Everywhere you go in New Mexico you'll find opportunities for hiking adventures. The terrain and climate vary from the heat and flatness of the desert plains to the cold, forested alpine areas of the northern region of the state. You can visit both (going from 3,000-13,000 ft. in elevation) and anything in between in the same day without much trouble. You can go hiking virtually anywhere you please (except on private land or Native American land without permission); however, it's wise to stick to designated trails.
If you're around Santa Fe, I recommend hiking Santa Fe Baldy. It's a hike you can do in a day if you start out early; if you'd like a less strenuous walk, plan to spend a night camping. This is a good first hike for those who come from lower altitudes but are in good shape. Once you get to the top, you'll have panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains, as well as the Rio Grande Valley.
If you're looking for something more challenging in the northcentral region of the state, head to Taos and give Wheeler Peak your best shot. The hike up New Mexico's highest peak is about 15 miles round-trip. If you're incredibly well conditioned, you may be able to do the hike in a day. Otherwise, plan to hike and camp for several days. The pain of getting to the top is worth it -- at the top you'll find some of New Mexico's most spectacular views.
For a much easier hike in the Taos area, try hiking down into Rio Grande Gorge. It's beautiful and can be hiked year-round.
In the northeastern region of New Mexico, I recommend taking the 1-mile loop around Capulin Volcano. The crater rim offers stunning views, and you can look down into the dormant caldera. It's a nice, easy walk for those who'd rather not overexert themselves. Any time except winter is good for this hike.
If you're heading to the northwestern region of the state, try hiking the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, 37 miles south of Farmington. Though there are no marked trails, the hiking is easy in this area of low, eroded hills and fanciful rock formations. You may see petrified wood or fossils from the dinosaurs that lived here millions of years ago. A walk to one of the more interesting areas is about 4 miles round-trip and is best taken in spring or fall.
The northwestern region is also home to El Malpais National Monument, where you can hike into great lava tubes. The hiking is easy, but it's also easy to get lost in this area, so be sure to carry a compass and a topographical map. Also in the area is El Morro National Monument, known as inscription rock, a stunning pinnacle offering a moderate hike to its summit, with stunning views. This hike is an especially good one to take in spring or fall.
In the southwestern region is the Gila National Forest, which has approximately 1,500 miles of trails, with varying ranges of length and difficulty. Your best bet is to purchase a guidebook devoted entirely to hiking the Gila Forest, but popular areas include the Crest Trail, the West Fork Trail, and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. One favorite day hike in the forest is the Catwalk, a moderately strenuous hike along a series of steel bridges and walkways suspended over Whitewater Canyon.
In the southeastern region, you'll find one of my favorite places in all of New Mexico: White Sands National Monument. Hiking the white-sand dunes is easy, if sometimes awkward, and the magnificence of the views is unsurpassed. Be sure to take sunscreen and sunglasses, plenty of water, and a compass on this hike; there's no shade, and it's difficult to tell one dune from another here.
Of course, you can choose from hundreds of other hikes. You can purchase a hiking book or contact the National Park Service, National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or other appropriate agency directly. The best guides for the region are 50 Hikes in Northern New Mexico: From Chaco Canyon to the High Peaks of the Sangre de Cristos (Countryman), by Kai Huschke, and 100 Hikes in New Mexico, 2nd Edition, by Craig Martin (the Mountaineers). A popular guide with Santa Feans is Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area, published by the local branch of the Sierra Club and available in most local bookstores.
Trail Closures -- The drought that has spread across the Southwest in recent years has caused the U.S. Forest Service to close trails in many New Mexico mountains during the summer in order to reduce fire hazard. Before you head out in this area, contact the ranger district nearest your destination.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.