Santa Fe Hikes: Where to Go in Fall -
atalaya mountain Santa Fe New Mexico

Most locals will tell you that fall is Santa Fe’s most spectacular season, lit by the blazing hues of yellow aspen trees and other fall foliage. The crisp air is scented with the earthy fragrance of piñon wood burning in fireplaces across the city to warm up the chilly nights, but by day, the bright, golden sunlight keeps the temperatures warm. This time of year brings the perfect weather for getting outdoors and exploring Santa Fe’s majestic hiking trails, whether high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or merely minutes from downtown. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking to climb a mountain or a novice hiker in search of an easy, meandering walk, you’ll find your perfect outing in Santa Fe.

Note: Always bring plenty of drinking water for your high-altitude adventure, and lots of sunscreen. Because weather can change quickly, it’s wise to bring a jacket and also to check the weather report before you go. 

Alpine Adventures

You can really get away from it all up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the foothills of the Rockies, surrounded by wildflowers and wildlife. With every step you take, life becomes simpler and stress melts away as you’re surrounded by beauty in Hyde Memorial State Park. For a moderate five-mile round trip hike filled with the colors of fall, try the Borrego Trail, which traces an old sheepherder’s footpath. To get there, take Hyde Park Road (State Road 475) for 8 miles.Further up the road lies Aspen Vista Trail,  where the locals flock for the panoramic views of  aspens in their glorious fall colors.  The trailhead and parking area is located 12.6 miles from the beginning of Hyde Park Road. You can meander along the first 2.5 miles of this trail, passing through aspen groves, then break for a picnic lunch before turning back. Other fantastic fall hikes along this road include Nambe Lake, a seven-mile hike from the Ski Santa Fe parking lot that leads you to a serene lake nestled beneath the cliff face of Lake Peak; and Lake Katherine, a strenuous 14.5-mile hike from the same parking lot that takes you to a romantic, secluded alpine lake.

Discovering the Dale Ball Trails

dale ball trails

The popular Dale Ball Trails lead you through the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, offering some of the best hiking opportunities in the country, according to Travel + Leisure and Sherman’s Travel. The network of pathways, well-marked by signs, occupies nearly 25 miles between the city, the Santa Fe National Forest and Santa Fe County, offering high-desert trails with panoramic mountain vistas. One easy access point is in the parking lot at the intersection of Hyde Park Road and Sierra del Norte, where you can pick up trail maps to plan your route. Or, head to the intersection of Upper Canyon Road and Cerro Gordo Road and look for signs for The Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve, another trailhead for the Dale Ball Trails. Keep your eyes open for beavers and more than 140 types of birds along the preserve’s 1.5-mile loop trail through the Santa Fe River. Interpretive signs inform you about the area’s history and ecology. From here, you can climb four miles to the 8,775-summit of Picacho Peak and admire majestic city views.

At the Audubon Center

For more birdwatching and great hiking, head to the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, located at 1800 Upper Canyon Rd. This 135-acre wildlife preserve, with winding trails through piñon, juniper and ponderosa trees, sits on property once owned by an acclaimed American painter, who visited Santa Fe in 1919 and liked it so much, he purchased an old sawmill on the edge of town and renovated it into his home and studio. Known for paintings of still lifes, landscapes, nudes, horse racing and polo scenes, Davey exhibited his work at the influential Armory Show in New York City in 1913. Today, the preserve is a birdwatching hot spot, with 190 species of birds. Enjoy a free bird walk led by resident experts every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. or explore the place on your own, using an array of picturesque hiking trails.

Go Climb a Mountain

If you are looking to climb a mountain, the Atalaya Mountain Trail takes you through lush forests of pinon, juniper, ponderosa, Douglas fir and white fir as you ascend to the 9, 121-foot summit to enjoy breathtaking views. This moderate, six-mile round-trip hike is popular with locals and provides a perfect picnic destination. It’s interesting to note that Atalaya is a Spanish word for “watchtower,” as this spot once was used as a lookout for wildfires. Several routes lead to the top, but it’s easiest to drive to St. John’s College, where you can park, and pick up the trailhead.

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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