Mountains + Adventure
Resting in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with a population of 80,000, Santa Fe is the highest-altitude city in America. A prime destination for skiers and boarders, hikers and backpackers, mountain bikers and climbers, the city sits at 7,000 feet—and delivers 5,000 feet of elevation gain between downtown and the Santa Fe ski basin, which towers over Santa Fe at a rarified 12,000 feet. The result? Santa Feans enjoy two worlds in one: the warm, sunny environs of the city itself, and the pine forests with their snow-covered peaks up above. In addition, the Rio Grande brings both river and lake sports to the region’s water enthusiasts.
Did you know that six ski basins are within two hours of Santa Fe, and that our own Santa Fe Ski Basin is just 15 miles uphill from campus? With 89 trails at 12,000 feet, Santa Fe Johnnies can literally ski in the morning and hit seminar in the evening. Or, stash away your work-study money so you can do the truly local thing: ski in the morning, soak in the community tub at Ten Thousand Waves in the afternoon, grab ramen at Izanami while watching the sun set over Santa Fe, then head back down to campus for some great books and great conversation on your best friend’s balcony.
Each year, the St. John’s College Ski Club invites all students to join, offering small subsidies to students as well as transportation up the mountain. For students on a budget, we recommend getting a season pass early and purchasing your own used equipment at the Santa Fe Ski Swap or online. After your one-time investment in equipment, you would only have the annual cost of a pass, which tends to be very affordable in our region (approximately $300). Common basins visited by Johnnies include Santa Fe Ski Basin, the world-class Taos Ski Valley, which is just 90 minutes away, the massive Wolf Creek basin in Colorado, and our other local basins such as Pajarito and Sipapu.
Santa Fe County is home to over 470 miles of hiking trails, the majority of which are connected. In fact, locals know that one of Santa Fe’s most popular trailheads is right on the St. John’s College campus, where students can amble out of their dorm room and onto the Atalaya trail, which climbs into the Sangre de Cristo mountains and connects to the city’s extensive Dale Ball trails.
Favorite day trips include hikes up to Santa Fe Baldy and favorite overnight trips include multi-day packs into the nearby Pecos Wilderness, with hikes up to Lake Katherine and Pecos Baldy. For those who enjoy established campsites and campgrounds, there are plenty just up Artist’s Road in the Santa Fe National Forest. Check in with the Outdoor Program for a list of upcoming (and often free) guided trips.
Santa Fe County’s 470 miles of trails aren’t only open to hikers—most are also open to mountain bikers. In fact, locals know that one of Santa Fe’s most popular mountain biking trailheads is right on the St. John’s College campus. Students can check out a mountain bike at the Student Activity Center and bike right onto the Atalaya trail, which climbs into the Rocky Mountains and connects to the city’s extensive Dale Ball trails.
Additional mountain biking trails in the area include Otero Canyon, San Ysidro, Angel Fire, and the South Boundary Trail in Taos. In addition, some local ski basins offer summer lift tickets for mountain bikers, taking you straight up the ski mountain to the top of the summertime trails.
For the road-tripping mountain biker, overnight trips deliver some of the most renowned mountain biking trails in the world, like the well-developed trail systems of Moab, Utah, which are just six hours away and include the world-famous and highly technical Slickrock, considered by many to the be one of the world’s pinnacle mountain biking experiences.
There are few places left in America where one can jump on a horse and ride for days without roads, fences, or restrictive laws to put an end to your adventure—let alone see wild horses wandering the range. New Mexico is one of these rare places. (Fun fact: St. John’s College used to have our own horse stables right on campus!)
To saddle up and head out on the open range, down canyon trails, through national forests, across creeks, and at sunrise or sunset, request that a trip be planned through our Outdoor Program and Student Activities Office or contact one of the many horseback riding outfitters in our regions, such as Red Horse Riding Company and Bobcat Pass Wilderness Adventure.
Better yet, befriend one of the many locals living in the rural communities immediately outside of Santa Fe. There’s a good chance you can find a new friend who would love to take you out on a ride.
Water in the desert? Yes, and we consider it a precious resource as well as an opportunity for great adventure. In fact, the Taos Box is considered one of the best whitewater rafting trips in the country, racing 16 miles through the 800-foot Rio Grande Gorge. Most of New Mexico’s waterways are open to anyone with the knowledge, skills, and courage to drop in—and with a few lessons from the Outdoor Program or local guided tours, this could be you. Whether you want an easy paddleboarding trip or swim across Lake Abiquiu; a lazy float down the Orilla Verde or Corrales Bosque; an intermediate rafting adventure along the Rio Chama; a white-knuckled class IV rapid through the Taos Box; a day of fly fishing on the Pecos River; a meditative day of angling on Santa Cruz Lake; a day of kayaking on Heron Lake; or an ice-cold scuba diving trip into the Blue Hole, New Mexico’s water is waiting for you to both explore and respect.
Like so much out here, New Mexico is still wild as far as climbing goes, and the diversity of climbing in our state is tremendous. Here in northern New Mexico, our climbing opportunities include:
- Sugarite Canyon State Park, a 40-50 foot basalt cliff with a variety of fun vertical cracks and face climbs near Raton.
- El Rito and with its exciting sport and traditional climbing on a unique cobble conglomerate.
- The Taos Area, where there is a unique topography that enables a variety of climbing, ranging from the several basalt crags in the Rio Grande Gorge to the lowland and easily accessible granite of Tres Piedras, alpine granite at Questa Dome, and Comales Canyon.
- The Los Alamos and White Rock regions with several basalt cragging areas (sport and trad) at White Rock and steep sport climbing at The Dungeon.
- The Jemez Mountains and Jemez Valley areas, which offer a variety of surfaces from granite and welded tuff to travertine, and from single-pitch and multi-pitch to bouldering at the Gilman Tunnels, Battleship Rock, Upper East Fork (UEF), Area 37, and Las Conchas.
- The Santa Fe Area, which offers exciting sport climbing on granite at the Pecos, single-pitch and multi-pitch basalt at Diablo Canyon, and alpine adventures into the southern Sangre de Cristos.
- Capulin Canyon and Cochiti Mesa Area Crags with great welded tuff sport and trad climbing on the mesa edges and in the canyons in the southern Jemez Mountains between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
- The New Mexico Navajolands, where, as tribal land, climbing is not allowed without special permission.
If these outdoor climbs feel too advanced, you’re not alone. While the Outdoor Program and the Climbing Club do take trips to a number of these outdoor climbs, they also drive students regularly to the climbing gyms in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, which are great for beginners and advanced climbers alike.