Set between the granite peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the subtler volcanic Jemez Mountains, and with the Rio Grande flowing through, the Santa Fe area offers outdoor enthusiasts many opportunities to play. This is the land of high desert, where temperatures vary with the elevation, allowing for a full range of activities throughout the year.
New Mexico is renowned for its spectacular Balloon Fiesta, which takes place annually in Albuquerque. If you want to take a ride, you'll probably have to go to Albuquerque or Taos, but you can book your trip in Santa Fe through Santa Fe Detours, 54 1/2 E. San Francisco St. (tour desk for summer, 107 Washington Ave.; tel. 800/338-6877 or 505/983-6565; www.sfdetours.com). Flights take place early in the day. Rates begin at around $175 a flight. If you have your heart set on a balloon flight, I suggest that you reserve a time early in your trip because flights are sometimes canceled due to bad weather. That way, if you have to reschedule, you'll have enough time to do so.
You can cycle along main roadways and paved country roads year-round in Santa Fe, but be aware that traffic is particularly heavy around the plaza -- and all over town, motorists are not particularly attentive to bicyclists, so you need to be especially alert. Mountain-biking interest has exploded here and is especially popular in the spring, summer, and fall; the high-desert terrain is rugged and challenging, but mountain bikers of all levels can find exhilarating rides. The Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau can supply you with bike maps.
I recommend the following trails: West of Santa Fe, the Caja del Rio area has nice dirt roads and some light-to-moderate technical biking; the railroad tracks south of Santa Fe provide wide-open biking on beginner-to-intermediate technical trails; and the Borrego Trail up toward the Santa Fe Ski Area is a challenging technical ride that links in with the Windsor Trail, a nationally renowned technical romp with plenty of verticality.
In Santa Fe bookstores, or online at sites like Amazon.com, look for Mountain Biking Northern New Mexico: A Guide to Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque Areas' Greatest Off-Road Bicycle Rides by Bob D'Antonio. The book details 40 rides ranging in difficulty from beginning to advanced. Santa Fe Mountain Sports, 606 Cerrillos Rd. (tel. 505/988-3337; www.santafemountainsports.com), rents hard-tail mountain bikes for $20 per half-day and $25 per full day, or full-suspension bikes for $35 per full day. Mellow Velo Bikes, 638 Old Santa Fe Trail (tel. 505/982-8986; www.mellowvelo.com), rents front-suspension mountain bikes for $23 per half-day and $30 per full day. Town cruisers run $23 per half-day and $30 per full day. Full-suspension bikes run $43 per day. Add $7, and Mellow Velo will deliver to and pick up from your hotel (in the Santa Fe area). Multiday rentals can be arranged. Both shops supply accessories such as helmets, locks, maps, and trail information, usually at an additional cost. Mellow Velo also runs a private guided tour service, which includes back-country guided adventures starting from $60 to $95 per person. On their guided train tour, clients cycle to Lamy and take a train back.
Retro Cruising -- If you want to see Santa Fe's downtown the old-fashioned way, check out the '50s retro cruisers at Mellow Velo Bikes. These reproduction bicycles come with a basket on the front, so shoppers can cruise the plaza and Canyon Road and have a place to stash their goods. If you rent one, take a spin through some of Santa Fe's old neighborhoods on Acequia Madre and Garcia Street. Town cruisers run $30 for a half-day and $60 for a full day. Contact Mellow Velo Bikes, 638 Old Santa Fe Trail (tel. 505/982-8986; www.mellowvelo.com).
Bird-watchers flock to the Randall Davey Audubon Center, 1800 Upper Canyon Rd. (tel. 505/983-4609), to see more than 100 species of birds and many other animals. For guided bird-watching tours all over the region, contact Wings West (tel. 800/583-6928; http://home.earthlink.net/~wingswestnm). Bill West guides half-day tours to local spots such as the Santa Fe Mountains and Cochiti Lake ($105 for one to two people) and full-day ones farther afield ($195 for one to two people).
In the lakes and waterways around Santa Fe, anglers typically catch trout (there are five varieties in the area). Other local fish include bass, perch, and kokanee salmon. The most popular fishing holes are Cochiti and Abiquiu lakes as well as the Rio Chama, Pecos River, and the Rio Grande. A world-renowned fly-fishing destination, the San Juan River, near Farmington, is worth a visit and can make for an exciting 2-day trip in combination with a tour around Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Check with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (tel. 505/476-8000; www.wildlife.state.nm.us) for information (including maps of area waters), licenses, and fishing proclamations. High Desert Angler, 453 Cerrillos Rd. (tel. 505/988-7688; www.highdesertangler.com), specializes in fly-fishing gear and guide services.
