Santa Fe Basin to Santa Barbara Campground

This is what I want to do: Walk from the Santa Fe Ski Basin through the backcountry all the way to Taos Plaza.

I may need to break the walk into to sections. First, the walk from Santa Fe Ski Basin to Santa Barbara Campground. Then Santa Barbara Campground through to Taos Plaza.

To do the first section, it would take 6 days and 47 miles.

Day 1: 7.5 miles

Day 2: 8 miles

Day 3: 9 miles

Day 4: 9 miles

Day 5: 7.5 miles

Day 6: 6 miles

That’s a slow pace. Most through hikers might even laugh at it. But here’s why it works for me:

  • Means I won’t be exhausted, even with 40 pounds on my back and at 11,000+ feet elevation. This keeps us safer. You do far fewer dumb things when you’re not worn out. As we are going alone – me and the dog – it’s smart to be a little cautious.
  • Leaves plenty of time for writing and drawing and stopping and looking and listening.
  • Has us camping at really nice spots.
  • The point is to be out in this territory. Not to shoot through and prove how tough I can be.

Because these little chunks of trail are so small, it does raise the possibility of condensing the hike from six days to three. You could absolutely go from the Santa Fe Ski Basin all the way to Horsethief Meadow in one day. It would only be 15.5 miles. Day two would be from Horsethief Meadow to Truchas Lakes; 18 miles. And day three would just have you going from Truchas Lakes straight into the Santa Barbara campground (13.5 miles).

I was actually kind of tempted to combine the last two days, but decided against it. After six straight days on the trail I’ll already be tired. Why push?

Of course, if work and deadlines and life’s responsibilities get in the way, there’s your reason to push.

Here’s what the entire first section looks like in one map:

Full first section - Santa Fe Ski Basin to Santa Barbara Campground

Day 1: From Santa Fe Ski Basin to Lake Katherine.

Distance: 7.5 miles.

This is an easy first day. First, it’s short. Second, it’s known territory. I’ve hiked to Lake Katherine many times. This is also a heavily traveled trail, so we’ll have plenty of company for the first day. Hopefully Lake Katherine won’t be so crowded that we can’t get a choice campsite.

Santa Fe Basin to Lake Katherine
Day 1


Day 2: Lake Katherine to Horsethief Meadow.

Distance: Roughly 8 miles.

Another easy day, and again going on known trails.

While it’s tempting to do ten or twelve miles, there are no really good stopping points between Horsethief Meadow and East Pecos Baldy Lake. So we might as well stop at a nice place and enjoy it.

There’s also a good chance of seeing others at Horsethief Lake… but not too many others. Often there’s a small group on horseback there; ranchers keeping an eye on their herds. I don’t mind having other people a few acres away. And if we ran into problems, I know the trail down to Panchuela and Cowles. There’s even an emergency phone in Cowles (about a 20 minute walk from Panchuela).

Why so worried about something happening? I’m not, really. But I am a huge believer in Murphy.

Day 2 - Lake Katherine to Horsethief Meadow


Day 3: Horsethief Meadow to Pecos Baldy.

Distance: 8-10 miles.

This is trail I haven’t been on before. I do know Pecos Baldy Lake, and I know it really well. But I have not been on the trail between it and Horsethief Meadow.

I could potentially get to know this part of the trail before I go straight through. It would be easy to come up from Panchuela, camp at Horsethief Meadow (that would be about 6.5 miles – really easy day), then do the one-day hike from Horsethief to Pecos Baldy. Overnight there, then hike back to Jack’s Creek campground via… Jack’s Creek (appropriately enough).

I would have to walk from Jack’s Creek campground to Panchuela, but that would only be about 45 minutes. It’d even be mostly downhill, and on pavement.

Day 3 - Horsethief Meadow To Pecos Baldy Lake


Day 4: Pecos Baldy Lake to Truchas Lakes.

Distance: 9 miles.

This is another section of trail I haven’t been on. But I’ve been dreaming of it for years. We’ll go over the Trailrider’s Wall – a ridge that connects the Santa Fe mountains to the Truchas peaks and beyond. This particular way that I’ve marked has us getting on the TrailRider’s Wall a little late, and getting off fairly early, even though it may make the hike a half mile or so longer.

The reason is thunderstorms. This is not country where you want to be on a ridge even in mid-afternoon. But if we get an early start, we’ll be totally fine. Again – no stress, no drama. Easy is good. And if the weather is terrible, we could get to Truchas Lakes via all the off-ridge trails. It’s almost like somebody’s thought of the weather problem before. 🙂

Day 4 - Pecos Baldy Lake To Truchas Lakes


Day 5: Truchas Lakes to Rio Santa Barbara

Distance: 7-8 miles.

The catch to this day is that there’s a lot of up, and we go directly over the ridge, so we’ll need an early start and good weather at least until 1pm.

As mentioned before, I was tempted to push through and just go all the way to Santa Barbara campground. It’s only six more miles, is largely downhill, and would get me to the halfway mark. But the up from Truchas Lakes could be really tiring.

This is another hike  I would do well to try out first: To try an overnight about 8 miles in, just to know the trail better. Unfortunately, south of Santa Barbara is still closed. I can’t check out this trail any more than I can try out the trail between Horsethief Meadow and Pecos Baldy. Until the woods are opened up, this entire section is off-limits.

Day 5 - Truchas Lakes To Rio Santa Barbara


Day 6: Little Jicarta Peak to Santa Barbara.

Distance: 6 miles.

Super easy day. Basically just walk down the hill (the big hill) into Santa Barbara campground. Celebrate with a late lunch at Sugar Nymphs Cafe.

Day6 - Rio Santa Barbara To Santa Barbara Campground

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