Where to Get Wet in Northern New Mexico
Lakes and Rivers Near Santa Fe
What would summer be without cold mountain water to help you beat the heat? Whether you seek to swim in a lake, cool off with wondrous waterfalls, enjoy boating, river rafting or angling for trout in a rushing river, summertime in northern New Mexico offers majestic places to have fun in water. From the mighty Rio Grande, the longest river in the Land of Enchantment, to scenic Abiquiú Lake, where 200 million year-old fossils have been found, our high-desert rivers, lakes, waterfalls and streams will keep you cool all summer long.
Please note, while many are open, some New Mexico State Parks have limited access due to COVID-19. We recommend checking before you go.
At 1, 885 miles long, the Rio Grande is New Mexico's longest river and one of the Southwest's major rivers. From its headwaters in the Rockies of southern Colorado, the Rio Grande runs the entire length of New Mexico and flows into the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the largest rivers in the country. It's also been designated a National Wild and Scenic River and an American Heritage River. With 121 species of fish, including 69 found only in these waters, this river is a paradise for fishing enthusiasts. Whitewater rafters find great adventures in the waters of the Rio Grande, too.
High in the Jemez Mountains of the Santa Fe National Forest, 57 miles from Santa Fe, the dramatic Jemez Falls are a popular spot in summer. A trail from the campground leads you through a forest of towering ponderosa pines to the roaring, churning 70-foot falls, situated on the east fork of the Jemez River. On the river above the main falls, you'll find a few smaller falls, too. At the end of the trail, an overlook provides great views. If you find it hard to leave this lovely spot, pitch a tent in the Jemez Falls campground, where you can fall asleep to the sensational music of falling water.
Santa Cruz Lake
The Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area, a summer oasis of water fun, offers a range of recreational activities, from boating and rafting to fishing, hiking, picnicking and camping. Just a 31-mile drive from Santa Fe, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the lake is surrounded by sandstone hills and covers 121 surface acres with a 90-foot depth. Boating is limited to small and low-speed boats. If you're a fishing fiend, the lake is stocked with rainbow and brown trout. Day trippers and campers alike make use of the picnic tables and their scenic overlook.
The 120 mile-long Rio Chama, a designated Wild and Scenic River and a major tributary of the Rio Grande, flows through stunning landscape, including a sandstone canyon with walls reaching more than 1,500 feet above the river. Outdoor enthusiasts take to its waters for rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding and trout fishing. It's also a popular spot for hiking, finding dinosaur tracks and exploring the landscape made famous by iconic American artist Georgia O'Keeffe. Located 59 miles from Santa Fe, the Rio Chama starts in south-central Colorado and flows eastward to merge with the Rio Grande near Española, 30 miles north of Santa Fe.
Abiquiú Lake is striking, and not just because of it its majestic setting in Georgia O'Keeffe country. Fossils that are 200 million years old have been discovered here. Also, the lake offers some of the finest fishing in northern New Mexico and is popular with boaters and campers. Whether you're seeking a relaxing swim or some daredevil cliff jumping, Abiquiú Lake will reward you. Located 58 miles from Santa Fe, the lake has a 5,200 surface acre reservoir and panoramic views of Cerro Pedernal, the mountain O'Keeffe loved to paint.
Nanbé, Falls, situated 29 miles from Santa Fe in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is a majestic place to experience the power of water. Part of the Nanbé, Falls & Lake Recreation Area, the falls are accessed by two 1/4-mile trails. One ascends a hill that leads to waterfall views from above. Take the other trail and you'll walk through a river before reaching a beach area by the lowest pool. If you take this route, be sure to wear water shoes and bring a backpack for all of your belongings because you're going to get wet..and isn't that the point? (Please note the falls are closed at this time.)
Looking for some warmer water to soak in? Check out our Spa Directory