Although the nearby mountains are snowcapped and many of the higher-elevation hiking trails may be impassable without snowshoes, plenty of viable options remain for hikers who want to get out and enjoy the exercise and spectacular scenery.
Curling along the foothills of Santa Fe, the Dale Ball Trail system is an extensive series of trails that hikers can experience virtually any time of the year, says James Glover, the founding partner for The Idea Group of Santa Fe and a former hike leader for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s defunct Hike for Discovery program.
“That’s a nice trail system that essentially goes all over the north hills of Santa Fe,” Glover says. “It allows you to hike upwards of 16 miles or more. It’s still pretty casual hiking even if it’s wintry.”
Its ease of access to Santa Fe makes it a great spot to visit, says Bob Mosher, outdoor programs and outreach coordinator for REI in New Mexico.
With multiple access points, it can provide everything from daylong excursions to short walks of just an hour, he says.
“You’re not going to be getting the iconic views, but the great thing about it is it’s very close,” he says.
Convenience is another strong point in favor of La Chamisa Trail, which is about 5½ miles outside of Santa Fe on the Ski Basin road, Mosher says.
It’s a relatively short hike of less than five miles, which gains about 800 feet, most of it right at the start, cresting at 8,500 feet before heading down into the valley formed by the Big Tesuque Creek, he says.
“There’s rolling terrain and some great view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains,” Mosher says.
When it comes to views, the Aspen Vista Trail is hard to beat, although since it is farther up the Ski Basin road at about 13 miles in there’s a greater chance for snow, Mosher says.
While it’s probably the most popular trail in the area, “it’s got some of the Sangre de Cristos,” he says. “It’s a really wide trail. If there are snowshoers and cross country skiers, it’s wide enough so that everybody can pass each other with ease.”
Beyond Santa Fe
For those willing to take short drives away from Santa Fe, there are plenty of hiking opportunities in every direction.
At Ghost Ranch, about 60 miles north of Santa Fe on U.S. 84, three hikes in particular stand out, Glover says.
Kitchen Mesa, Box Canyon and Chimney Rock are all generally clear throughout the winter, given a bit of sunshine to melt the snow, he says.
Of the three, Kitchen Mesa is the longest at five miles round-trip and is the most difficult, topping out at 7,100 feet. It climbs to the top of the mesa via a 15-foot scramble through a cleft in the cliff wall, Glover says.
“It’s not for the casual hiker,” he says. “But it’s a fun hike and there’s a little slot canyon that’s a lot of fun.”
Box Canyon follows a gentle incline of 500 feet to 6,900 feet and is four miles round-trip.
“It’s relatively flat, but it’s bound to be a little muddy,” Glover says. “It’s great because you climb over all these boulders. You get to the back of the box canyon and you see where the water comes over the end of the cliff and falls into the canyon.”
And Chimney Rock, with a round-trip of three miles but with a 600-foot elevation gain to 7,100 feet, overlooks the Piedra Lisa basin.
“It goes out to a big old, beautiful stone monolith, at the end of the top of the mesa,” Glover says.
Heading south, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a classic New Mexico hike, says Sue Mally, co-owner of Santa Fe Walkabouts.
It offers a little bit of everything on a three-mile round-trip trail that climbs nearly 1,110 feet with a scramble through a slot canyon to a climb up a steep mesa to sweeping views of the Rio Grande Valley to mysterious hoodoos (rock formations).
“We love that place because of the volcanic rock formations,” Mally says. “It’s scenic like the old west. For the visitors from the other parts of the country, they really enjoy that.”
To the west, Bandelier National Monument offers several interesting hikes, she says.
The 1.2-mile loop trail (an extra mile can be added to continue on to the Alcove House cliff dwelling) is a great one for hikers of all ages because it’s essentially flat. Children in particular will enjoy it because it passes by several archaeological sites, including some that require climbs up ladders to offer a peek into New Mexico’s history, Mally says.
The Falls Trail is also an extremely popular one, Glover says, because it takes the hiker down 1½ miles to Upper Falls.