Santa Fe Things to Do | Where to Go For Outdoor Activities -
rocky outcropping in the Sangre de Cristo mountains

Winter is just around the corner, but the weather is gorgeous right now. These mild but warm temps are sure to give way to winter soon, so now is the time to enjoy the outdoors in all its glory.  Surrounding Santa Fe are myriad outdoor activities available on the extensive BLM lands and national forests waiting to be explored. Whatever your interests, these beautifully dramatic and diverse landscapes will satisfy your appetite for wide open spaces.  Here is a sampling:

Galisteo Basin

Galisteo Basin Preserve is about 25 minutes from downtown Santa Fe is a rural community planned around 13,000 acres of open space with trails for hiking, mountain biking, equestrian riding and dog walking. There is no daily use fee, and the public is encouraged to explore and enjoy this amazing eco-system. Many people arrive after work for a short hike with their dogs while the sun sets.

Caja del Rio

Closest to town and part of the Santa Fe National Forest, The Caja del Rio (which means River Box) has shared trails open to 4WD, quads, motorcycles, horseback riding, hiking, dog walking, mountain biking, amidst cattle grazing. The trails are not well marked, but there is a trail map that a private citizen created for sale in town. Caja del Rio has two access points offering different terrain. One is located between Las Campanas Drive and the frontage road to 599 (Caja del Rio Road), near the Marty Sanchez Golf Course on County Road 62 and has permanent bathrooms and stock water. Fenced shooting ranges on CR62 are restricted exclusively for gun and bow/arrow practice. The other access point is from Las Campanas Drive turning on Old Buckman Road down 7 miles of good dirt road. This entrance dead-ends at the Rio Grande River. Neither access requires a high clearance vehicle. Old Buckman Road leads to some of the best rock climbing in New Mexico up the sheer walls of Diablo Canyon.

Santa Fe National Forest (Pecos/Las Vegas NM Range)

These 223,667 acres of unspoiled wilderness include 15 lakes and 8 major streams featuring the majestic Rio Grande River. About 50 miles from Santa Fe is Jack’s Creek, which permits hunting, backpacking, hiking, equestrian and offers horsemen the option of permanent corrals for overnight camping at $10 per day; $5 per trailer for day use. Most of the fishing is catch and release. More info here.

Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Just 12 miles from town, Aspen Vista is one of the most popular of many well-marked trails in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. On this multiple use trail, you will encounter hikers, mountain bikers, horses, snow shoeing, and dog walkers on a 10-mile moderate climb fire road that leads up to some of the greatest views of Santa Fe. Fall beckons a great number of walkers and photographers to the aspen grove as it changes to gold. Each trail head has free parking. Ski Santa Fe’s lift is 25 minutes above town at 12,000 feet. In winter, it is easy to ski or snowshoe in the morning, and hike, bike or horseback ride the same afternoon. Another great hike begins below Aspen Vista at Chamisa Trail. Walking downhill less than 5 miles, follow the Tesuque River until you reach the historic Bishops Lodge for a weekend brunch on the patio (dogs welcomed; water provided).  Advance planning with your cars is advised or you will have a 5-mile trek back up the Chamisa Trail to retrieve your car!

Sandia Mountain

The US Congress designated the Sandia Mountain Wilderness in 1978 as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System and it now has almost 38,000 acres. This wilderness is located between the Turquoise Trail (I-14) and I-25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It also boasts one of the world’s longest trams leading to ski runs. In the summer, there are trails dedicated  to mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Motorized vehicle activity is prohibited. The daily parking/use fee depends on vehicle type.

Cerrillos Hills State Park

Fifteen minutes from Santa Fe, at just over 1000 acres, this is the smallest area and easily covered in one day. Hiking, mountain biking and equestrian are the most popular activities here. It is the only area with a horse rental stable right at the entrance. The trails are mostly single track with a lot of ups and downs for intermediate level terrain. Although it is only a few miles from Galisteo Basin, it has its own unique history. The hills were mined for deposits of copper, silver, lead, zinc, iron, gold, and turquoise; some mines date back as far as the 1500s. The trails have a self-guided tour with posted signs describing each mine’s history and a bridge above to peer down into the mines. The small parking area requests a daily fee of $2 for cars; $5 for horse trailers. To reach the trailhead, you pass through Old West town of Cerrillos. A unique place in town is Mary’s Bar.  Mary’s family built this bar early in the 1900s. Mary, at 95 years old, still ran the bar personally. She died at the age of 99 in 2016.

Valles Caldera National Preserve – Jemez Mountains

This was once the Baca’s ranch; a family that has been part of New Mexico history since the 1600s. The Preserve consists of 89,000 acres of unique meadows and pine forest. The Caldera meadow (volcano top), almost 14 miles long and 10 miles wide and one of only three active calderas in the United States, is easily seen from Highway 4 a bit beyond the turnoff to Los Alamos. Low impact activities include hiking, mountain biking, equestrian, fly fishing (please take the fish home with you), cattle ranching, turkey and elk hunting. Overnight cabins are available.

Road Cycling

There are several roads preferred by cyclists with moderate to extreme hill climbing. Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe to Madrid offers a broad shoulder and good vision most of the 30 miles each way.  The 11 mile curvy loop around Las Campanas attracts cyclists daily. The trip through Tesuque past Encantado to Rio En Medio is 15 miles of rural roads Route 475 to Ski Basin is a climb of over 3000 feet, and the roads connecting it to Bishop’s Lodge are scenic providing plenty of options. The State provides a bicycle map and more information at

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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