There’s no doubt about it, Santa Fe New Mexico is an incredible place to visit. You have delicious green chile-slathered New Mexican food, exhilarating shopping at colorful local boutiques and exceptional art galleries, enlightening cultural adventures, and inspiring spiritual encounters, just waiting for you in Santa Fe. The only trouble is: all that goodness might not exactly be great for your pocketbook.
That’s why I want to present you with the best way to spend $5 next time you’re in Santa Fe.
Plan to pack your hiking boots (or sneakers) so that you can experience New Mexico’s breathtaking outdoor grandeur with a half-day trip to Kasha-Katuwe or Tent Rocks National Monument. It’s an outdoor must-do while visiting Santa Fe that will leave you invigorated, lighthearted, and richer in joy.
Here’s your Kasha-Katuwe guide directly from me, a local:
Go on a non-holiday weekday because Tent Rocks can get crowded. After a leisurely breakfast at your favorite Santa Fe cafe, you’ll want to get ready for your trip. Hit the road no later than 11:00am, but first pick up some picnic supplies - perhaps a sandwich, chips and a brownie because really is there anything better than eating outdoors! Kaune’s Neighborhood Market is a great option for your picnic fare as is La Montanita Coop, which caters a little bit more to special diets like vegan or gluten free. Make sure to bring water with you as you won’t find any at the site, and don’t forget your camera. Expect photo ops galore.
Now you’re ready to traverse southwest on your 50 minute drive to Tent Rocks starting on 1-25. You’ll take I-25 down La Bajada to the Cochiti exit, where your drive should increasingly wow you with huge vistas set against the bluest of skies.
Extra Tip: If you forgot supplies, there IS a Cochiti Mini Mart a little bit beyond the turn-off to Cochiti Pueblo and Tent Rocks. The Mini Mart has drinks, snacks, and sometimes sandwiches. It’s located at 1405 Cochiti Hwy. Another option is the Cochiti Visitor Center at 1101 NM-22. If you stop, use the bathrooms here.
For Native American art lovers, your route to Tent Rocks will involve a brief drive into Cochiti Pueblo, known for the jewelry of Joe Quintana, Cippy Crazyhorse, and Jolene Eustace. After a brief drive through the Pueblo, you’ll turn down the road to your final magical Tent Rocks destination. Hooray!
Extra tip: at the fee booth, if you have an Annual Parks Pass, Senior Parks Pass or Military Pass, you enter for FREE. Otherwise, it’s $5 (for up to EIGHT people)!
Enjoy your picnic sitting amongst the Kasha-Katuwe, which means “white cliffs” in the traditional Keresan language of Pueblo de Cochiti. There are a few picnic tables and some ADA “restrooms” to use. Once you’ve finished lunch, it’s time to get moving. You finally get to walk along the cone-shaped tent rock formations called hoodoos. They were created 6-7 million years ago after volcanic eruptions left pumice, ash and tufa deposits over 1,000 feet thick. During your hike, you may even find small obsidian fragments that were created from the volcanoes. Look but don’t take.
There are two separate trails: one is the Cave Loop Trail, an easy 1.2 mile long jaunt with portions that are ADA accessible and even some benches for an occasional rest. You’ll have wonderful views and photo ops from this trail (you’ll even see a cave), but for the love of everything good, if you’ve got decent hips and knees to the point that you can heave yourself up over some larger rocks, please HIKE THE CANYON TRAIL. It’s where the magic is at!
The Canyon Trail IS more difficult. It’s a 1.5 mile gradual trek up with a final 630 foot climb to a breathtaking 360 degree view. You’ll see the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez and Sandia Mountains set against the Rio Grande Valley. The vista is truly spectacular, but my favorite part of the entire trail is going through a canyon that narrows in parts to a slot. It’s so much fun and also incredibly beautiful! In certain sections, you have lightly scale up some bigger rocks. Often,you’re able to place your hands on the rock walls and heave on up - it’s super playful, and you’ll feel like a kid again. Just so you know: I smile the whole entire time.
Extra tip: the biggest hoist up a rock shelf is towards the top of your trek up to the view point. If you’re nervous, go as far as you can to assess the situation. You can always come back down the canyon if it looks too tough. On my most recent trip, there were hikers of all skill levels, sizes and ages. I passed a woman who hiked to the top in snowboard boots and a man two days out of shoulder surgery with his arm in a sling. Here’s the deal: I so want you to do this part of the hike if it’s at all possible for you.
If you’re planning to hike the Canyon Trail, it’s essential to keep in mind that there will be a Park Ranger at the top of the trail, who will require you to begin your descent promptly at 3:30pm. At that time, rangers hike down the trail preventing stragglers from their summit dreams. On my last hike, I reached the top at exactly 3:27pm, and the ranger sternly indicated that I had to head back down immediately. Plan to give yourself an hour to get to the top of the Canyon Trail so that you’ll have plenty of time, but know that if you hoof it, you can hike both trails in about an hour and 20.
Please commit to visiting Kasha-Katuwe. It will be the best $5 you spend on your Santa Fe trip.
Final Extra Tip: dogs are not allowed.
Thanks for the beautiful photos and the inspiring commentary. I shall keep this e-mail for the days when I want to remember my travels in beautiful New Mexico.