A true New Mexico experience! Window Rock is considered a desert hike. Several large arroyos (washes) snake down towards the Chama river from the geologically impressive Jemez range. On the way, they cut through what is known as New Mexico “badlands”. We will hike in the arroyos and over the badlands to an impressive ridge where a giant hole (arch) has been carved into the ridge’s rocky spine. Also known as a “dyke”. This is an excellent Winter destination with outstanding scenery and an abundance of solitude.
We will begin our trek at a primitive trailhead just off of Highway 285 North of the city of Espanola. We will plan for a 45-minute drive from downtown Santa Fe. The hike will begin in a sandy arroyo, providing relatively easy walking. Cottonwood’s dot section of the winding path and interesting side canyons are seen from time to time. After about a mile or so we will leave the arroyo and follow a series of double track trails to a meadow that sits at the base of Window Rock. Big views open up to the Northeast, providing the hiker with a glimpse into the vastness of the impressive Sangre de Cristo range. After hiking over rolling terrain and arriving at the meadow the window is in sight. A steep but relatively short hike will take us up to the ridge to the windows Southside. Once we gain the ridge a brief walk will land us directly inside the window. This is a magnificent place. A true spectacle that will not be easily forgotten. Sweeping views and wide-open skies dominate the senses. I recall coming here with my Mom on a stormy day in January when we were gifted with three different rainbows during the hike. This area illustrates the lowlands of Northern New Mexico quite well and will provide the hiker with a unique experience in nature only to be found in this beautiful section of the Southwest. We will continue back the way we came.
Out and Back Hike
Total Hiking Distance: 8 miles
Estimated Hiking Time: 4-6 hours
Santa Fe door to door: 5-7 hrs
Recommended Seasons: October – April
Off-Season Hiking: Uncomfortably hot in Summer. May and September are possible if the weather permits.
Trail Considerations: Even though this hike is reserved for the Winter months and cooler temps are likely there is very little shade to be had on this trek. Sunscreen and a good hat are a must out here
One of the largest Alpine lakes in the wilderness Pecos Baldy Lake rests at the foot of the impressive Pecos Baldy (12,600) This area is rich in biodiversity providing a much loved habitat for the majestic big horned sheep. This area is well known and receives frequent visitation from outdoor enthusiasts however, the hike requires determination as this rich riparian zone is a destination deep in the backcountry of these beautiful mountains of New Mexico. As with all adventures one must be equipped and prepared for the physical and mental challenges that are inevitable in wilderness settings.
This spectacular section of the wilderness requires about an hour and a half drive from Santa Fe to access it’s starting point. We will pass through the village of Pecos, taking us up canyon along the wild Pecos river. After passing the small village of Terrero at 13 miles the road narrows and climbs high above the river. We will continue on this road to the Jack’s Creek trailhead. On the we will pass a series of large creeks and rivers that make up the Pecos river system. This is a popular destination for car camping and fishing during the Summer months. From our trailhead we will climb through the dense and well shaded pine forest to a ridge that splits the Pecos river and Jack’s creek drainages. After about 2.5 miles the ridge crests at a series of large meadows and lovely aspen groves. Cattle are commonly seen here during the Summer months as it is a popular area for grazing. The ascent mellows out a bit for the next couple of miles and pleasant walking through meadows and patches of forest bring us to Jack’s creek. Our climbing will begin again as we ascend the creek’s drainage to it’s source (Pecos Baldy Lake). A half mile of hiking will keep us alongside the welcoming waters and will bring us to the junction with the Dockweiler trail. At this point the trail continues to follow the drainage but the creek is not seen again until we near the lake. The terrain changes as we find ourselves hiking through a burn scar. New growth dominate the area and the quick to sprout Aspens give hope to a healthy stretch of forest to be had once again. A couple miles of hiking, following the forested canyon upstream will bring us to the impressive lake basin. The forest gives way to the towering Pecos Baldy mountain and the serene alpine lake, a true place of respite awaits those who made the arduous trek. This is one of the most stunning areas of the Pecos. Enjoy! We will return via the same way we came.
Out and Back Hike
Total Hiking Distance: 15 miles
Estimated Hiking Time: 8-10 hrs
Santa Fe door to door: 10-12 hrs
Recommended Seasons: Mid June – October
Off Season hiking: Snowshoe treks available in May (Gate closure inhibits access Nov – April)
Nestled among the pines Spirit Lake is another pristine subalpine mountain lake that replenishes the natural diversity of the serene Pecos Wilderness. I love this place! The lake basin is just deep enough into the backcountry to really feel a sense disconnect from the stresses of everyday life. There is nothing to worry about or stress over out here. Just raw wilderness embracing our presence.
