Santa Cruz Lake Trail In New Mexico

Here is everything you need to know about the Santa Cruz Lake Trail:

  • Trail System: National Recreation Trail
  • State: New Mexico
  • Length: 6.4 miles.
  • Type: Hiking
  • Surface: dirt
  • Managed By: Santa Fe National Forest
  • Permit Required?: No
  • Website: Info not available.

The Santa Cruz Lake Trail holds a significant place in the history of Santa Cruz County, New Mexico. The trail dates back to the early 1800s when it was used by Native American tribes, primarily the Pueblo and Apache tribes, for hunting and trading purposes. These tribes recognized the strategic location of the Santa Cruz Lake, nestled amidst the picturesque Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and utilized the trail to access the abundant resources the area had to offer.

With the arrival of Spanish explorers and settlers in the region during the 16th century, the Santa Cruz Lake Trail gained further importance. The Spanish recognized the trail’s potential as a trade route and began using it to transport goods between Santa Fe and the settlements in the southern part of the territory. This trail played a crucial role in connecting the northern and southern regions of New Mexico, facilitating the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultural influences.

During the Mexican-American War in the mid-19th century, the Santa Cruz Lake Trail became a significant route for military movements. Both American and Mexican forces utilized the trail to transport troops, supplies, and equipment. The trail’s strategic location allowed for quick and efficient movement through the rugged terrain, making it an essential asset during the conflict.

Today, the Santa Cruz Lake Trail stands as a testament to the rich historical heritage of Santa Cruz County. It serves as a reminder of the diverse cultures and communities that have traversed its path over the centuries, leaving behind a legacy of trade, exploration, and conflict. The trail continues to attract hikers, nature enthusiasts, and history buffs who seek to immerse themselves in the captivating stories of the past while enjoying the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding landscape.

While On The Trail

Access Points

1. Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area: This is the main access point for the Santa Cruz Lake Trail. It offers parking, restrooms, picnic areas, and boat ramps.

2. Santa Cruz Dam: Located near the dam, this access point provides parking and access to the trail.

3. Santa Cruz Lake Campground: The campground has its own trailhead, offering easy access to the Santa Cruz Lake Trail for campers.

4. Santa Cruz Lake Overlook: This scenic overlook provides a trailhead for hikers looking to explore the Santa Cruz Lake Trail.

5. Santa Cruz Lake Picnic Area: This picnic area has a trailhead that leads to the Santa Cruz Lake Trail, making it a convenient starting point for a hike.

6. Santa Cruz Lake Day Use Area: This area has a designated trailhead for the Santa Cruz Lake Trail, providing easy access for day visitors.

7. Santa Cruz Lake Boat Ramp: If you’re arriving by boat, the boat ramp area also serves as a trailhead for the Santa Cruz Lake Trail.

8. Santa Cruz Lake Visitor Center: The visitor center has its own trailhead, allowing visitors to explore the Santa Cruz Lake Trail after gathering information and maps.

Note: The Santa Cruz Lake Trail is a loop trail, so you can start and end at any of these access points.

Transportation Available

1. Santa Cruz Metro – Local bus service in Santa Cruz County.
2. Uber – On-demand ride-hailing service.
3. Lyft – On-demand ride-hailing service.
4. Yellow Cab – Traditional taxi service.
5. Santa Cruz Pedicab – Pedicab service offering eco-friendly transportation.
6. Santa Cruz Bike Share – Bike rental service for short trips.
7. Santa Cruz Airport Flyer – Shuttle service to and from San Jose International Airport.
8. Santa Cruz Metro ParaCruz – Paratransit service for individuals with disabilities.
9. Santa Cruz Metro Highway 17 Express – Bus service connecting Santa Cruz to San Jose.
10. Santa Cruz Metro Watsonville – Bus service connecting Santa Cruz to Watsonville.


The amenities available at the Santa Cruz Lake Trail include:

1. Restrooms: There are restroom facilities available for visitors to use.

2. Parking: There is parking available for visitors’ vehicles.

3. Camping Sites: The trail offers designated camping sites for those who wish to stay overnight.

4. Picnic Areas: There are picnic areas where visitors can enjoy a meal or snack.

5. Fishing: Santa Cruz Lake is known for its fishing opportunities, with various species of fish available.

6. Boating: Visitors can bring their own boats or rent them to enjoy boating on the lake.

7. Hiking Trails: The Santa Cruz Lake Trail offers scenic hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts.

8. Wildlife Viewing: The area is home to diverse wildlife, providing opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography.

9. Birdwatching: Birdwatchers can spot a variety of bird species in the area.

10. Nature Photography: The picturesque surroundings of the lake and trail make it a great spot for nature photography.

11. Swimming: Visitors can swim in the lake, although it is important to note that there are no lifeguards on duty.

12. Kayaking and Canoeing: The lake is suitable for kayaking and canoeing, allowing visitors to explore the water.

13. Scenic Views: The trail offers beautiful scenic views of the lake and surrounding landscape.

14. Interpretive Signs: There are interpretive signs along the trail, providing information about the area’s history, flora, and fauna.

