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Backpacking Nirvana in the Santa Fe National Forest

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The Santa Fe National Forest is home to some of the most picturesque alpine scenery in the Southwest. Serious hikers know that the forest is home to some of the finest trails around for miles. The headwaters of the Pecos, Jemez and Gallinas Rivers can all be found here along with an abundance of trickling mountain streams. Within the borders of the forest resides a dormant volcano with a 15-mile wide crater, which has fostered abundant plant and animal life.

Hiking opportunities in the Santa Fe National Forest are as diverse as the life zones of the forest. . (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

Looking for an unforgettable backpacking experience? Look no further than a trek up to Santa Fe Baldy or to Lake Katherine via the Winsor Trail to find serenity, breathe in cool mountain air and reconnect with the great outdoors.

As the prominent summit in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, Santa Fe Baldy is widely viewed as the mother of Santa Fe hikes. The trail is challenging and climbs to one of the highest peaks in the area. This strenuous trail isn’t recommended for those visiting Santa Fe on a weekend excursion, as the elevation change is no joke. However for those seeking a serious challenge with rewarding incredible views, this one’s for you.

Popular opinion maintains that fall is the absolute best time of year to make the trek when the aspens lay out a carpet of golden hues and the monsoon season is long gone – lessening the risk of being caught at the peak in a thunderstorm.

At 14 miles roundtrip, this hike requires an early start at day break in order to allow plenty of time to reach the summit. The trail takes off from the 10,250-foot base of the Santa Fe Ski Basin and meanders under towering aspen and fir trees across plenty of trickling streams and tranquil open meadows.

The Pecos Wilderness is a protected wilderness area within the Santa Fe National Forest.  (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

It doesn’t take long for this trail to become a challenge and the climb starts.  In just the first half-mile, you’ll climb about 600 feet before the trail takes a nice descent into the gorgeous Pecos Wilderness.

At about four and a half miles into the trail you’ll come across Puerto Nambé, a level meadow area great for setting up camp or a stop for a quick bite to eat. From Puerto Nambé, Winsor Trail continues right toward Lake Katherine or veers left into Skyline Trail, which leads to Santa Fe Baldy.

If you choose to take the route up to Baldy, the easy-to-follow trail leads you straight up to the summit at 12,618 feet. Lake Katherine sits beneath Santa Fe Baldy and the views are incredible. You’ll absolutely want to set aside some time to soak in the 360-degree views while you have a little rest.

For the truly intrepid adventurer it is possible to climb down from the peak to Lake Katherine, as it is only a little over a mile between the two, but beware of some fairly tricky steep, exposed areas and no clear trail to follow.

The Sangre de Cristo mountain range are the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains.  (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

If you stay on Winsor Trail toward Lake Katherine you will surely not be disappointed. The views alone are worth every step it takes to get there. The lake is arguably the crown jewel of the smaller Pecos lakes that dot the area and the backdrop of Santa Fe Baldy adds to the grandeur.

If you’re lucky perhaps you’ll spot some of the incredible wildlife that call the Santa Fe National Forest home. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep reside in the extremely rocky areas of the forest and are most likely to be spotted in grassy areas where they like to feed. The Merriam’s turkey is another species that resides in the forest and is the bird from which the domestic turkey was bred. This species was almost named our national bird, losing by only a single vote to the Bald Eagle!

 

Before your adventure begins, always think safety first with these backpacking travel safety tips:

  • You should hike with at least one partner.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and pack rain gear for the trek.
  • Pack sufficient water as you will need to be drinking plenty of water in order to avoid dehydration.
  • At higher elevations, be prepared for dangerous weather.
  • It is always a good idea to let someone know of your plans, your route and when they should expect you to arrive back.

 

Finally, leave no trace behind. Pack out anything you packed in and take with you this magnificent experience, stunning images captured on your camera and memories to be treasured for a lifetime.

Hiking in the Santa Fe and surrounding areas allows you to take in and experience some of area’s most beautiful and exhilarating scenery. You’ll want to plan your Santa Fe getaway now by ordering the 2017 Santa Fe Travel Guide. One thing we can also tell you is that there’s always Deals and Specials happening so make sure to check these out!

 

This blog was written in partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe and Santa Fe County .

 

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