Summer weather opens up all of the beautiful high country hikes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe. If you’re up for a more challenging trek, be sure and put the hike to Nambe Lake – the nearest alpine lake to Santa Fe – on your bucket list. The actual hiking distance is only 3.3 miles from the trailhead at Ski Santa Fe – the jumping-off spot for most of the high country hikes around here – but you will need to be in better than an average condition to reach the lake, which sits at an elevation of over 11,300 feet. If you’re longing to be immersed in alpine scenery, this is the hike for you!
Wildflowers are everywhere now, and some of the Rockies’ most beloved species are showing off along this climb.
All along the cascades of the Rio Nambe, you’ll find this gem now.
This is the Bog Primrose, or Parry’s Primrose, one of the delights of the high country streams. Its color is amazing.
The cheerful little Elkslip brightens all the damp and boggy places.
If you have any energy left to climb up among the massive bouldery talus that borders the cliffs, you might be rewarded by the first blossoms of the true Queen of the High Rockies, the ethereal Blue Columbine.
The Rio Nambe accompanies you along the entire climb after you turn at the junction of the Lake Trail (400) off of the Winsor Trail (254) – a climb that will take you up 1000 feet in just about a mile, along a canyon choked with glacial moraine. The stream cascades endlessly from rock to rock.
A little over midway up the canyon, a boggy glacial meadow opens up and gives you a respite from the stair-mastering you’ve been enjoying. It’s our own little mini-Yosemite.
The creek here meanders lazily in deep trenches of the purest water:
But don’t be fooled. You still have another massive step up in elevation over a steep and bouldery trail to reach the lake.
It’s worth it.
Lake Peak towers above the southern end of the lake.
This is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a well-deserved break.
The air here is fragrant with the balsamic scent of the Engelmann Spruce, which surrounds you on every side.
Little details might catch your eye, like this patch of Stonecrop clinging to an outcropping of gleaming white granite.
Every view here is captivating.
Now is the perfect time to plan this hike. The days are long, and the summer thunderstorms of July and August haven’t set in yet. As I mentioned before, this is not a walk to be undertaken lightly. Although the distance is only 3.3 miles, you’ll make an immediate 800-foot elevation gain in the first mile of the walk. From there, it’s a leisurely descent back down toward the Rio Nambe and then you face a 1000 foot gain in the last mile of the hike, over two enormous bottlenecks of glacial moraine. The trail is rough in places and even a little hard to follow in those sections where hikers have made alternative paths along Rio Nambe. It’s popular in the summer months, and you may not find that perfect solitude that we New Mexicans are accustomed to enjoying on many of our mountain trails.
But it sure is beautiful up there.