Top Five Hikes in Northern New Mexico

by Kylie Strijek, Girls Who Hike New Mexico Ambassador

Living in Santa Fe is such a treasure, with so many great adventures that are so accessible. This is great for those of us who have the regular 9-5 gig that keeps us from spending every waking moment wandering through fields of wildflowers, getting sweaty and muddy, and experiencing all the other wonderful things the great outdoors has to offer. When you do have some time away from the #desklife, be sure to grab your fur buddy and get outside! Below are my five favorite hikes to do in northern New Mexico.

5. Aspen Vista Trail (Sept-Oct)

Distance: 11.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 2300 feet

Route Type: Out & Back

Difficulty: Moderate

More Info: Aspen Vista Trail

If you love Pumpkin Spice Lattes, cozy sweaters, and going apple-picking, then hiking Aspen Vista is definitely on your fall to-do list. The trail leads you through a golden leaf archway as you make your ascent, and gives all of the magical fall feels. Be sure to wear your cutest hiking attire because this trail is idyllic for a fall-tastic profile picture. The trail continues all the way up to the top of the Santa Fe Ski Basin, if you’re feeling extra froggy and want to make a full day out of it. Once you reach the clearing, there is a perfect spot to have lunch and enjoy the golden views (and the mild 25 mph winds)! Newbies beware: this trail gets hella busy at this time of year. Good luck with parking!

Not one to fall for fall? This trail is equally beautiful year round. Once the fresh pow begins to fall, head up the mountain for some cross-country skiing. Or wait until the snow is melted, pack your hammock and a book, and head up for a relaxing afternoon among the aspens.

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4. Atalaya Mountain Trail/Picacho Peak Trail

Distance: 6 miles/3 miles

Elevation Gain: 1899 feet/1286 feet

Route Type: Out & Back

Difficulty: Moderate

More Info: Atalaya Mountain Trail/ Picacho Peak Trail

Do not let the first mile of this hike fool you; this is definitely a steep climb to the top. Be prepared to be sufficiently covered in sweat, even during the colder months (I have been known to hike this trail in a tank and shorts in November). The trail can get pretty toasty, especially during June and July, so be sure to bring plenty of water. The view at the top makes the climb so totally worth it!

Because I am a total masochist and one round of torture is never enough for me, I head over to Picacho Peak afterwards. The Dale Ball trail system hooks up to the backside of Atalaya, and this network of trails is great for trail runners or people who just like to spend hours hiking in circles in the woods. Picacho Peak is one of the higher peaks in this trail system and gives a nearly 360 degree view from the summit.

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3. Jemez River East Fork Trail (Las Conchas Trailhead)

Distance: 3.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 300 feet

Route Type: Out & Back

Difficulty: Easy

More Info: East Fork Trail

What a beautiful way to enjoy summer! The Las Conchas trail follows the Jemez river and leads into the East Fork Trail. Although a shorter and a bit easier trail, this spot does not disappoint. I have been known to divert from the trail and frolic through the lush meadows. If you bring your water shoes, you can continue hiking up in the river and find some pretty great nooks and crannies in the valley walls to sit and enjoy lunch. This is also a great spot for those who enjoy rock climbing!

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2. Lake Katherine

Distance: 13.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 3500 feet

Route Type: Out & Back

Difficulty: Moderate

More Info: Lake Katherine via Windsor Trail

This hike is a must every summer. Due to the length, this one can also be done as a backpacking trip, where you can camp on the shores of the lake nestled underneath the Ponderosas. There are a few different trails leading to the lake, but I recommend taking Windsor Trail. This leads you through the thick forest in the Pecos Wilderness, hiking through Aspen groves and surrounded by towering peaks and beautiful vistas. After climbing the switchbacks, you are faced with the fork in the road (literally): either climb Santa Fe Baldy, or head back down towards the lake. While you make your decision, you can take in the miles of 360 degree mountain views, overlooking Raven’s Ridge on one side and Truchas far in the distance on the other. Once you complete the descent into the lake, find yourself a good rock and soak in the beauty. Makes lunch taste that much better.

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1. Wheeler Peak via Williams Lake Trail

Distance: 6.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 3083 feet

Route Type: Out & Back

Difficulty: Hard

More Info: Wheeler Peak

Without a doubt, this is my absolute favorite hike in the state. Wheeler is the highest peak in New Mexico, with an elevation of 13,161 ft. It is located in the Sangre de Cristo range, hitting the southern end of the Rocky Mountains. The peak was named after U.S. Army Major George M. Wheeler, who surveyed much of the state in the late 1800s. There is a plaque at the summit honoring Wheeler.

There are two trails leading up to Wheeler, and if you would like to use your legs the following day, I would recommend taking the Williams Lake Trail, the shorter of the two. Starting near the Taos Ski Valley, you begin your ascent through the forest packed with wildflowers, aka perfect frolicing territory. After about two miles, you hit the halfway point, Williams Lake (or as I like to call it, Williams Puddle). From this point forward, rocky switchbacks lead you up the summit, completely exposed to take in the surrounding mountain vistas and the hundreds of ADORABLE marmots running around. Once you make it to the top, don’t forget to write your name in the log and take as many pictures as humanly possible. Because if you didn’t post it to the ‘gram, did it even happen? After making your descent, head to the Bavarian at the basin for the best tasting beer of your life, and maybe a pretzel too.

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Kylie Strijek is one of our Girls Who Hike New Mexico Ambassadors, serving the Santa Fe area. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/the_wanderblonde and join her local meetups at http://www.facebook.com/groups/girlswhohikenm/

Sharron McBrideComment