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Adventure / July 30, 2017

A land of knobby-tired enchantment

Written by: Jan Bennett

Santa Fe, New Mexico, population 83,875, is perhaps best-known as a marketplace for baskets, turquoise jewelry, and other crafts. But it’s also a great place for adventurers to stretch their legs.

Over a thousand miles of trail can be found in the public lands that surround Santa Fe, including about 200 miles of MTB trail within just a few miles of the town square. That’s due in part to the good people of the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society, who have worked with other volunteer organizations to build a trail network that is the pride of New Mexico.

I recently spent a week riding singletrack, eating chiles, and hob-nobbing with the knobby-tire cognoscenti of “The City Different.” I found the town to be a sometimes overlooked MTB paradise that caters to riders of all abilities and offers enough culture to entertain any non-bikers in the group.

Above all, I recommend these spots:


For free riders: La Tierra Trails

Dirt Jumps at the La Tierra Trails

Bumps and berms on "Hustle and Flow"

Just a few minutes north of town, the 25-mile La Tierra trail system caters to all non-motorized user groups. Riders there will share trail with high school cross country runners, riders on horseback, and families with young children on some easier trails.

But La Tierra’s biggest draws are its free ride areas. Designed for intermediate to advanced riders, they have everything from fast, flowy singletrack to steep downhill lines (the best being a one-mile drop called Hustle and Flow). A dirt jump skills park includes a half pipe, plenty of banked turns, and (of course) lots of dirt jumps.

And the views are awe inspiring. As you head back to the various trailheads along the east side of the park, you’re faced with the entirety of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, including Santa Fe Baldy, at an elevation of 12,600 feet above sea level.


For views: The Gallisteo Mountain Preserve

The established trails in Galisteo Basin Preserve aren’t all that technical, which is great since the views can be quite distracting. As riders head south from the various trailheads, they’re faced with the towering Sandia mountains to the south. In the late summer, its not uncommon to witness monsoons forming above the mountains in the distance.

The Galisteo trail system is still in development, with an end goal of around 50 miles of trails waiting to be explored. I really suggest riding Liam’s Lark to Nathan’s Trace, splitting off to Mark’s Reach, heading clockwise. It’s a fun ridge ride that’s perfect to stretch the legs after a long drive (or flight) into town.


For bikepackers: The Jemez Mountains

As a bikepacker, I found the vast open lands that surround Santa Fe were just begging to be explored.

So after shmoozing with the experts at a few local bike shops (listed and linked below), I settled on a custom route tailored to maximize sightseeing while minimizing miles. It was my husband’s fist bikepacking trip, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences we’ve shared together.

First, we stopped at the San Antonio hot springs for a quick dip and a bit of exploration. Then we followed a ledge that skirted the Valles Caldera, a collapsed super volcano from 1.25 million years ago. From there, we crossed through surreal aspen forests, spent some time marveling at the unique Tea Kettle rock formation, then rode down the Rio Cibolla valley, where the forest service is diligently working to restore the native Cutthroat trout population to the area.

Backcountry camping opportunities exist throughout the route and fresh water streams and springs are abundant, so bring a filter and treatment if you don’t want to carry all your water with you.


And about those bike shops…

In my quest to learn more about the trails in the area, including bikepacking options, I spoke to a few employees at shops that proved to be pretty helpful.

Bike N Sport, Broken Spoke, and Sirius Cycles all had knowledgeable staff who were more than willing to discuss, in detail, the trails and the different areas to ride nearby. Finding rentals in town is always an option, though I would suggest bringing your own gear if you plan to do any bikepacking.

Lodging is plentiful around Santa Fe, but the town does not have great options of RVers (the only two parks are far from everything that makes Santa Fe, Santa Fe). The city’s Museum of International Folk Art and Museum of Indian Arts & Culture are both worthwhile cultural stops.

Do you have questions or comments about this feature? Email them to us at [email protected]

about the author

Jan Bennett

An adventure seeker at her core, Jan Bennett has always been drawn to the outdoors and being active. Completing three different wilderness expeditions before graduating high school, Jan has always been at home in the wilderness. Even though she has a degree in Technology Management and a minor in Business, Jan took the leap and left corporate America in 2015 in order to persue her cycling passions. On any given day, you can find Jan in Dallas, Texas preparing her mind and body for the next outdoor adventure.

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