Our trek will begin at the Santa fe Ski basin (10,250 ft). From here we will begin our climb. The well used and well maintained trail switchbacks up about 600 ft in less than a mile before it enters the Pecos Wilderness. Dramatically everything changes, as it usually does when you enter preserved lands. This is the backcountry! From the wilderness boundary the trail gradually descends through spruce, lodgepole pine and beautiful aspen groves. Glimpses of Blady are at times seen through the dense forest. After about 2 or so miles of easy hiking we will come to our first water source (Nambe creek). Also, the junction with the steep Nambe Lake trail. From here more casual walking will bring us past more streams that feed into the Nambe. At 4 and a half miles we will come to the spectacular Puerto Nambe. Meadows and vistas of the nearby mountains are what this area is known for. From this point, another half mile of easy hiking will bring us to the junction with the Southern portion of the skyline trail which leads to the nearby peaks we just viewed from Puerto nambe. We will continue straight on the Winsor to Spirit Lake which lies on the Eastern flank of forested alpine peaks. Another mile or so of gradual descending through this pristine ecosystem and we will arrive at our final destination. When we are ready to make our way back to the trailhead we will return via the same way we came.
Out and Back Hike
Total hiking distance: 11.8 miles
Estimated hiking time: 6-8 hours
Santa Fe door to door: 7.5 – 9 hours
Recommended months: Mid June – October
Off Season Hiking: Snowshoe treks available Nov – May
This spectacular section of the wilderness is remote, requiring 4wd/high clearance and about an hour and a half drive from Santa Fe to access it’s starting point. We will pass through the village of Pecos, taking us up canyon along the wild Pecos river. After passing the small village of Terrero at 13 miles the road narrows and climbs high above the river. We will turn off on a forest road passing through some beautiful homesteads eventually arriving at the Iron Gate trailhead (9300 ft)(our starting point). From the trailhead we will hike along a broad ridge the splits the pecos and mora river drainages. We’ll climb gradually on the well marked and maintained trail through a mixture of spruce, douglas fir, and pine. Along the way we will be greeted with dramatic views into the wildly remote Mora canyon. Flying predators can usually be spotted looming high above the deep canyon. Eventually the dense forest will give way to a large series of amazing meadows. This can be quite the scene during wildflower season. The lofty Truchas peaks dominate the skyline. Is this New Mexico? For someone wanting a relatively easy hike this is a great option.
We will continue through the meadows to the junction with the faint “Bob Grounds” trail at 5.2 miles. A one mile descent will bring us to the solitude of the rio valdez. Downstream we will continue until arriving at the confluence with the majestic Mora river. Soon we will encounter “Mora Flats” (an area dotted with small riverside meadows. This is a great place to stop and cool down. Our next step will be to locate the Mora Flats trail that climbs up out of the canyon eventually joining the hamilton Mesa trail we were on earlier. This will close out our portion of the loop. One more mile of gradual descending will bring us back to the Iron Gate trailhead. Total miles hiked will be 12.8. Estimated total hiking time 7-8 hrs. Santa Fe and back 8-10 hrs.
From the meadows in option A we will hike another easy mile or so to the “Larkspur trail”. Approximately one mile and a half on this seldom used trail will lead us into the pecos river drainage and alongside the historical area of Beatty’s Cabin. This wild area represents a confluence of several core drainages that make up this river system. This will be a fabulous place to rest and absorb the feeling of the areas pioneers. When ready we will return the same way we came. Total hiking distance 11.2 miles. Estimated total hiking time 5-7 hrs. Santa Fe and back 7-8 hrs.
The wilderness at it’s best! Stewart Lake is a sub-alpine lake located in a large meadow area on the Eastern side of Santa Fe Baldy. Accessing this area requires an hour or so drive from Santa Fe. Along the way we will follow the wild and scenic Pecos River to a series of tributaries that make up the river system. This particular section of the wilderness is very special and doesn’t get the crowds of the ski basin. There are two options for this hike. Option A is a 14.1 mile loop (highly recommended). Option B is a 11.4 mile out and back on mostly south facing slopes. We will begin our trek from an area known as the Cowles ponds. From here we will begin our gradual ascent on south facing slopes, traversing in and out through multiple drainages. After a few miles of moderately difficult hiking through stands of spruce, boxelder, and pine our senses will truly engage with the unresisting energy of this beautifully quiet place. We will be hiking on the North ridge of Winsor creek. At times we will have views through the forest of the creek far below and the south ridge which we will be returning on. Wildlife is typically abundant in this area. Rocky Mountain Elk, Black Bear, Red tail hawks, coyote, mule deer, and Big Horned sheep make this wild canyon home. After approximately 5 miles of hiking we will come to Winsor creek. The trail will lead us to the outlet of this serene New Mexico gem. When we are ready to head back. We will trek back on the South ridge (North facing side). This side holds snow longer in the Winter and Spring months therefore creating a perfect habitat for the flora that thrives at these high altitudes. At times it may seem like a jungle in comparison to the other side. A new Mexico jungle that is. Our trek will eventually lead us down to the mountain stream of winsor creek. A short hike along the creek will bring us to a campground and back to the front country. To complete the trek we will need to road walk one mile back to our vehicle. Option B will be an out and back hike including the first part of this description.
