Sante Fe, New Mexico is the oldest capital city in the United States, wonderful old west charm with a special uniqueness all its own. I think what makes it so special is that it has something to attract everyone. But Sante Fe is not just any city, it has centuries of native history and culture that continues to the present.
After I shop and dine my way through the downtown Plaza (which we will divulge in a future post), it’s time to head to the mountains.
New Mexico is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. We head out to hit the trails. Just on the outskirts of Sante Fe are several trail systems to hike and explore. The one we tried first is a favorite of the locals, the Dale Ball Trails nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. About 22-miles of terrain that accommodates even beginner hikers and cyclists. We pick up the trail at the Cerro Gordo Trailhead at Upper Canyon Rd and begin our ascent to Picacho Peak. This is a four mile round trip with a lot of switchbacks. Your climb weaves you through narrow juniper lined track sections to more open areas with quick descent. Surprisingly, we reached the top quickly. The views are impressive standing at an 8,500 elevation. To the west the Jemez Mountains, the south, the Ortiz & Sandia ranges and to the northeast, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and a nice view of the Sante Fe Skyline.
We spoke with a few locals at the top as we rested and enjoyed the views. They encouraged us to do Atalaya Mountain is just a short drive down the road for more of a hiking challenge.
We picked up the Atalaya Mountain Trail at the St. John’s College parking area a few miles away. This is a seven mile round trip to the top through the Sante Fe National Forest. We begin our ascent through piney woods and crossing small streams. The hillside becomes much steeper and more narrow as you work your way to the top. There was a little more variety of blooms and birds on this trail for us to enjoy. This trail is definitely challenging and it is more suitable for moderate to experienced hikers.
When we finally reach the top of Atalaya Mountain the views are even more impressive at a 9,121 feet elevation. Again, you take in all the mountain ranges we saw on Picacho Peak but with a bonus. A local hiker pointed out to me Blue Bead Mountain to the west. How amazing and close up it looked, but it’s about 100 miles away! The Sante Fe skyline is much more pronounced. After resting and enjoying a snack we explored the mountain top and the unusual coloring of the rocks, boulders and plants. The complete hike will take about four hours but is well worth it when you see the views!
Views from the top of Atalaya Mountain
It can take some time to adjust to the higher altitudes. It’s best to stop and rest if you find yourself winded or light-headed. So many great trails in Sante Fe to explore and these two are exceptional!
Tips: Always remember to bring adequate water, snacks and of course good shoes. Both trails are open year round and are shared with cyclists. Dogs are allowed. There are no fees for either trail.
Dale Balls Trailhead @ Upper Canyon Rd Sante Fe
Atalya Mountain Trail @ St John’s College: 1160 Camino Cruz Blanca, Santa Fe