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Top Outdoor Adventures in Santa Fe

Great places to hike, mountain bike and enjoy the great outdoors in Santa Fe County.

Santa Fe is well known for its museums, arts and culture, but locals also know Santa Fe for its variety of outdoor adventures. From great places to go mountain biking to hidden gems for hiking, check out these three top adventure destinations in Santa Fe.

#1 Santa Fe National Forest

Bring your bike or hook up with a registered guide like the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado to take on the trails in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Bring your bike or hook up with a registered guide like the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado to take on the trails in the Santa Fe National Forest.

The 1.6 million acre Santa Fe National Forest offers opportunities for a range of outdoor adventures, including mountain biking. Travelers have their pick of extreme and more serene trails through various elevation changes. Many trails located just outside of downtown Santa Fe.

I went out with Mikey Fong and Ismar Uzicannan, guides from the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, a Santa Fe National Forest registered outfitter. They supplied me with a bike and lead me down Pacheco Canyon Road through diverse scenery, from alpine to mid-alpine and then to the high desert floor.

Not so long into our ride, we passed a portion of Pacheco Canyon Road that intersects with the Winsor Trail. A favorite multi-use trail, the Winsor Trail is accessible by a shuttle bus from downtown Santa Fe to the trailhead should you not want to worry about retrieving a car after your bike or having to pedal uphill. If you get the chance to stop here for a bit, you’re likely to see some of the area’s more serious mountain bikers careening down the Winsor Trail and catching air as they drop back into the forest.

We next stopped to enjoy one of Mikey’s favorite views. A break in the forest revealed distant views of a large caldera where there a National Preserve called the Valles Caldera. If you stop at this spot, look for a rocky outcropping in the distance. If it looks really far… it is! At this point, you’re at around 9,000 feet, having started at 10,000. That distant point is where you’ll ride out of the canyon at around 7,600 feet.

Remember, if you start at the top Pacheco Canyon road this is a downhill mountain biking adventure, so you’re heading down the mountain the entire time. At the end of the trail, we popped out of the Santa Fe National Forest and stopped for another grand vista. With the Jemez Mountains in the foreground, on a clear day you can see downtown Santa Fe.

If you’re taking on this trail, wear or pack layers. On our ride, the weather changed a few times, from sunny, blue skies to a wild rain storm and then back to sun. The Santa Fe area offers lots of choices for mountain biking including premiere trails like La Tierra Trails, Dale Ball Trails and numerous mountain trails, so if you want to try mountain biking or are an enthusiast, this is a great area to visit.

#2 Diablo Canyon

A flower paves the way to hiking at Diablo Canyon.

A flower paves the way to hiking at Diablo Canyon.

Diablo Canyon is a dramatic place to get active just outside of downtown Santa Fe. Its spectacular landscapes have served as a set for movie productions, including The Missing, 3:10 to Yum and Cowboys and Aliens. The area is also part of the old Camino Real.

A historic trade route stretching from Mexico City into New Mexico, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro or royal road of the interior land dates back to 1598, when Don Juan de Onate led colonists along the trail from Mexico City into what’s known today as New Mexico during the time of Spanish conquest. It became a main highway for transporting goods and travelers. Long before Onate’s journey, Native Americans used portions of the trail, too. Today it’s a National Historic Trail with various heritage stops modern travelers can enjoy.

History and trails wind through sandy washes accessible for the whole family at Diablo Canyon. Keep a lookout for wild flowers as you hike and wild climbers. The rock walls are popular for rock climbers and they looked pretty challenging to me. You may also spot cactus, including Cane Cholla and Elephant Ear, and prickly pear. What makes this hike so accessible, even though Diablo Canyon is remote, is that it’s relatively flat. Though the entirety of the hike here is 4.3 miles in and out, you can certainly make this hike shorter. Go in as far as you feel comfortable and, remember, you’re hiking the same way in and out… It’s not a loop hike. You are also hiking through softer sand, which can be strenuous.

#3 Tsankawi

Climb ladders under blue skies as you hike the Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument.

Climbing ladders under blue skies with Outspire Hiking’s Scott Renbarger in the Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument.

Hike through history and away from the crowds at Tsankawi, a lesser visited outpost of Bandelier National Monument located just outside of Santa Fe. Travelers can go it alone or sign up for a guided hike with a local company like Outspire Hiking, which leads travelers on a variety of trails through public lands.

Tsankawi is part of Bandelier National Monument, but it’s a small subset or subunit of the park. It’s close to Santa Fe and it brings a lot of what Bandelier protects into one small area that you can easily visit. Tsankawi was once an Ancestral Pueblo village and today travelers can hike paths trod centuries ago to see petryoglyphs and cliff dwellings. Archaeologists believe that Native Americans settled this area in the 1100’s. Tswankawi village dates back to the 1400s.

For any of the above outdoor adventures, be prepared to savor the solitude, history and landscapes that have inspired artists and adventurers throughout time in Santa Fe.

Look for our “Santa Fe Adventures” TV episode of “Travels with Darley” on your local PBS TV station, Create TV and coming soon to Amazon Prime.

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Travels with Darley is a travel TV series broadcast on PBS stations and on digital networks, including the AOL On Network. Host Darley Newman of "Equitrekking" fame joins locals to showcase the top food, culture and adventure attractions in the USA and around the globe.

TravelswithDarley.com is the companion site with travel guides, videos and information so viewers can recreate the adventures seen on the series and beyond.

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