Growing up in Santa Fe meant I grew up hiking. It is my family’s default activity for Sundays with nothing else to do. When I was younger, I was a belligerent hiker; I could not understand the appeal of walking for walking’s sake. This, coupled with my acute fear of snakes, led me to take a hiatus from the outdoor activity for many years, but COVID-19 prompted my return. Unable to go to public places or see friends, my sister and I took daily hikes over the summer. We were grateful for the forward motion and change of scenery. While we walked the trails of our childhood, our conversations would follow a melancholy and meandering loop that began with “When this is all over …” and inevitably led to a deep, existential pitfall. But now that the world is reemerging and the vaccine has given us a foreseeable end to the pandemic, I continue to hike. From this past tumultuous year, hiking is one thing I wish to continue in the post-pandemic world. Here are some favorite trails:
Also known as Tessa’s Trail;
2.4 miles out and back
Trailhead: Aspen Vista Trailhead on Hyde Park Road
Most Santa Feans have done the rite-of-passage Aspen Vista hike at least once during autumn when the leaves change color, but fewer people have done Tessa’s Trail. It begins at the same trailhead as Aspen Vista but is to the left of that trail. It’s a much steeper hike and serves as a brief but intense cardio workout. After about 10 minutes of an uphill climb, the aspens, my favorite trees, fully engulf hikers. Their bark can be used as sunscreen, and beneath the soil of an aspen forest, the trees connect their roots. The trail spits hikers out into a large, grassy clearing ideal for dance parties and picnics. This green oasis is sometimes referred to as Carl’s Meadow. The best day of my quarantine was spent here. My sister and I played our favorite nostalgic songs — the kind that necessitates the windows being down, the sun roof open and the volume all the way up — on Hyde Park Road. Once we reached Carl’s Meadow, we left the path and read poetry on the thick sod of the forest’s floor. After that, we stumbled down the hill, found the Aspen Vista path and ended up barefoot in the creek. Our minds were briefly freed from our end-of-the-world, pandemic-induced mentality.
Also known as Monte Luna;
2.7 miles out and back
Trailhead: Atalaya Trailhead at St. John’s College
For the hiker skilled in the improvisation that will be necessary when the trail inevitability cannot be found, I suggest hiking Moon Mountain at night. Begin an hour before the sun goes down, so you can witness both the sunset and the moonrise. I will caution that the way up involves some navigating around boulders and retracing of steps to find the trail. By the time you have reached the apex, thoughts of the difficult ascent will quickly be forgotten. A few squares of chocolate, a low-key playlist and a refreshing drink pair well with the view. It is ideal to hike on the night of a full moon because you will need ample moonlight for the way down. I impaled my hand on a cactus the last time I went, so trust that I thought this hike was worth the pain to merit it making this list.
Dale Ball North Trails
4.4-mile loop trail
Trailhead: Wilderness Gate Trailhead on Hyde Park Road
These trails are a new discovery for me. They are quite extensive and suited to a choose-your-own-adventure type of hiker. Whatever route you pick for yourself, I suggest making a stop at Castle Rock, an inviting rock formation that begs to be sat upon like a throne to enjoy unparalleled views of Wilderness Gate. A major perk about these trails is that you can fit a hike into any time frame. My favorite hike follows trail markers 39, 38, 37, 40, 41, 42 and 43 and takes me around an hour. If you prefer biking to hiking, these trails are conducive. It is good to know beforehand that sometimes the “trail” is actually a segment of road, and you haven’t lost the trail if you find yourself walking among Wilderness Gate residences.
Two Mile Pond Loop
1.4-mile loop trail
Trailhead: Cerro Gordo Trailhead off Cerro Gordo Road
This is a hike for the easygoing hiker. It’s sweet and simple, but the rare view of water in Santa Fe makes it an enchanting hike. The majority of the loop is on a trail that overlooks a pond and offers hikers the chance to see the occasional duck and, if they’re lucky, a beaver. This is a mellow hike with almost no steep ascents or descents. I recommend doing this loop at least once in winter when the water is frozen. If the ice is thick enough, you can end the hike by venturing onto the pond. Some of my favorite childhood memories took place here: frigid evenings spent with family crammed on the bench overlooking the water, eating sourdough sandwiches and drinking hot cocoa from thermoses.
Nambé Lake Trail
6.5 miles out and back
Trailhead: Across the Santa Fe Ski basin parking lot
This is easily the hardest hike I’ve included in this roundup. When a friend told me about this trail, and that it ended at a lake, I packed a lunch, filled a few water bottles and enlisted my sister in the challenge. The first time we attempted it, a thunderstorm prevented us from completing it. The other four or so times, we simply were too tired to continue. The trail begins with a steep set of switchbacks. After the switchbacks, it runs parallel to a fence and continues uphill for a while. My sister and I never made it past the first lookout, and we certainly didn’t make it close to the end. I plan on pushing through the burning in my quads next time and reaching Nambé Lake.