Distance: 12.7 miles
Season: Late Spring, Summer, Fall
Trail Conditions: Good to Excellent
This out-and-back hike could either be done as a day hike or the beginning of a longer backpacking trip, but this hike on the northern end of the Pecos traverses classic western big canyons. In the fall, the aspens turn yellow bringing added dimension and texture to the already stunning topography. On the way out, you will climb consistently for nearly the whole time. Other than the elevation, the climb is not too difficult and you’ll be rewarded with an easy cruise back to the parking lot.
From Santa Fe, follow US-285 north and take a right onto NM-503 toward Nambe, just north of Pojoaque. Follow this road through Cundiyo to the junction with NM-76. Turn right and then follow this road through the towns of Truchas, Ojo Sarco, Trampas and Chamisal. At the junction with NM-75 turn right toward Penasco.
Go straight at the junction with NM-73 toward Llano. In Rodarte, turn left following the signs toward Santa Barbara Campground. After 6 miles, you will reach the campground. Park at the large lot on the left, just before entering the campground.
From the parking area, hike through the campground, staying on the lower side of the loop. At the top of the loop, the Middle Fork Trail – Trail #24 takes off following the Rio Santa Barbara upstream. The well-defined trail will start on the west side of the river and after a shortways pass the well-signed, but little used Centennial Trail – Trail #100. After about 1 mile, the trail crosses into the Pecos Wilderness and then crosses the creek to the east side and continues to follow it upstream.
At this point, the trail will climb significantly above the water, transitioning from riparian vegetation to fir and pine forest. After another 1/2 mile, you will come to a junction with the West Fork Trail – Trail #25. Stay left and high to remain on the Middle Fork Trail.
The trail will continue to climb gently at a very even grade contouring into the Middle Fork Canyon. You’ll pass a brief clearing with a view up the Middle Fork, and shortly after that, the trail will switchback. The even grade remains for 3 additional switchbacks as the trail enters a thick stand of aspens. In the fall, when the aspens turn gold, this should be magnificent.
After the fourth switchback, the trail continues to contour into the Middle Fork Canyon climbing at the same steady, civilized grade that it has since the beginning. You’ll eventually pass through a gate. Leave it as you found it.
Continue on. The trail may seem a bit monotonous at this point, but enjoy the beautiful aspen forest and occasional views of surrounding canyons.
In the final 3/4 mile before reaching the junction with the East Fork Trail – Trail #26, conifers join the aspens to create a mixed forest. Enjoy the additional shade. You’ll cross through a few meadows before entering one final large meadow where you’ll find a sign marking the trail junction.
This makes a good turnaround point for a long day hike. Return the same way you came.