15. Wildlife Habitat: The trail passes through various habitats, allowing visitors to observe and learn about the local wildlife.

16. Accessibility: The trail is designed to be accessible for people with disabilities, with designated accessible parking and facilities.

Please note that amenities may be subject to change or seasonal availability, so it is always a good idea to check with the park authorities or visitor center for the most up-to-date information.

Nearby Services

1. Santa Cruz Lake Campground – Campground located near the trailhead of Santa Cruz Lake Trail.
2. Santa Cruz Lake Picnic Area – Picnic area with tables and grills near Santa Cruz Lake.
3. Santa Cruz Lake Marina – Marina offering boat rentals and fishing supplies near Santa Cruz Lake.
4. Santa Cruz Lake Store – Convenience store selling snacks, drinks, and basic supplies near Santa Cruz Lake.
5. Santa Cruz Lake Trailhead Parking – Parking area for hikers accessing the Santa Cruz Lake Trail.
6. Santa Cruz Lake Trail Restrooms – Restroom facilities available at the trailhead of Santa Cruz Lake Trail.
7. Santa Cruz Lake Trail Emergency Phone – Emergency phone located along the Santa Cruz Lake Trail for immediate assistance.
8. Santa Cruz Lake Trail Information Kiosk – Kiosk providing trail maps and information about the Santa Cruz Lake Trail.
9. Santa Cruz Lake Trailhead Campsite – Campsite located near the trailhead of Santa Cruz Lake Trail.
10. Santa Cruz Lake Trailhead Picnic Area – Picnic area with tables and grills near the trailhead of Santa Cruz Lake Trail.

Santa Cruz Lake Trail Difficulty Notes

The Santa Cruz Lake Trail offers a moderate difficulty level for hikers. The trail is approximately 8 miles long and features a mix of flat sections and moderate inclines, making it suitable for hikers of varying fitness levels. While there are some challenging sections with rocky terrain and uneven surfaces, the trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, allowing hikers to navigate easily. The breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the serene Santa Cruz Lake make the effort worthwhile, making it a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a moderately challenging hiking experience.

Features And Attractions

The Santa Cruz Lake Trail offers a variety of scenic views, historical sites, natural landmarks, and more. Here are some notable attractions along the trail:

1. Santa Cruz Lake: The trail starts at Santa Cruz Lake, a beautiful reservoir surrounded by mountains and forests. Enjoy the scenic views of the lake and its surroundings.

2. Pecos National Historical Park: Located near the trail, this park preserves the history and culture of the Pecos Pueblo people. Explore ancient ruins, a Spanish mission church, and learn about the area’s rich heritage.

3. Glorieta Pass: This historic mountain pass played a significant role during the American Civil War. It was the site of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, known as the “Gettysburg of the West.” Visit the battlefield and learn about the events that took place here.

4. Pecos Wilderness: As you hike along the trail, you’ll enter the Pecos Wilderness, a stunning area of untouched wilderness. Enjoy the rugged beauty of the mountains, forests, and alpine meadows.

5. Winsor Trail: The Santa Cruz Lake Trail intersects with the Winsor Trail, a popular hiking route that leads to the summit of Santa Fe Baldy. If you’re up for a challenge, consider taking a detour and climbing this prominent peak.

6. Aspen Vista Trail: Another intersecting trail, the Aspen Vista Trail, offers breathtaking views of the surrounding aspen groves. During the fall, the foliage turns vibrant shades of yellow and orange, creating a stunning display.

7. Nambe Falls: Located near the trail, Nambe Falls is a picturesque waterfall cascading down a rocky cliff. Take a short detour to visit this natural landmark and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.

8. Santa Fe National Forest: The Santa Cruz Lake Trail passes through the Santa Fe National Forest, offering opportunities for wildlife spotting, birdwatching, and enjoying the peacefulness of nature.

9. Tesuque Pueblo: This Native American pueblo is located near the trail and has a rich cultural heritage. Learn about the traditions, art, and history of the Tesuque people by visiting the pueblo and its museum.

10. Chimayó: Although not directly on the trail, Chimayó is a nearby village famous for its Santuario de Chimayó, a historic church known for its healing dirt. Take a short drive from the trail to explore this spiritual site.

These are just a few of the many attractions along the Santa Cruz Lake Trail. Enjoy the diverse landscapes, historical sites, and natural wonders as you explore this scenic trail.

Usage Guidelines

– Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
– No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trail.
– Camping is not permitted along the trail.
– Fishing is allowed in designated areas only and requires a valid fishing license.
– Swimming is not allowed in the lake.
– Hunting is prohibited in the vicinity of the trail.
– Littering is strictly prohibited; visitors must pack out all trash.
– Fires are only allowed in designated fire rings or grills.
– Bicycles are allowed on the trail but must yield to pedestrians.
– Horses are allowed on the trail but riders must clean up after their animals.
– The trail may have seasonal closures or restrictions due to weather conditions or maintenance work.