There are three courses in the Santa Fe area: the 18-hole Santa Fe Country Club, on Airport Road (tel. 505/471-2626; www.santafecountryclub.com); the often-praised 18-hole Cochiti Lake Golf Course, 5200 Cochiti Hwy., Cochiti Lake, about 35 miles southwest of Santa Fe via I-25 and NM 16 and 22 (tel. 505/465-2239; www.pueblodecochiti.org); and Santa Fe's newest 18-hole course, Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe, 205 Caja del Rio (tel. 505/955-4400; www.linksdesantafe.com). Both the Santa Fe Country Club and the Marty Sanchez Links offer driving ranges as well. North of Santa Fe on Pojoaque Pueblo land, the Towa Golf Resort (Buffalo Thunder Resort, 12 miles north of Santa Fe on US 285/84, tel. 877/465-3489 or 505/455-9000; www.towagolf.com), offers 36 holes, 27 of them designed by Hale Irwin and William Phillips, set with views of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
It's hard to decide which of the 1,000 miles of nearby national forest trails to tackle. Four wilderness areas are nearby, most notably Pecos Wilderness, with 223,000 acres east of Santa Fe. Also visit the 58,000-acre Jemez Mountain National Recreation Area. Information on these and other wilderness areas is available from the Santa Fe National Forest, P.O. Box 1689 (1474 Rodeo Rd.), Santa Fe, NM 87504 (tel. 505/438-7840; www.fs.fed.us). If you're looking for company on your trek, contact the Santa Fe branch of the Sierra Club, 1807 Second St. (tel. 505/983-2703; www.riogrande.sierraclub.org). A hiking schedule can be found in the local newsletter; you can pick one up outside the office. Some people enjoy taking a chairlift ride to the summit of the Santa Fe Ski Area (tel. 505/982-4429; www.skisantafe.com) and hiking around up there during the summer. A popular guide with Santa Feans is Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area, put out by the local branch of the Sierra Club. The most popular hiking trails are the Borrego Trail, a moderate 4-mile jaunt through aspens and ponderosa pines, ending at a creek, and Aspen Vista, an easy 1- to 5-mile hike through aspen forest with views to the east. Both are easy to find; simply head up Hyde Park Road toward Ski Santa Fe. The Borrego Trail is 8 1/4 miles up, while Aspen Vista is 10 miles. In recent years an energetic crew has cut the Dale Ball Trails (tel. 505/955-6977), miles of hiking/biking trails throughout the Santa Fe foothills. The easiest access is off Hyde Park Road toward Ski Santa Fe. Drive 2 miles from Bishop's Lodge Road and watch for the trail head on the left. If you're looking for "outspiration" (versus inspiration) on a guided day-hiking experience, call Outspire tel. 505/660-0394; www.outspire.com). They'll set you up with a guide and design just the hike for your ability level and interest. A 3- to 4-hour hike runs at a flat rate of $150, with prices going up from there. Outspire also guides snowshoeing trips.
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 Santa Fe National Forest (tel. 505/438-7840).
Trips ranging in length from a few hours to overnight can be arranged by Santa Fe Detours, 54 1/2 E. San Francisco St. (summer tour desk, 107 Washington Ave.; tel. 800/338-6877 or 505/983-6565; www.sfdetours.com). You'll ride with "experienced wranglers" and they can even arrange a trip that includes a cookout or brunch. Rides are also major activities at the Bishop's Lodge. The Broken Saddle Riding Company (tel. 505/424-7774) offers rides through the stunning Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe.
Elk and mule deer are taken by hunters in the Pecos Wilderness and Jemez Mountains, as are occasional black bears and bighorn sheep. Wild turkeys and grouse are frequently bagged in the uplands, geese and ducks at lower elevations. Check with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (tel. 505/476-8000; www.wildlife.state.nm.us) for information and licenses.
River Rafting & Kayaking
Although Taos is the real rafting center of New Mexico, several companies serve Santa Fe during the April-to-October white-water season. They include New Wave Rafting, 70 County Rd. 84B, Santa Fe, NM 87506 (tel. 800/984-1444 or 505/984-1444; www.newwaverafting.com), and Santa Fe Rafting Co., 1000 Cerrillos Rd., Santa Fe, NM 87505 (tel. 888/988-4914 or 505/988-4914; www.santaferafting.com). You can expect the cost of a full-day trip to range from about $110 to $125 per person before tax and the 3% federal land use fee. The day of the week (weekdays are less expensive) and group size may also affect the price.
Despite its elevation, Santa Fe is popular with runners and hosts numerous competitions, including the annual Old Santa Fe Trail Run on Labor Day. The Santa Fe Striders website (www.santafestriders.org) lists various runs during the year, as well as weekly runs. This is a great opportunity for travelers to find their way and to meet some locals.
