USA | New Mexico: Santa Fe to Taos

Hike the northern high deserts of New Mexico in the southern-most portion of the Rocky Mountains.

  • Adobe building in New Mexico
  • Mountain in New Mexico
  • Sun setting in the mountains of New Mexico
  • Mountains in New Mexico
  • Church in New Mexico
  • A view if the river from he top of the canyon in New Mexico
  • view of the mountains in New Mexico

Trip Highlights:

  • Wind through dry arroyos, piñon, and juniper forest on the trail to summit Atalaya Mountain.
  • Hike to Nambe Lake, a lovely alpine lake nestled tightly below Lake Peak in a spectacular rocky cirque.
  • Summit Wheeler Peak at 13,161 feet and enjoy the 360-degree views of some of New Mexico’s highest peaks.

New Mexico and the phrase the “Land of Enchantment” are synonymous, and while the state of New Mexico is most certainly that, it is actually so much more. Stunning desert vistas, high alpine peaks of the most southern portion of the Rocky Mountains, charming adobe homes and dwellings, thriving art communities, and chilis are only the tip of the iceberg in the 47th state. UFO sightings in Roswell, a thriving hot springs scene, and monks that brew beer are a few more opportunities that await those willing to explore New Mexico. These curiosities coupled with the fact that New Mexico is the 5th largest state, but holds a population of only 2 million people, means it is a place with a lot of space to explore.

With so much space and diverse land, we focus on the northern high desert and Rocky Mountain portion. Starting in the state capital of Santa Fe, with its thriving arts and epicurean scenes, we explore the piñon and juniper laced trails, high alpine lakes near Santa Fe’s namesake ski area, and wander the historic adobe buildings of the oldest state capital in the United States. From here we travel along the beautiful “High Road” to Taos with an overnight stop in the charming village of Chimayo, with its historic chapel and centuries old family weaving traditions.

After a night spent in a lovely family-run B&B and delectable dinner at Rancho de Chimayo, we continue our journey to the mountain town and artist colony of Taos. For years people have come to Taos to find artistic inspiration and the abundant outdoor recreation opportunities available in the surrounding landscape. We spend our time in Taos exploring local classic trails leading us deep into the Rio Grande Gorge and attempting to summit New Mexico’s loftiest peak, Wheeler Peak at 13,161 feet above sea level! After our last day’s hike, and we feel our legs and lungs have had enough, we take a guided tour of the oldest intact dwelling in North America, the iconic Taos Pueblo.

Trip Itinerary

Arrive in Santa Fe, the exuberant and historical capital of New Mexico. Santa Fe has, over the years, become the heart and soul of New Mexico’s thriving epicurean and art scene. Enjoy a stroll through this colorful city and take a peek into the many shops, art galleries and historically significant buildings Santa Fe has to offer. Meet the group and your guide(s) for welcome drinks and dinner at 7:00 pm in the lobby of your hotel.

After breakfast we transfer 15 minutes by van to St. Johns College on the outskirts of town and the trailhead to Atalaya Mountain. This is a favorite hike amongst Santa Fe locals. It winds us through dry arroyos and piñon and juniper forest en route to the summit of Atalaya Mountain. Once on top we enjoy the views down to Santa Fe, north to Apache Canyon and Glorieta Baldy Peak, and west to the Jemez Mountains. Following the hike, we transfer back to the hotel where you have time to enjoy its amenities or wander the historical streets of Santa Fe.

Distance: 7 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 1800 ft.

Today we travel up canyon to the Santa Fe Ski Basin where the start of the Winsor Trail is located. Today’s objective is Nambe Lake. Following a gently ascending trail through pine forest and stately aspen groves the hike takes on a more alpine feel eventually reaching Nambe Lake, a lovely alpine lake nestled tightly below Lake Peak in a spectacular rocky cirque. Following a lunch break retrace your steps for a transfer back to Santa Fe and your wonderful hotel.

Distance: 7 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 1600 ft.

After breakfast, we leave Santa Fe and travel to the neighborhood trailhead for the Tesuque Creek Trail. Following the peaceful and beautiful wooded creek we will hike a nice 5-mile loop and have the option to add on a bit more at the far end. Following the hike we jump back in the van for the drive to Chimayo, a quaint and historic little town on the High Road to Taos. Chimayo is well-known as the home to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small adobe church that has become known as the “Lourdes of America”. Thousands of people a year pilgrimage to the church in search of the Holy Dirt that is known to possess remarkable curative powers. We tour the church and also check in with the Ortega family and their weaving operation.

Distance: 5-8 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 1500 ft.

We pack up our bags and continue north on the High Road to Taos. En-route we stop on the outskirts of town to hike the base of Taos Canyon and the Devisadero Loop trail. A local favorite, this moderate loop is located on the sunny side of Taos Canyon, and winds its way through the low-growing piñon and juniper forest on the front side and also through a more forested area of pines on the backside of the loop. Located at the top of this hike are a unique stone circle of rocks and a couple well-crafted stone chairs. After a rest on the summit chairs we close the loop and head back to the van and drive the quick 10 minutes into Taos and our well-appointed hotel.

Distance: 6 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 1300 feet.

Today would be considered the “big” day as far as hikes go on this itinerary. Following an early breakfast we drive 30 minutes up to the Taos Ski Valley and trailhead access to the highest point in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak at 13,161 feet! Gradual climbing for the first couple of hours brings us to what is seemingly the only flat section of the entire trail, where you’ll notice that we are truly in the high alpine now as the vegetation falls away making way for a much rockier landscape. We take a good long break here before we tackle the steep, but well-built switchbacks to the ridge separating Wheeler Peak and Mount Walter. Once on the ridge it is a quick 15-minute walk to the summit! Enjoy the 360-degree views of some of New Mexico’s highest peaks before descending the way we came back to the van. Once back at the hotel we enjoy a well-deserved beverage for tackling the highest peak in New Mexico.

Distance: 10 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 2950 ft.

Our final day has a more relaxed itinerary as we hike down the Slide Trail, the historic road Old 570 turned hiking trail, leading down to the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Rio Pueblo. A massive rockslide of over 55,000 pounds permanently closed the road in 1993 and the BLM has done a great job of creating a manageable route down into the steep canyon. After loitering at the canyon bottom for a stretch, we climb up and out on the steeper Picuris Trail and connect with another trail on the canyon rim for a loop back to the van and transport to town, where you may choose to explore Taos or enjoy the fine hotel amenities. There will also be an opportunity to visit the iconic Taos Pueblo.

Distance: 6 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 1000 ft.

New Mexico: Santa Fe to Taos | USA

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