Seasonal Information

The Santa Cruz Lake Trail, located in the beautiful Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico, offers a stunning outdoor experience for nature enthusiasts and hikers alike. While the trail is accessible year-round, there are certain times of the year that are considered the best for visiting.

One of the most popular times to explore the Santa Cruz Lake Trail is during the spring and early summer months, from April to June. During this time, the surrounding landscape comes alive with vibrant wildflowers, and the weather is generally pleasant with mild temperatures. The trail offers breathtaking views of the lake, which is often filled with crystal-clear water during this season. It’s an ideal time for hiking, fishing, and picnicking along the shores of the lake.

Another great time to visit the Santa Cruz Lake Trail is in the fall, from September to November. The autumn foliage paints the surrounding forests in shades of red, orange, and gold, creating a picturesque backdrop for your hike. The weather is cooler, making it a comfortable time to explore the trail and enjoy the tranquility of nature. Fall is also a great time for birdwatching, as migratory birds pass through the area, adding to the natural beauty of the trail.

It’s important to note that the Santa Cruz Lake Trail may have seasonal closures or restrictions due to weather conditions or maintenance work. During the winter months, from December to February, the trail may be closed or inaccessible due to heavy snowfall. It’s always recommended to check with the Santa Fe National Forest Service or local authorities for the latest trail conditions and closures before planning your visit.


1. Wheelchair Accessible Parking: Designated parking spaces close to the trail entrance for easy access.
2. Paved Pathways: Smooth and level pathways throughout the trail suitable for wheelchair users.
3. Accessible Restrooms: Restroom facilities equipped with accessible features such as grab bars and wider doorways.
4. Wheelchair Accessible Picnic Areas: Picnic areas with accessible tables and seating options.
5. Accessible Fishing Piers: Fishing piers designed to accommodate wheelchair users.
6. Braille and Tactile Signage: Signage with Braille and tactile elements for visually impaired individuals.
7. Accessible Trailhead Information: Information boards and maps at the trailhead with accessible features such as large print or audio options.
8. Accessible Water Fountains: Water fountains with accessible heights and features.
9. Assistance Animals Allowed: Service animals are permitted on the trail to assist individuals with disabilities.
10. Accessible Viewing Areas: Designated areas along the trail with accessible viewpoints for scenic views or wildlife observation.

Safety Information

1. Stay on designated trails: Stick to the marked paths to avoid getting lost or damaging the surrounding environment.
2. Carry enough water: Ensure you have an adequate supply of water to stay hydrated during your hike.
3. Dress appropriately: Wear suitable clothing and footwear for the trail conditions, including sun protection and layers for changing weather.
4. Be aware of wildlife: Keep a safe distance from wildlife, respect their habitat, and avoid feeding or approaching them.
5. Use insect repellent: Protect yourself from ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects by applying repellent before starting the hike.
6. Check weather conditions: Stay updated on weather forecasts and avoid hiking during severe weather conditions.
7. Inform someone of your plans: Let a friend or family member know about your hiking plans, including your expected return time.
8. Carry a map and compass: Bring a map of the trail and a compass to navigate in case of any unexpected circumstances.
9. Pack essential supplies: Carry a first aid kit, flashlight, whistle, and extra food in case of emergencies or unexpected delays.
10. Hike in groups: Whenever possible, hike with a companion or in a group for added safety and support.
11. Stay alert and be cautious: Pay attention to your surroundings, watch your step, and be cautious of any potential hazards on the trail.
12. Leave no trace: Respect the environment by packing out all trash, minimizing noise, and leaving natural objects undisturbed.
13. Follow trail regulations: Observe any posted signs or regulations specific to the Santa Cruz Lake Trail for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Conservation Notes

The Santa Cruz Lake Trail is considered to have a relatively stable conservation status. The trail is located within the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico, which is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). The USFS has implemented various conservation measures to protect the natural resources and wildlife in the area.

One of the key conservation efforts is the preservation of the trail’s surrounding ecosystem. The Santa Cruz Lake Trail traverses through diverse habitats, including woodlands, meadows, and riparian areas. These habitats support a wide range of plant and animal species, some of which may be sensitive or endangered. The USFS has implemented strict regulations to prevent habitat degradation, such as limiting off-trail access and enforcing Leave No Trace principles to minimize human impact.

Additionally, the USFS has implemented measures to protect the water quality of Santa Cruz Lake. The lake serves as a vital water source for both wildlife and nearby communities. To ensure its conservation, the USFS has implemented regulations to prevent pollution and maintain the lake’s ecological integrity. These regulations include restrictions on motorized watercraft, fishing regulations, and regular monitoring of water quality parameters.

Overall, the conservation status of the Santa Cruz Lake Trail is considered to be well-managed. The USFS’s efforts to protect the surrounding ecosystem and preserve the water quality of Santa Cruz Lake contribute to the sustainability of the trail and its natural resources. Ongoing monitoring and enforcement of conservation measures are crucial to maintaining the trail’s conservation status and ensuring its long-term ecological health.

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