If you love the great outdoors, then Santa Fe has vast appeal as the city is surrounded by thousands of acres of pristine wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And it’s all within easy driving distance from the city – offering some really stunning routes on the way to national monuments and landmarks.
Additionally, Santa Fe is a paradise for hikers, skiers, snowshoers, mountain bikers, river rafters, fishing enthusiasts, horseback riders and people who simply like to stroll in city parks and take in the fresh air. You can ski the Rocky Mountains in winter and ice skate outdoors on the pond in Hyde Memorial State Park. In summer, hike the miles of mountain wilderness, enjoying dramatic, panoramic vistas and fields of wildflowers.
It’s a rare treat to find such an abundance of nature so close to the heart of the city. We have compiled a list of some great outdoor sites to visit while you are in Santa Fe. For those of you who like a scenic drive, we have made a few suggestions…
Bandolier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument protects over 33,000 acres of rugged but beautiful canyon and mesa country as well as evidence of a human presence here going back over 11,000 years. Petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls pay tribute to the early days of a culture that still survives in the surrounding communities.
Opera on the Rocks
This second annual event is an opportunity for those not familiar with opera to participate in an introductory experience, as well as for opera aficionados to enjoy listening in a special venue. The event takes place on Saturday, September 21st from 5 to 9 p.m. The performance will be held in the evening, as the sun sets, at the Monument’s amphitheater.
Bandolier National Monument is just an hour away from Santa Fe although there is a scenic route that takes about 2 hours. This scenic route passes Jemez Pueblo State Monument, several beautiful geological features and small towns. The road is paved, but goes above 9,000 feet.
High Road to Taos, New Mexico
The 56-mile (90 km) High Road to Taos is a scenic, winding road through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. (The “Low Road” runs through the valleys along the Rio Grande). It winds through high desert, mountains, forests, small farms, and tiny Spanish Land Grant villages and Pueblo Indian villages. Scattered along the way are the galleries and studios of traditional artisans and artists drawn by the natural beauty. It has been recognized by the state of New Mexico as an official Scenic Byway.
The High Road from Santa Fe to Taos offers travelers a combination of New Mexico history and panoramic views. When you’re done exploring Taos, take the Low Road, along the Rio Grande River back to Santa Fe. The trip via High Road is about two hours without any stops and stopping is half the fun. Or, you can choose to go up on the Low Road and back on the High Road. Either way, it’s a great, scenic drive.
There are a number of Indian pueblos along this route. The pueblo names are Nambé Pueblo or “Mound of Earth in the Corner;” Ohkay Owingeh “Village of the Strong People;” Picuris Pueblo “Those Who Paint;” Pojoaque Pueblo P’o Suwae Geh “Water Drinking Place;” San Ildefonso Pueblo Po-Who-Ge-Oweenge “Where the Water Cuts Through.” Annual event includes a Feast Day of the Nativity with Corn Dance on Sept. 10. Santa Clara Pueblo KHA’P'O “Valley of the Wild Roses;” Taos Pueblo Tau-Tah “The Place of the Red Willows;” Tesuque Pueblo Te-Tsu-Geh “Cottonwood Tree Place” has an annual event that includes the San Diego Feast Day on Nov. 12. The pueblo also operates the famous Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market, where visitors can buy an incredible array of new and used items from around the world.
They are all within 20 to 60 miles outside of Santa Fe and are well worth a visit.
The Preserve is open to the public and we guarantee you’ll find a visit unlike those at other large attractions. You’ll see wildlife, beautiful vistas and learn about the Preserve’s rich history and geology. Most of our activities have the options of making reservations. Some of our special events may involve a larger number of participants with similar interests, but quality over quantity is still our focus. Select an activity from the list below or the column on the left to access detailed information and make reservations.
To reach Valles Caldera from Santa Fe the “truck route” to Highway 4 below Los Alamos or drive through Los Alamos and follow signs to “Jemez Mtns.” (Hwy 4) If you pass through Los Alamos proper, take Trinity Drive to Diamond. Take a left on Diamond, then a right on Jemez Road to the intersection with State Highway 4. Take a right [away from Bandelier National Monument], following the highway up and into the Jemez Mountains.
O’Keefe Trail Ride and Tour
This is a great way to see the famed Ghost Ranch on horseback – home of the late, great artist Georgia O’Keefee. Ghost Ranch was where O’Keefe gleaned much of her inspiration. The ride involves going to some of her most beloved places.
This horseback ride is for intermediate riders, ages 12 and up, for those who are very comfortable around horses and do not need instruction. You will ride out to the area where Georgia O’Keeffe found her inspiration, completed several paintings and owned a home.
The best way to get to Ghost Ranch from Santa Fe is to drive north toward Espanola on US 285/84, then northwest through Abiquiu on US 84. Ghost Ranch is on the right about 12 miles north of Abiquiu. A great, scenic drive, especially north of Abiquiu.
Hyde Memorial State Park
Hyde Memorial State Park, northeast of Santa Fe near the ski base offers a number of hikes. Try the 5-mile Borrego-Bear Wallow Loop to Tesuque Creek, which starts at the north end of Hyde Memorial State Park. The park is only 8 miles northeast of Santa Fe and offers a scenic drive along a winding road up a thickly wooded canyon with lots of tall pines and aspen..
Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area
Thirty miles north of Santa Fe, NM , the snow-fed waters of the Rio del Medio and the Rio Frijoles begin a 2,000-mile journey and a 7,000-foot descent to the Gulf of Mexico. For a time they gather at Santa Cruz Lake at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Chimayo, behind the 125-foot Santa Cruz Dam.
Built in 1929 by the Santa Cruz Irrigation District, the dam is 535 feet across and 90 feet deep at the overflowing spillway. The lake covers 121 surface acres with water in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, providing recreational opportunities for anglers, picnickers, campers, and boat lovers alike.
If you are traveling along the High Road to Taos, you can detour off of this route and head towards the lake. Continue on NM-76 with beautiful views of the rocky Sangre de Cristo Mountains. A few miles from Chimayó, consider a side trip to Santa Cruz Lake (W1). The lake is surrounded by rolling desert hills and offers hiking, camping, fishing, and some boating. To reach it, turn right on NM-503 (near Rio Chiquito) and in a few miles, turn onto the windy Rio Chiquito Road/Country Road 98A.