Deception Peak Loop

Distance: 11 miles (roundtrip loop)

Water: There is water along the Winsor Trail (#254) between the Nambe Lake Trail (#400) and Skyline Trail (#251).

Season: Summer, Fall

This is one of the best, most accessible and scenic day hikes in the Pecos Wilderness. With plenty of views of Santa Fe Baldy and the many open ridges of the Pecos Wilderness, it is tough to be for how close to Santa Fe it is. Most of the climbing is completed early in the hike making the second half a pleasant stroll through the woods.

Start the hike from the Ski Santa Fe parking on the Winsor Trail – Trail #254. The first section of this trail sees heavy foot traffic, but rest assured you will quickly leave the crowds behind.

After climbing for a little more than a half-mile, the trail reaches a wooden fence and sign for the Pecos Wilderness. Take a right before passing through the gate, leaving #254, and follow the Raven’s Ridge trail to Deception Peak. If you do the full loop, you will return via #254.

Follow the Raven’s Ridge Trail, which parallels a barbed wire fence for less than a mile before turning right at a overlook with views of Santa Fe Baldy and the basin below. From here, the trail climbs extremely steeply along the ridge that drops precipitously to the left. But before tackling this climb, take a break at the overlook and enjoy the scenery.

View of Santa Fe Baldy from Raven’s Ridge

As the trail climbs toward Deception Peak, there will be two small downhill climbs where the trail dips into small saddles before continuing its uphill trajectory.The trail becomes braided during this steep section. Almost of the these social trails will suffice, but try to stay to the most well-worn path to avoid any further braiding and erosion.

In the last half mile, the trail leaves the dense forest and opens into alpine tundra. The trail fades here, but the peak is visible, so make your way to the top via the most sensible route. The trail reappears in the final hundred yards before the summit. You are now on the Skyline Trail – Trail #251. If it’s not too windy, enjoy the views before continuing on to Lake Peak.

Sadie enjoying the view between Deception and Lake Peaks

From here, the trail descends from Deception towards Lake Peak. There are a couple ways to tackle the next section of trail. The most popular of which is to scramble on the ridge between the two peaks. Another option, is to follow a faint path that contours around the east (right) side of the peak. From Deception, this route is faint, but the trail is easy to follow once you’re on it.

Be careful on this section. Both routes have a lot of exposure and require careful attention.

Sullivan and Sadie descending Deception

The hike to Deception Peak is very popular during the summer months, and many hikers continue on to Lake Peak. However, the numbers drop off quickly for the second half of this trail.

From the top of Lake Peak, follow the Skyline Trail, which drops off the north side of the ridge toward Penitente Peak. The trail is narrow, but in good condition and the walking is easier than the trail between Deception and Lake.

The trail descends into a saddle below Penitente. The official route wraps around to the south (right), but from the saddle, I typically leave the trail and veer left up the open, grassy slope to the top of Penitente. This will save some time and maximize your time on top of Penitente.

Once atop Penitente’s wide grassy slope, continue downhill where you’ll quickly see #251 gaining the ridge from the right. Once you’re back on the trail, follow it downhill to where it takes a sharp right into the trees.

NOTE: If you do this hike early in the season, there could sill be snow on this section of trail. Snow persists on this eastern facing slope much longer the the rest of the trail. The trail takes a sharp right and backtracks a few hundred yards before switchbacking toward the north face. This is somewhat counter intuitive, so if there is snow, pay close attention through this section. 

Once the trail reenters the forest, follow the gentle switchbacks to a saddle and junction with the Winsor Trail – Trail #254. In the last quarter mile before the junction, the trail passes through a blow down from a few years ago. The trail has been cleared, but there could definitely be recently fallen trees in the section.

Headwaters of Nambe Creek

Take a left at the junction with Trail #254. After a half mile, the trail opens into a meadow – a great place for another break, before reaching another junction. Remain on Trail #254 by going left. The Skyline Trail veers right toward Santa Fe Baldy and Katherine Lake.

After a little more than a half-mile, the trail crosses the first water source since the trailhead. Now that you’re back on this heavily traveled segment of the Winsor Trail, the remainder of the hike back to the trailhead should be straight forward. Remain on Trail #254 back to Ski Santa Fe.


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