About this Itinerary
The 17-mile dirt-packed Santa Fe Rail-Trail (SFRT) provides a tranquil setting to experience the haunting beautiful of the desert landscape laying just outside one of the most dynamic towns in the southwest. Once the route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway line, today’s trail follows two railroad lines south of Santa Fe to its terminus just north of Lamy. Pack lots of water, food and sunscreen as you will be venturing out to remote country with no trailside opportunities for refueling.
Travelers to Santa Fe can reach the city via the Rail Runner commuter train from Albuquerque. This line operates multiple times a day and provides a relaxing, hassle-free and inexpensive means of reaching the city from the airport (via a downtown Albuquerque transfer). If you are driving from the Albuquerque airport, it will take a little over one hour to reach Santa Fe on Highway 285/84.
Santa Fe has a unique history as the oldest capital city in North America, the oldest European community west of the Mississippi (founded 13 years before Plymouth Colony), and the seat of power for the Spanish Empire north of the Rio Grande. Today, the city draws in people from all over the world due to its climate, diversity, artistic community, and its rich cultural heritage.
Santa Fe has an abundance of lodging options to fit any price point. We recommend the Hotel Santa Fe, a boutique hotel conveniently located in revitalized historic Railyard district, within short walk distance to museums, galleries, shops, restaurants, and the SFRT. The property is the only Native American owned hotel in the city and the decor and spirit reflect its southwest tradition. All rooms are powered by solar energy and the onsite spa offers a variety of treatments to ease your muscles after a long day of biking.
There are several shops that rent bikes in Santa Fe. Mellow Velo and Bike-n-Sport both offer a wide selection, and both are only a little over a mile from the hotel. Call ahead to reserve a mountain bike or hybrid. (We recommend a mountain bike as the suspension will come in handy on the bumpy trail.)
The trailhead for the SFRT begins at the Railyard, literally around the corner from your hotel. Before you set out, be prepared. As noted above, be sure to carry plenty of water as there are no convenient opportunities for refilling along the route. Also consider packing a picnic lunch. Located only steps away from the hotel is the Santa Fe Farmers Market, the perfect place to stock up on some gourmet goodies to toss in your pack. The market represents over 150 vendors and is one of the most highly regarded farmers markets in the country. Pick up some fresh local produce, prepared foods and treats for your journey. Be sure to also visit the Artisan Market, featuring a variety of local artists and craftspeople. Note that both the Farmer’s Market and Artisan Market have seasonally fluctuating hours and days of operation.
The first 3.5 miles of the SFRT are rather unspectacular as it follows the train tracks on one side and residential development on the other side. This section of the trail is also the only section that is paved. After you leave Santa Fe behind the flat pavement turns to packed gravel and dirt that includes some small to moderate hills, and some rather bumpy sections (here is where you will be glad to have the mountain bike). Also note that the dirt trail can become quite muddy if it is raining hard, so check the weather forecast before departing.
As you head into the desert, residential development fades away and the train tracks split. From here on the corridor follows the route of the Santa Fe Southern Railway (which ceased service in 2014), while the Rail Runner commuter line splits off towards Albuquerque. Overhead, look for hawks and eagles, and, on the ground, keep your eyes open for the Greater Roadrunner, New Mexico’ state bird, which can run up to 15 mph. The desert landscape is also host to a wide variety of succulents such as yucca, agave, and an array of cacti. Along the route you will see many different species of these beautiful native plants. If you are fortunate to be there at the right time of year, you may even see some of the spectacular flowers in bloom, which adds another dynamic to the view.
While there are no convenient places to stop for food or water, if there is a need, the town of Eldorado de Santa Fe near the end of the SFRT does have some options within 2.5 miles of the trail. Located in the Eldorado Agora Shopping Center you will find several businesses including a supermarket, coffee shop, bakery, and pizza shop. To reach the complex, turn left at the Ave Vista Grande intersection (the first intersection as you enter town) and follow it as it winds its way toward Route 285. Look for it on your left after traveling about 2.5 miles. Back on the trail, farther past Eldorado, the SFRT ends with little fanfare at the intersection with Route 285 just north of the town of Lamy. Stop to stretch and recharge before heading back north.
Upon your return to Santa Fe, visit the trailside Second Street Brewery for a refreshing pint of locally brewed IPA or another selection from their extensive menu. This microbrewery is located along the paved section of the SFRT with a second location at the end of the trail at the Railyard. Either location will provide a welcome respite after your 34-mile roundtrip.
Located in an historic pueblo-style adobe one block away from the main plaza in the heart of downtown Santa Fe, another option is the Cafe Pasqual’s, which serves some of the best southwestern food in the city. Popular with locals for over 35 years and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant puts a modern spin on the traditional flavors of the region.
Vegetarians, and anyone looking for a light, healthy dining option, should put Vinaigrette on their itinerary while in Santa Fe. A small bistro with a fun, modern decor, the menu offers delicious entree salads with savory protein accompaniments such as diver scallops, lemon-herb chicken and grilled hanger steak. Much of the restaurant’s organic produce is grown on the owner’s farm.
The TerraCotta Wine Bistro, located in the historic downtown area, features globally-inspired cuisine utilizing local and regional foods. Offering the largest selection of wines by the glass in Santa Fe, the varied menu specializes in tapas, making this an ideal place to go to sample an array of flavors at one meal.
Start your second day with a sweet or savory treat at Sage Bakehouse. Open for breakfast and lunch, this small bakery is a local favorite featuring fresh baked croissants, scones and breads, as well as delectable sandwiches such as a curry chicken tartine and a kale and gruyere tart.
If your visit is during the summer, the Santa Fe Opera is a truly magical experience. Attend a performance under the stars in the opera’s open air theater and feel the spirit of the desert as you soak in the power of the music. Tickets are in high demand and performances are only scheduled during the summer season, so plan accordingly.
There are many museums and galleries in Santa Fe and, depending on your interests, you could spend days taking advantage of everything the town has to offer. The New Mexico History Museum, Georgia O’Keefe Museum and The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture are three good places to start to get a sense of the spirit and history of the southwest. Also spend time meandering along Canyon Road, ‘the art and soul of Santa Fe,’ perusing the many fine art galleries that have made the city an important art destination.
The clear, dark, open skies of New Mexico provide the perfect setting for star gazing. Astronomy Adventures provides an educational and entertaining guided look at the night sky in the desert outside of town. Call to reserve a space. Tours are offered throughout the year at the Astronomy Adventures dark site, a short drive from Santa Fe, but note that transportation is not provided.
Located about an hour northwest of Santa Fe is Bandelier National Monument. The site contains more than 33,000 acres of protected grounds containing some of the most unusual and interesting ancient ruins in the southwest. Cave dwellings, petroglyphs, steep canyon walls, and nearby mountains rising to over 10,000 feet, create a fantastical environment for hiking and exploring land that was once home to the ancestral Pueblo people.