Looking up into the branches of a Ponderosa in Bear Canyon

Springlike weather has reached high-altitude Santa Fe at last, creating that notorious restlessness that has you planting seeds in the garden too early and heading out to hiking trails up in the mountains still treacherous with ice. There are plenty of walks closer to town to enjoy, however, when you feel that urge to get outside and enjoy the strengthening sun. Just up the road from the Inn on the Alameda is the perfect jumping off place for an easy early hike: the Randall Davey Audubon Center.

There is always plenty of parking at the Audubon Center, and plenty more at the Santa Fe Canyon Nature Preserve lot at the top of Canyon Road. The Audubon maintains a looping trail through the pinon-juniper forest that backs up against its buildings, and a spur of this trail leads into a little tributary of the Santa Fe River that flows down Bear Canyon, just behind Picacho Peak. You can be enjoying a wilderness walk here in literally minutes from downtown Santa Fe.

In spite of its rather ominous-sounding name, Bear Canyon is a gentle place, and it gives you the opportunity to have a walk among shady trees that normally grow at much higher elevations. A pleasant little brooklet trickling over mossy boulders of gneiss and granite keeps you company, and the spicy fragrance of Ponderosa needles warming in the sun fills the canyon.

A walk in Bear Canyon

A little sign points the way:

The shaded and relatively well-watered environment here supports an example of the mixed conifer forest more characteristic of higher elevations, up along the Ski Basin Road.

Ponderosa pine and White fir growing together in Bear Canyon

There’s even a little Old Man’s Beard clinging to the firs, here and there:

Old Man’s Beard on a fir tree

Nearby, sunny spots host plants more common to the pinon-juniper community, like this datil yucca, pushing its way up through the pine needles:

A yucca growing in Bear Canyon

Altogether it’s a very pleasant place to have a walk.

Looking up the slopes of Bear Canyon into the forest

Back at the entrance to the canyon you’ll rejoin the looping path through the sun-loving pinon and juniper trees, where the Audubon guides host many of their Saturday morning bird walks. It’s a completely different setting:

A bench along the bird watching trails

Later this Spring there will be plenty of wildflowers among these trees. Even in the winter, the odd, parasitic Juniper mistletoe will no doubt catch you eye, with its distinctive waxy, lime-green branches; its tiny white berries are an important food source for certain birds that flock in this pygmy forest.

Juniper mistletoe

The trail begins just behind the classroom and nature store at the Audubon Center. There a little entrance stop where they ask you to make a $2 contribution to have a walk – a small price supporting a good cause. And there’s no charge to park, nor to walk around their extensive grounds or down along the Santa Fe River with its beaver dams and cottonwoods.

The old Randall Davey House at the Audubon – a true Pink Adobe

So keep little Bear Canyon on your list for a quick escape from the cultural delights of Santa Fe. It’s short, it’s close, it’s kid-friendly, it’s easy to find, and it’s free from snow and ice now. Our Front Desk staff will point the way!