Get wild in Santa Fe’s grasslands, high mountain forests, and juniper woodlands.
New Mexico’s capital city, Santa Fe, has no shortage of selling points. It’s the highest-elevation state capital in the US, boasts some of the purest air in the world, and enjoys 320-plus days of sunshine per year. The city is a treasure trove of history and culture, but we think the opportunities for nearby adventure are even more appealing. Santa Fe houses hundreds of miles of trails, nearby lakes and rivers, countless campsites, and millions of acres of undisturbed parks and nature reserves. Hikers, paddlers, and anyone who loves getting into nature all owe themselves a visit to the scenic region.
Santa Fe National Forest spans a whopping 1.6 million acres of densely forested hills, ancient volcanic rock formations, dramatic gorges and valleys, and some of the wildest territory in the U.S. today. The park offers year-round hiking across its dozens of trails, each of which takes you on a different route through the forest’s changing elevations. Other activities include bicycling, fishing, hunting, boating, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. Afterward, campers are a stone’s throw from a variety of tent camping sites near Santa Fe National Forest, as well as some great Santa Fe RV sites with full hookups onsite.
Amazingly, Santa Fe is flanked by not one but two massive national forests. Carson National Forest is almost as large as Santa Fe National Forest, offering 1.5 million acres of mountain ranges, shrubland foothills, high desert mesas, and, of course, dense forests of juniper and conifer trees. Area activities include biking and hiking trails at all difficulty levels, rivers to paddle down, vistas and viewpoints of Santa Fe’s terrain (any of which would make a great picnic area), and even opportunities for more unique pastimes like horseback riding and off-highway vehicle (OHV) riding. Camping areas abound near Carson National Forest, including sites with amenities like picnic tables, restrooms, grills, and fire rings.
Though the Rio Grande River is shared by several states and with Mexico, one of its most impressive stretches lies within New Mexico, just a short drive from Santa Fe. The Rio Grande Valley is made up of arid and desert lands, with grasses and shrubs offering a home to diverse wildlife species all along the powerful waters—the banks offer a chance to spot bighorn sheep, river otters, and more as you hike through the valley and its rugged, rocky trails. At the end of the day, Rio Grande campers are conveniently close to campgrounds with fishing spots, luxury glamping sites, beach sites, and even treehouse rentals.
One of the most popular destinations in New Mexico, the Sandia Mountains are characterized by the many distinctive biomes depending on elevation, each home to dozens of day hiking trails. The mountainous trails offer vistas and viewpoints of the stunning Cibola National Forest along the way, and most end up at one of the range’s summits, providing panoramic views of the entire region. Snag tent sites at campgrounds near the Sandia Mountains.
Despite being in an arid desert climate, Santa Fe experiences four distinct seasons each year, from hot, dry summers (average high of 86°F in July) to chilly winters (average high of 42°F in January), with mild spring and fall seasons in between. For campers interested in hiking Santa Fe’s many parks and trails, the warmer months tend to be the best time, although crowds may be larger at smaller, popular locations. For those visiting in the height of summer, be aware of shade and water when doing longer hikes and activities. To avoid heat stroke and dehydration, pack excess water, wear appropriate clothing to prevent sunstroke, and use sunscreen.