Distance: 4.25 miles
Season: Fall, Winter, Early Spring
Trail Condition: Good
This short day hike is perfect for fall and winter when you are looking to escape the cold. It starts roughly 1,500 feet lower than Santa Fe, so although it is close to town, it is often markedly warmer. From Otowi Peak, you have amazing views of the Sangre de Cristo and the Jemez as well as views of White Rock canyon. The steep climb is well-worth the reward.
From the Camino La Tierra exit off NM-599, follow the Camino La Tierra northwest for about 5 miles before taking a right onto Old Buckman Road where you’ll also see a sign for El Camino Real.
Follow Old Buckman Road for 10 miles to its terminus at the Rio Grande. The road is severely washboarded in sections, but a high clearance vehicle is not required. Towards the end of the road near the water treatment plant, there will be small roads diverting from the main road. Remain on the main road to the small parking area that is within sight of the river.
From the parking area, backtrack slightly up the road to the yellow gate. Cross under the gate and follow the trail that parallels the river upstream. After about 1/4 mile you will reach a large sandy wash. Turn upstream and follow the wash for another 1/2 mile.
You’ll cross under another metal gate. Quickly the wash narrows with roughly 20 foot walls rising on either side. Just around the best from where the wash narrows to about 15 feet, there will be a cairned junction for where the trail leaves the wash. It is difficult to miss.
From here, the trail climbs steeply for the next mile as it climbs on the west (left) side of a steep draw up to Buckman Mesa.
NOTE: This section of trail is prone to erosion so be mindful and remain on the trail.
It is very steep and the trail is made up of many large stepping stones. Go slowly. This is by far the most difficult portion of the hike. The grade gets easier towards the top and just before reaching the mesa, it crosses over to the west side of the drainage.
Once atop the mesa, you have .5 of easy walking through the pinyon forest atop the mesa. This should provide a nice break before making the final climb to Otowi. This area can hold snow and the clay soil can become very slippery if wet, so be careful, especially with the few arroyo crossings.
The final climb to Otowi is nearly as steep as the climb up to the mesa, but without the large boulders, it is much easier. From the base of the peak, the trail climbs nearly straight up for 90% of the elevation before contouring to the river side (west) and making the few feet to the top.
There is a rock outcropping that serves as the high point and makes a nice place to take a break and enjoy the views. To the east, you can see the Sangre de Cristo including the Truchas Peaks, Santa Fe Baldy and Ski Santa Fe. This is an especially nice view in the winter time when the mountains are covered in snow. To the south, you are looking downstream into Whiterock Canyon and to the west are the Jemez Mountains, the town of White Rock and Los Alamos.
As long as the wind isn’t whipping too hard, it is a great place to spend some time. Return to your car the way you came.