Cave creek is a 5 mile out and back hike deep in the heart of the remote Pecos Wilderness. Accessing this area requires an hour or so drive from Santa Fe. Along the way we will follow the wild and scenic Pecos River to a series of tributaries that make up the river system. Honestly, the drive alone is worth the trip. From the Panchuela trailhead we will trek through an incredible sub-alpine landscape on the way to a small and unique cave system supported by a cool mountain stream. This area typically receives a lot of moisture, providing the Summer months with an abundance of flora and fauna. It is a mountain paradise. Most who visit will connect deeply to the areas serenity. Crystal clear streams, inviting meadows, solitude, and the chance of seeing Rocky Mountain Elk make this a wonderful trip. For those seeking a full day of adventure at a leisurely pace Cave Creek is a wonderful option. Elevations for this hike will range between 8500 and 9000 feet.
Santa Fe Baldy is the Southern Rockies premier mountain, boasting at an altitude of 12,622 feet. It sits high at the southern terminus of the Rockies. Essentially it is the beginning of the incredible range that extends into Canada. This is a strenuous day hike and is recommended as an overnight trip. These high altitudes are no joke and if you’re coming from sea level prepare to spend several days acclimatizing prior to taking on an endeavor such as this. This trek takes one deep into the Pecos Wilderness, providing huge 360 degree views and a taste of the solitude to be found here in the land of enchantment. If you are an experienced hiker and want the ultimate tour of the Pecos then this is the trek for you.
Our trek will begin at the Santa fe Ski basin (10,250 ft). From here we will begin our climb. The well used and well maintained trail switchbacks up about 600 ft in less than a mile before it enters the Pecos Wilderness. Dramatically everything changes, as it usually does when you enter preserved lands. This is the backcountry! From the boundary the trail gradually descends through spruce, lodgepole pine and beautiful aspen groves. Glimpses of Baldy are at times seen through the dense forest. After about 2 or so miles of easy hiking we will come to our first water source (Nambe creek). Also, the junction with the steep Nambe Lake trail. From here more casual walking will bring us past more streams that feed into the Nambe. At 4 and a half miles we will come to the spectacular Puerto Nambe. Meadows and vistas of the nearby mountains are what this area is known for. About three more miles to go for the summit of Santa Fe Baldy. If you are deciding on a backpacking trip this is the area where we will try to make our basecamp camp. The air gets more thin and eventually we will reach the tree line (around 12,000ft) where the trees stop growing.) Now we are in the tundra-a lunar land. This is no place to be during a storm as there is minimal protection from the elements. If we are up here and something does roll in we will have to retreat immediately to timber line where we can seek shelter. This is non negotiable. We will return the same way we came. Total hiking distance: approx 14 miles, Elevation gain 3600ft, Estimated Duration: 8-10hrs. Although this trek is suggested for the Summer months snowshoe treks are also encouraged. Recommended months are late June through mid October (snow permitting)
A high foothill of Santa Fe and essentially the Southern terminus of the Rocky Mountain range Atalaya is a well known hike to most Santa Feans. The proximity of this hike to town provides the hiker with an opportunity to get away from it all but still be within striking distance of Santa Fe. Rising 2,000 feet above the city different Atalaya is known for its steep terrain and exceptional vistas. There are two options for this trek: A. Begin from the St John’s trailhead making this a 7 mile hike or B. start from the Wilderness gate trailhead, which lies right at the foot of the mountain but has limited parking. Option B is more desirable in the sense that you can hike shortens to 5 miles instead of 7 however, the climbing begins almost immediately. I prefer option B. We will hike on a very well maintained trail through pinon and ponderosa pine country that is noticeably common to these elevations in this area. On most days Ravens frequent Atalaya’s rocky Summit. Watching them soar as they effortlessly catch the thermal ride is a intriguing part of this summit experience. We will have unobstructed views of the Ortiz, Sandia, and Jemez ranges as well as Mount Taylor on most days. The option B hike should take us approximately 3 and a half hours with another hour added if we decide on option A. This hike can typically be done year round without snowshoes (ice traction devices may be needed during the winter months). Recommended March, April, May, October and November. Hikeable in the Summer.