Thursday, September 5, 2013

Nambe Lake (Santa Fe, NM)

Hike Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult (pretty steep for mile before/after lake)
Hiking Distance (Round Trip): 7 miles
Time (Round Trip): 4 to 5 hours
Elevation: 10,252 feet to 11,400 feet

After dropping Ally off at work (so sad she works Saturdays, especially when it's an absolutely gorgeous morning!), I took off up Artist/Hyde Park/Ski Basin Road to the Santa Fe Ski Area. Many of the hikes into the Pecos Wilderness start here at the Winsor Trail. We are waiting to do some of the longer ones until the monsoon season is over, so I figured a moderate hike that I could finish before 2pm or so would be perfect. Although Nambe Lake is only 7 miles round trip, it is a challenge nonetheless!

The hike started at the Winsor Trailhead, the same place we started the Raven's Ridge hike a week before. I followed the trail north by turning right at the trail marker. I have to say, I'm obsessed with the Winsor Trail. I definitely plan on coming back to this trail while the aspens are changing color. So many beautiful aspens once you pass into the Pecos Wilderness!

Before reaching the boundary fence, the Winsor Trail is all uphill. After passing through the fence, the trail continues to go downhill gradually until you turn off the Winsor Trail and right onto the Nambe Lake Trail (Trail #400). The fact that this section of the hike was all downhill could partly explain why I enjoy Winsor Trail so much. However, I think it had more to do with the fresh air, solitude, and sun coming up and shining through the aspens. I was feeling quite energized by the time I reached the Nambe Lake Trail (and good thing, because it was tough!)

 Note: Don't take the Rio Nambe Trail! It heads off to the left from the Winsor Trail and I've read the trail is very steep. Plus, it's not the right way to go on this hike anyway, so just keep going on the Winsor Trail.

 I am going to name these the "love trees". 

 Do you see why I loved the Winsor Trail so much?!

After hiking 1.25 miles from the boundary fence, I came across the sign below. Things got a little less straight-forward after I turned off the Winsor Trail. There is a creek that comes down from the lake, and this is what the trail follows. However, there was a trail on either side of the creek and many smaller trails that took off in various directions. It seemed like the all ended up in the same place though, and that was way farther up the mountain! There was no way to get around the steep, steep climb that continues for another mile or so up to the lake. I stayed on the right side of the creek (closer to this sign) and just made sure I kept the creek within sight or at least could hear it. 

 Views of Santa Fe Baldy behind me

 My fave: Indian Paintbrush

 Definitely had to watch my step a lot.

 The sun was catching the creek just right. I think this picture looks like a painting. 

When I came to what felt like the top (not even close), I saw several tents in this lovely meadow. I got distracted by the people and ended up veering off the trail. To stay on the trail, I should have crossed over the creek right when I saw the meadow. There is a clear trail across the creek that heads away from the meadow (the trail takes off to the left when coming up the creek).

The hike continues along the meadow and I recall this being a very brief reprieve from the constant uphill. Don't continued soon after. If I thought the climbing was bad on that first section near the creek, it wasn't. It got more challenging as I got closer to the lake. Also, I had to cross the creek again. Thankfully, people had these rock piles out to direct hikers. I would've felt a bit confused if I hadn't seen the rocks.

Continuing up the trail, the trees began to open up on my left. There was a large area of scree/talus rocks (basically a landslide).  At this point, I was very close to the lake. When I got to the lake, no one was there. Unfortunately, as soon as I sat down to enjoy my incredible view and a small lunch, a family with five kids and two dogs appeared. I'm very supportive of taking kids (and dogs I suppose) out into the wilderness, but they were yelling (kids) and barking (dogs) so it did take away from the lovely moment I was having.

I couldn't get enough of the reflections on the lake. Here's where I got irritated with the dogs....they were out swimming in the lake and totally ruined the reflections (not to mention they came up and got me all muddy).

There is a small trail around the lake. I went part of the way before my lunch. However, as I was finishing up I started to hear thunder, so I began my way back down the trail.

Getting down the Nambe Lake Trail was a little rough on my knees, but not as bad as I thought it would be. And neither was the slight uphill hike on the Winsor Trail. I was just feeling so good, I barely noticed the uphill! And look at how marvelous the aspens were in the afternoon sunshine! (There was a storm coming up behind me, but you can't tell from these pictures.)

I was on the trail by 8:30am and back to my car by 1pm (with a break for lunch and plenty of short breaks for pictures!) If you are fit, this hike will feel challenging but manageable. If you don't hike very often or you are not adjusted to the high altitude, I would be prepared for a fairly strenuous hike to Nambe Lake.


  1. WOW Anne. These are spectacular photos. I had planned to go up there this weekend but forecast for rain, snow. I have not been up there since the 90's. Thanks for bringing this back to us.

  2. Thanks for the info! Headed there tomorrow.