Distance: 8.7 miles
Season: Late Spring, Summer, Fall
Water: Yes, along Big Tesuque Creek
Trail Conditions: Good to Excellent
This is a unique hike in that it is right in Santa Fe’s backyard and depends on a handful of popular trails, but connects them in unique ways that allow the route as a whole to be relatively untraveled. Other than the first couple miles, the prospect of seeing many people are limited. And while the views are spectacular by any means, there are opportunities for unique vistas over the heights of Santa Fe and above Little Tesque Creek.
From Santa Fe, take Bishops Lodge Road north for about 4 miles until you reach the junction with county road 72A. This is a dirt road that deadends after about 3/4 miles. There are two small parking areas on the right side of the road that have space for 4 cars each, so definitely car pool.
From your parking spot, continue up the road. If you are at the upper lot, you won’t be on the road for much more than 1/4 mile before the Winsor Trail – Trail #254 crosses Tesuque Creek to the right and turns into single track. After another 1/4 mile, the trail reaches another road. Cross back over Tesuque Creek on the road and then continue to follow the single track upstream for about 1/2 mile. You are on private land for this entire stretch so be respectful.
You will pass through a gate with a Forest Service trail sign and shortly after that, the trail will split. Both trails end up reconnecting, but I prefer the right fork. Cross the creek and follow the trail until a junction with the Juan Trail – Trail #399. This is where your loop will end, so take a mental note.
Go left here, and follow the trail that parallels Tesuque Creek below you to the left. From this point, you will be on the Winsor Trail for another 2.6 miles until you reach the junction with the Chamisa Trail – Trail #183.
Throughout this section, the trail crosses the creek numerous times although not as many as it did just a few years ago. There has been significant trail work done to reduce crossings, which limits erosion of the creek. The first couple crossings have bridges, but after that you will have to depend on logs and rocks. For me, these crossings were easy, but in spring after a big winter or during monsoon season, Tesuque Creek has the potential to be quite high and fast.
NOTE: In addition to stream crossings, be aware of downhill mountain bikers. The Winsor Trail has become increasingly popular among the mountain biking community, and although most bikers are respectful, be aware that there’s a high probability of meeting more than a few.
Enjoy the lush canyon throughout this section, which will contrast harshly with the ponderosa and pinyon forests you will encounter later in the hike. After 2.5 miles, a canyon will emerge on your right and you will pass a junction with the Chamisa Trail. An old sign post with a sign on the ground marks this junction.
Turn right to follow the Chamisa Trail away from the creek. This will be your last opportunity to get water until the very end of the hike, so fill up if necessary. You will follow the Chamisa Trail for just under a mile. For most of this stretch, the trail climbs steadily up a dry canyon before it switchbacks to the top of a small saddle.
From the saddle, turn right onto the Saddleback Trail – Trail #232. From the saddle, the trail follows the ridge uphill with occasional dips as the ridge itself undulates. There are a handful of view points both looking forward and behind you, so don’t forget to turn around!
Eventually the trail tops out and begins some steep switchbacks downhill. This section is fairly rocky, so tread carefully. Also be sure to enjoy the views overlooking Santa Fe and south to the Sandias.
You’ll pass a couple old barbed wire fences and eventually follow an old fence line where the posts are still in tact but the wire has been removed. At the bottom of this section there’s an unmarked junction with the Juan Trail. Go right, through the fence posts to continue back towards Tesuque Creek. The fork to the left will lead to Hyde Park Road.
The Juan Trail switchbacks a couple times before entering a dry wash for about 3/4 mile. There is a trail throughout most of this section, but in a couple points, it has been washed out due to a couple of large storms over the past year. If you happen to lose the trail, don’t worry, just stay in the wash and you’ll pick it up again quickly.
After reaching the junction with the Winsor Trail, cross Tesuque Creek and complete the final 3/4 mile back to your car, retracing the beginning of your route.