Santa Fe's cultural attractions may be second to none, but the locals do not live on art appreciation alone. Before any strenuous activities, remember the elevation: take time to acclimatize, and watch for signs of altitude sickness. Weather changes rapidly and afternoon summer storms are frequent: always bring extra layers and a waterproof shell.
Hiking & Backpacking
Some of the best hiking and backpacking in New Mexico is right outside of Santa Fe. The undeveloped Pecos Wilderness, in the heart of the Santa Fe National Forest, holds almost 1000 miles of trails that lead through spruce and aspen forest, across grassy alpine meadows, and up to several peaks surpassing 12,000ft. The quickest way to get above the treeline is to drive to the ski basin, hop on the Winsor Trail and trudge up the switchbacks. The most immediately accessible hiking trails are on the Dale Ball Trail System, 3 miles east of downtown.
The two rivers worth running in the vicinity of Santa Fe are the Rio Grande – for white-water thrills and mellow float trips – and the Rio Chama – mellower but better for multiday trips and arguably more scenic. Outfitters offer all sorts of variations on the basic themes, so check which options are available. Once you reserve your trip, you'll know where and what time to meet.
The rafting season generally begins in late April (depending on snowmelt), with the highest water levels in May and June. The rivers mellow out as the summer wears on, and rafting trips generally peter out by early September.
The classic trip for those who want whitewater but have little experience or are with children is the Racecourse (Class III), on the Rio Grande south of Taos. It's fine for kids over six or seven (depending on the company), and the put-in is closer to Santa Fe. This is also a classic playground for kayakers.
Hardcore boaters head north of Taos to crash through rapids on the renowned Taos Box (Class IV), which traverses 16 miles of spectacular wilderness gorge. It's fantastic fun but not for the faint of heart, and commercial companies require rafters to be at least 12 years old. The Taos Box is usually only runnable from May through early July – reserve your trip well in advance.
The Rio Chama has a few Class III rapids, but most of it is fairly flat, making it a great choice for families.
Downhill gets most of the attention in these parts, but both the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains have numerous cross-country ski trails.
New Mexico's most outstanding fishing holes are better accessed from Taos and the Enchanted Circle, but abundant opportunities out of Santa Fe include Abiquiú and Nambé Lakes. You'll need a license (one/five days $12/24).
Top Five Santa Fe Day Hikes
There are a ton of trails around Santa Fe. Whether you're looking for all-day adventure or a relaxing amble through a special landscape, you'll find it. Trailheads for all the following hikes are within an hour's drive of the Plaza.
Raven's Ridge Starting along the Upper Winsor Trail from the ski basin parking lot, Raven's Ridge cuts east after the first steep mile of switchbacks to follow the Pecos Wilderness boundary high above the treeline to the top of Lake Peak (12,409ft). A strenuous hike at substantial elevation, it’s well worth it if you're acclimatized and in shape. No trail has better views; you can see forever from up here. Loop back by hiking down the ski slopes to complete a round-trip of about 6 miles.
Upper Winsor After its steep first mile from the ski basin, the Upper Winsor Trail mellows out, contouring around forested slopes with a moderate uphill section toward the end. Puerto Nambé (11,050ft), a huge and beautiful meadow in the saddle between Santa Fe Baldy (12,622ft) to the north and Penitente Peak (12,249ft) to the south, is a great place for a picnic. The round-trip is about 10 miles.
Aspen Vista The premier path for immersing yourself in the magical fall foliage, this trail lives up to its name. The first mile or so is super easy, gaining little elevation and following an old dirt road. It gets a little more difficult the further you go; just turn back when you’ve had enough. The trailhead is at about 10,000ft along the road to the ski basin; it's marked 'Trail No 150.' Mountain bikers love this one too.
La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site Half a mile along a dirt track from a clearly marked trailhead on Airport Rd, 12 miles southwest of downtown, this trail climbs the low hillside to reach a rocky bluff that’s covered with ancient Keresan petroglyphs, including images of the flute player Kokopelli. Allow an hour’s hiking time in total.
Tent Rocks There’s truly surreal hiking at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, near Cochiti Pueblo 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, where short trails meander through a geologic wonderland.