There's something available for every ability level at Ski Santa Fe, about 16 miles northeast of Santa Fe via Hyde Park (Ski Basin) Road. Lots of locals ski here, particularly on weekends; if you can, go on weekdays. It's a good family area and fairly small, so it's easy to split off from and later reconnect with your party. Built on the upper reaches of 12,000-foot Tesuque Peak, the area has an average annual snowfall of 225 inches and a vertical drop of 1,725 feet. Seven lifts, including a 5,000-foot triple chair and a quad chair, serve 69 runs and 660 acres of terrain, with a total capacity of 7,800 riders an hour. Base facilities, at 10,350 feet, center around La Casa Mall, with a cafeteria, lounge, ski shop, and boutique. A restaurant, Totemoff's, has a mid-mountain patio.
The ski area is open daily from 9am to 4pm; the season often runs from Thanksgiving to early April, depending on snow conditions. Rates for all lifts are $58 for adults, $46 for those ages 13 to 20, $40 for children and seniors; half-day a.m. or p.m. tickets run $42. Tickets are free for kids less than 46 inches tall (in their ski boots), and for seniors 72 and older. For more information, contact Ski Santa Fe, 2209 Brothers Rd., Suite 220 (tel. 505/982-4429; www.skisantafe.com). For 24-hour reports on snow conditions, call tel. 505/983-9155. Ski New Mexico (tel. 505/585-2422) gives statewide reports. Ski packages are available through Santa Fe Hotels.com (tel. 800/745-9910).
Cross-country skiers find seemingly endless miles of snow to track in the Santa Fe National Forest (tel. 505/438-7840; www.fs.fed.us). A favorite place to start is at the Black Canyon campground, about 9 miles from downtown en route to Ski Santa Fe. In the same area are the Borrego Trail (high intermediate), Aspen Vista Trail, and the Norski Trail, all en route to Ski Santa Fe as well. Other popular activities at the ski area in winter include snowshoeing, snowboarding, sledding, and inner tubing. Ski, snowboard, and snowshoe rentals are available at a number of downtown shops and the ski area.
Getting Pampered: The Spa Scene
If traveling, skiing, or other activities have left you weary, Santa Fe has a number of relaxation options. Newest to the city is the Absolute Nirvana Spa & Gardens (tel. 505/983-7942; www.absolutenirvana.com). This creation, voted one of the best three spas in town by the Santa Fe Reporter, offers imaginative Indo-Asian spa "experiences" as well as massages and facials. Their signature treatment, the Javanese Lulur, includes a full-body massage with jasmine oil, a sandlewood/rice powder exfoliation and yogurt/honey wrap, followed by a steam shower and decadent rose petal bath, all accompanied by tea, fruit, and a house-made truffle. The spa is open Sunday to Thursday 10am to 6pm and Friday and Saturday 10am to 8pm. Prices range from $105 to $240. Another option with a more Japanese bent is Ten Thousand Waves, a spa about 3 miles northeast of Santa Fe on Hyde Park Road (tel. 505/982-9304; www.tenthousandwaves.com). This serene retreat, nestled in a grove of piñons, offers hot tubs, saunas, and cold plunges, plus a variety of massage and other bodywork techniques. Bathing suits are optional in both the communal hot tub (during the day) and the women's communal tub, where you can stay as long as you want for $19. Nine private hot tubs cost $25 to $30 an hour, with discounts for seniors and children. A premium bath is offered at $59 for 80 minutes. You can also arrange therapeutic massage, hot-oil massage, in-water watsu massage, herbal wraps, salt glows, facials, dry brush aromatherapy treatments, Ayurvedic treatments, and the much-praised Japanese Hot Stone Massage. If you call far enough in advance, you may be able to find lodging at Ten Thousand Waves as well. The spa is open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10:30am to 10:30pm; Tuesday from 2 to 10:30pm; and Friday through Sunday from 9am to 10:30pm (winter hours are shorter, so be sure to call). Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.
Decorated in Southwestern-cum-Asian style, with clean lines and lots of elegant stone, Santa Fe's chicest option is Avanyu Spa at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa (tel. 505/986-0000). A full-service spa offering a range of treatments from massage to salt glows, this spot may initially seem expensive (about $135 for 60 min.), but treatments come with full use of the steam room, hot tub, and grass-surrounded pool.
Another south-of-town option, Sunrise Springs Inn and Retreat, 242 Los Pinos Rd. (tel. 505/471-3600), offers spa stays in a lovely pond-side setting. Even if you don't stay here, plan a meal at the inn's Blue Heron Restaurant, where you'll feast on delectable new American cuisine with a healthy flair.
There's a public pool at the Fort Marcy Complex (tel. 505/955-2500; www.santafenm.gov) on Camino Santiago, off Bishop's Lodge Road. In summer, the public Bicentennial Pool, 1121 Alto St. (tel. 505/955-4778) offers outdoor swimming. Admission to both is less than $2 for all ages.
Santa Fe has 44 public tennis courts and 4 major private facilities. The City Recreation Department (tel. 505/955-2100; www.santafenm.gov) can help you locate indoor, outdoor, and lighted public courts.