Distance: 5.4 miles
Season: Year round
Water: No Water Available
Trail Conditions: Excellent
The hike up Atalaya Mountain is a must for any Santa Fe local. This relatively short, but challenging hike ends atop the 9,100 foot high peak overlooking the city. While not necessarily recommended for visitors, from late fall through spring, it is often the only alpine hike available in the region and is unlikely to disappoint.
From downtown Santa Fe, take Old Santa Fe Trail south, taking the left fork where it splits from Old Pecos Trail at Cliff’s Package and Liquor Store. Turn left at the second stop sign onto Camino del Monte Sol, then take an immediate right on the next stop sign onto Camino de Cruz Blanca.
Veer right to remain on Camino de Cruz Blanca passing the entrance of St. John’s College. After about 1 mile, you’ll pass the Dorthy Stewart Trailhead, and just as the road takes a sharp right turn, you will see the parking lot for the upper Atalaya/Wilderness Gate Trailhead.
The hike begins and ends on the Dale Bale Trails, but spends the second half on Santa Fe National Forest Trails, so most simply, you can follow these numbered junctions:
Wilderness Gate Trailhead, 39, 40, 41, 35, 36, 43, Wilderness Gate Trailhead
From the Trailhead, start on the trail as it dips down into a small drainage before climbing steeply back up hill. This first part of the hike passes a few homes, so in this section, but sure to remain on the trail. After climbing at a good clip through scrub pinyon/juniper habitat, the trail curves around to the left and flattens out, briefly, before coming to the first junction, 39.
Go right at the junction to switchback, going up hill. After curving around the side of this flank, the trail crosses under a powerline right of way and turns steeply uphill for a short jog. It then turns back northeast (right), and mellows out for about 1/4 mile. Especially in spring, look out for wildflowers in this section, including claret cup cactus, blooming yucca and paintbrush.
The next junction, 40, is probably the most confusing part of this hike. It is a four way intersection with a trail going off to the right and a trail going off to the left and two middle trails. Of the two middle trails, choose the one on the right that heads uphill.
Fairly quickly, this trail forks again. The trail to the right goes to Castle Rock and is much steeper. The trail to the left is the preferred route, as it is slightly mellower, but both trails meet-up again at the next junction, 41.
Turn left at junction 41 to continue to slowly meander uphill. At this point, the trail itself becomes rockier, but is easy to follow and not as steep as some earlier sections. You also start to get really nice views of the Atalaya in front of you. Also, as you approach junction 35, you will begin to make out the ridge the trail follows to the peak.
Once at junction 35, go right and go right again at junction 36. From here, the trail climbs steeply for the next .86 miles to the peak of Atalya. The trail also becomes more shaded as ponderosa pines replace the pinyon-juniper forest.
At the a couple points, the trail becomes braided, but always rejoins, so do not worry about remaining on the correct path. As long as you are going uphill, you should be fine. In a couple points, however, the trail becomes rocky and narrow, so be careful here. Also, in the winter, this north side of the mountain is the one area that can hold snow, and this section can be VERY icy, so bring yaktraks or crampons for this section.
In the last 1/3 mile before the peak, there’s another fork in the trail. Go right, turning steeply uphill. If you continue straight, you will quickly come to a sign marking Santa Fe’s municipal watershed, which is closed to the public.
The last section to the peak is the steepest section of the trail, so go slow know that the summit is near. Once atop the peak, find one of the handful of large rocks that make for a nice place to take a break enjoy the view.
From here, you can certain turn around the way you came, but to make a loop, continue straight, picking up Atalaya Trail – Trail #170. As you descend of the ridge, you get quick views of Glorieta Baldy and Apache Canyon to your east before the trail switchbacks down the west face of the mountain. The face is steep, but the trail is fair civilized.
At the bottom of this face, the trail follows a ridge steeply downhill for a short ways before reaching a junction. A shortcut trail leads straight and to the left is the main trail. As long as you have the time, save your knees and opt for the slightly longer route.
Heading left, the trail climbs up a small rise before following the ridge slowly downhill. It eventually switchbacks and crosses through a ponderosa forest meandering back toward the shortcut trail, which it eventually meets. Turn left as this junction to follow the ridge downhill yet again.
After about 1/2 mile, you will reach a junction with the St. Johns Trail – Trail #174. Turn right, to head downhill toward junction 43, which you will reach after a few short switchbacks. At this point you should have a nice view of the beginning part of your route, including Castle Rock, which prominently juts out from the small knob in front of you.
Turn left at this junction. After a short ways, you will reach a dirt road. Follow the road downhill to the right. After about 1/3 mile, you reach a gate and the main road. Use the pedestrian access and turn right at the main road. From here, you should be able to see the Wilderness Gate Trailhead.