak and the Alamo Vista Trail. If you don’t have time to take the hike, which is fairly easy with a slight incline but wide pathway, the scenic drive is well worth the time. The road ends at a ski area where it looked like you could take the ski lift for more views of the mountain foliage. More information on trail conditions and visiting the forest can be found on the USDA park website.
3. Bandelier National Monument
There are over 70 miles of trail in Bandelier National Monument and we only walked on about 2 miles of that trail. But those two miles left an impression. From what we hear, visiting this popular site is better during off-season when there are less crowds. Operated by the National Park Service, Bandelier National Monument is history and nature rolled into one. Along many of the trails are petroglyphs and archeological treasures. We took the Main Loop Trail to the Alcove House where you can climb 140 feet up to a ceremonial cave used by Native Americans.
The path to the Alcove House is not for the faint of heart…or those who are afraid of heights. Four sets of ladders, narrow pathways, and stone steps stand between the canyon floor and the home. We visited this site at the end of the day, just an hour before the park closed. We only encountered a few people on the steps to the top, but navigating around those few groups was difficult. I cannot imagine what it would be like during high season. Note that this trail may not be fit for small children.
You don’t have to go all the way up to the Alcove House to have an adventure through time, though. The Main Loop Trail is a short and easy 1.2 mile loop trail that offers ample opportunities to climb small ladders into cavates carved into the stone walls by Native Americans. Signs along the trail inform you about the different sites and archeology. This is a great trail for everyone – from kids, to parents, to grandparents.
The looped trail is very easy to follow, with much of it paved and well maintained. There are a few areas with stone steps that are fairly easy to climb.
For more information about visiting the park, visit the NPS website.