Santa Fe's Best Short Hikes

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Total Reading Time: 5 minutes

One of the best parts of living in Northern New Mexico is the proximity to so many beautiful, diverse places to hike - from alpine lakes to desert mesas to lush river valleys. For visitors who can tear themselves away from the endless dining, cultural, and historical attractions in Santa Fe, a hike is a great way to experience the natural beauty of our region - not to mention, work off some of that delicious, rich, New Mexican food! Even if you only have a couple hours, there are a number of nearby, short hikes with incredible and varied scenery that make for a great excursion.

Here are our top four short hikes in or near Santa Fe:

 

Dale Ball Trails (Sierra Del Norte Trailhead)

The Dale Ball trail network extends for over 20 miles through town and into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos. The trails are a legacy of Santa Fe citizen Dale Ball (since passed away), who secured public and private land, as well as contributions for construction. You could spend multiple days exploring the network, but our favorite for a quick hike is to start at the Sierra Del Norte trailhead, just two-and-a-half miles up Hyde Park Road. This is a short but satisfying hike with mountain range views - north into the Sangre de Cristos, east to the Jemez, and south to the Sandias. The pinon and juniper forest provides a moderate amount of shade.

One of the best features of the trail network is the clear numbered markings at each trail junction, which make for no-brainer navigation. Starting at trail marker #1 from the parking lot, continue in order, up to trail marker #9, which will bring you in a loop back to the other side of the parking lot.

Duration: Following trail markers #1 through #9 (in that order) will lead you on an approximately 2.5 mile loop. At a leisurely pace, this should take about an hour and a half.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Trailhead: Head to the Dale Ball Trail parking lot at 2201 Hyde Park Rd. There is ample parking and a large trail map and signage.

Aspen Vista Trail provides a green escape from the summer heat

Aspen Vista Trail provides a green escape from the summer heat

Aspen Vista Trail

One of the reasons we love Santa Fe is the diversity of its landscape. Go a bit south of town, and you're in dry, scrubby rolling hills. Head a bit north, and you're in an alpine forest, at 10,000 feet elevation. Aspen Vista Trail is one of the best places to experience this alpine wonderland, in Santa Fe's forested and surprisingly green Sangre de Cristo mountains. The trail is the farthest from town of the ones we've listed here - you'll head about 12 miles up Hyde Park Road (almost to where the road ends at the ski area).

As the name would suggest, Aspen Vista trail snakes through an aspen forest, with views of the rolling hills below. It's especially spectacular in fall, when the entire hillside turns to gold. But any time of year is lovely - summer provides a cool, green escape from the heat, and in winter, hardy snowshoers will find some solitude (this is one of the most popular trails in the area, so it can get crowded, especially during leaf-peeping months).

Duration: The entire out-and-back trail is over 12 miles long. However, there is a rocky overlook after approximately 2 miles that makes for a good turn-around point, for a total distance of about 4 miles. At a moderate pace, this should take you less than 2.5 hours.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate.

Trailhead: The trail starts from the Aspen Vista Picnic Area, which is on the right side of the Hyde Park Road as you head towards the ski area (immediately after mile marker 13). There is usually ample parking, although it can get crowded on summer and fall weekends, so go early!

 

Sun Mountain

Sun Mountain Trail, near Museum Hill, is a short but steep hike that leads you up a set of switchbacks to the top of - you guessed it - Sun Mountain. We love it for the breathtaking views of Santa Fe and surrounding mountain ranges, as well as the breathtaking incline. This hike is a workout, with your reward a chance a rest at the top and take it all in. Besides being steep in places, the trail has some loose rocks and gravel, so this is an excursion for sure-footed hikers!

Duration: 1.6 miles up and down. This takes about an hour and a half at a moderate pace (including a bit of time to take in the views at the top!).

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.

Trailhead: The trailhead is located on the left side of Old Santa Fe Trail, as you head south from downtown, approximately one mile past the turnoff to Museum Hill (for navigation purposes, you can input 3881 Old Santa Fe Trail into Google Maps). You will see a wooden fence and some signage at the trailhead. There are several spots nearby to pull off and park, but no dedicated parking area.

Panoramic views from Sun Mountain

Panoramic views from Sun Mountain

Santa Fe Canyon Preserve

The Santa Fe Canyon Preserve can feel like it's hidden in plain sight. It's just minutes from downtown, at the end of Upper Canyon Road, but it feels a world apart, and even many locals don't know about this short but spectacular trail - one of our favorite places for finding some solitude in the city. The trail loops around Two-Mile Reservoir, formerly a main source of drinking water for the city. In 2012, the Nature Conservancy began restoring the land, and today, it is full of lush vegetation, cattail encircled beaver ponds (we've yet to spot the beavers), and plenty of shady spots under the trees to take in the sight of the water - a rarity in the high desert! The trail also connects to the Dale Ball trail network, if you want to extend your hike.

Duration: The loop trail is 1.5 miles. At a leisurely pace, this will take about an hour - but leave time to hang out on one of the benches nestled alongside the water!

Difficulty: Easy.

Trailhead: The main trailhead for this hike is on Cerro Gordo road. The turn-off to Cerro Gordo is approximately one mile up Upper Canyon Road, to the left. There is plenty of parking and it is rarely crowded.

Vibrant fall colors at the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve

Vibrant fall colors at the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve

Alison Nichols