Experiencing Santa Fe by sky, river, trail, and your senses will help you understand what the enchantment is all about. Check out our ultimate sightseeing suggestions below.
1. DiscoverSantaFe Scavenger Hunt
Sightseeing at its finest, this scavenger hunt-style guided outdoor tour hits iconic spots throughout the Santa Fe Plaza, giving visitors a sample platter of downtown and its dramatic roots. Walking the two-mile hunt provides fabulous exposure to Santa Fe’s defining religious events, famous villains, crime scenes, political power struggles, and famous movie scenes.
Clues, hints, and fun facts help you along your journey in discovering seemingly hidden wonders you’d probably never know about without the help of this amazing game designed by Santa Fe residents that you play using your phone. Simply purchase your hunt codes on the website at the bottom of this post and the fun begins.
Whether you’re visiting Santa Fe solo or with a group, the game is designed to make this scavenger hunt a customized experience just for you. You can play as one group or one person and use this urban adventure as an exciting tour guide. Or, if you’re the competitive type, you can divide your group into teams and blast through the game, trying to get as many points as you can in the shortest amount of time. Your time limit is a doable 2.5 hours. Either way, it is very informational, and you’ll be enlightened to Santa Fe’s culture afterward.
Tips for ultimate enjoyment:
- Be comfy. This walking tour operates year-round, and each season provides different benefits as Santa Fe is a visual delight that is constantly changing. Check the weather and dress to be outdoors with good walking shoes.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Bring a bottle of water for each human and dog on your team. Oh yeah, did you know this is a dog-friendly vacation spot? If your pooch likes cruising around in the city among people, it’s a win-win. Don’t forget that Santa Fe is a bit over 7,000 feet in elevation so don’t overdo it and watch the heat.
- Take a brief people-watching break in the Plaza. Plunk down on one of the pretty wrought iron benches, eat a little snack, and refresh yourself. Your brain will be processing lots of fascinating information, so a five-minute rest will give you a second wind and really tie it all together by observing the downtown hubbub.
Start your adventure here:
2. Kokopelli Rafting Adventures
This is not your typical rafting company or rafting experience. Stationed smack dab on the low road to Taos, intentional trip planning will allow you to enjoy interesting local experiences before and after your raft trip.
A visual feast. Heading north from Santa Fe, your one-hour trip to Kokopelli’s assigned launch spots shows gorgeous views of Rio Grande’s Gorge canyon life and famous formations Camel Rock and volcanic Black Mesa. There are lots of pull-outs for photo ops, cute wineries, a microbrewery, funky antique shops, and art studios on this northbound route to the small town of Rinconada to meet your Kokopelli Rafting Adventures expert raft guides.
Never been rafting before? No worries. You’ll be coached by kind, patient, skilled, and comedic guides who know how to command safety and care for your group. Kokopelli guides are known for being sober, professional, family focused, and well educated, on and off the river. Though each guide has a unique tour guide style, you’ll notice a feeling of calm and confidence from all of them from the second you meet and during the detailed safety talk and custom life jacket fitting pre-trip.
Each of these Northern New Mexico rafting trips has charming features and are available for booking late April through mid-September. They are all interactive bonding experiences that raft tour guides are trained for to the highest standards.
- Charge up your endorphins on this splashy, fun ride through giant ancient rock formations as you paddle through the Rock Garden, Big Rock, Albert’s Falls, and Souse Hole on the energetic class three Rio Grande Racecourse trip. Wildlife spotting and swimming can be part of this trip, depending on the weather.
- If you’re more like an otter and just want to float and soak up beauty, the class two Rio Grande Float trip will revitalize you with beautiful canyon views and friendly paddling locals. The Rio Grande was designated specifically as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1968 and either trip will show you why.
- Be mesmerized by this visually striking class three rapid experience on the full day River Chama trip. The expansive views of colorful mineral formations, dramatic bluffs, and mighty mountain landscapes will make you feel your size while weaving down the silvery blue ribbon between massive canyon walls. Egrets, herons, ducks, birds of prey, otters, coyotes, raccoons, and bobcats are delights you may see on this and any of the trips.
Customized trip options, team-building games, catered beach lunches, and photography packages are available as add-ons for some of the trips. Just ask.
Post-rafting tired and happy, your option for a 30-minute drive to Taos on the bluffs of giant earth faults will make you drool. Detour to Pilar along the way for pristine La Vista Verde hiking, camping, and local chow, or steer off to Dixon for funky art and hippy co-op grub for a perfect Northern New Mexico weekend.
Book your thrills and chills trip here:
Photos courtesy of Kokopelli Rafting Adventures.
3) Santa Fe Mountain Adventures
Georges and Sue Mally offer guided Santa Fe mountain adventures in approachable variety packages to delight and host guests of all types. Passionate history buff, Georges, leads most of the tours and his delight for the outdoors and continuing curiosity of Native American culture and history is infectious and evident on any of these artfully planned tours.
Year-round tours include:
Scenic Diablo Canyon Jeep Tours over Don Juan Oñate’s 1598 original caravan road through sand, snow, or slush, depending on the season. This 2.5-hour wilderness experience in authentic Swiss Army vehicles is the perfect historical, nature tour for multi-generational groups with a little something for everyone. History buffs will love hearing about the 1887 Santa Fe to Antonito railroad and hiking trails that served as routes between major cities of the era. Amateur rock climbing for both little and big kids, arroyo exploration, and short hiking stops will give you a beautifully rounded out experience of the canyon. This tour is short enough so you can still fit in other activities afterward.
Wild horse sighting at Santa Domingo and San Felipe Pueblos. These majestic animals can be spotted galloping in groups of three to twenty. Though you may see all kinds of other wild animals here, Sue Mally says that the wild horse sightings are especially awe inspiring. “It’s just so neat to see those amazing animals out there on their own surviving free and wild.” Understanding the history of the petrified wood forest and Ball Ranch area are other high points.
Guided, historical hiking tours through the La Cieneguilla Petroglyph site are a great way to learn about this ancient rock art and hike beautiful bluffs.
The Plaza Blanca tour near Abiquiu is the legendary “White Place” coined by inspired Georgia O’Keefe who featured these spacey rock formations in some of her work.
Plucking through serene snow on snowshoes or cross-country ski tours through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe’s ski basin is a must do. Brilliant blue skies, pure white snow, and whispering aspens make this a magical and special experience.
Higher up, longer tours offer 360-degree views of greater Santa Fe amidst thick Douglas firs on invigorating trails. All tours with Santa Fe Mountain Adventures are tailored to the client’s unique expectations, heart’s desire, and exercise abilities.
Thrilling fat tire and mountain bike trips and fall hiking through crisp mountain air and spectacularly colored aspens are more options. Summer offers hike-and-learn tours at the famous Bandelier National Monument.
Whichever tour you choose, Sue Mally encourages people to enjoy their first day taking it easy in downtown Santa Fe to acclimate before going for these higher altitude adventures. Drinking lots of water and remembering that one glass of wine at 7,000 feet is like two at sea level will also help.
“We end up being friends with a lot of people who book trips with us. It is so fulfilling to take families out, inspire young people to enjoy the outdoors and show everyone how to appreciate the beauty of New Mexico,” Sue concludes and encourages visitors to call her for a customized journey.
Connect to New Mexico Mountain Adventures to start planning your perfectly matched adventure here:
4) Canyon Road
Santa Fe Art Tours founder and lead guide Elaine Ritchel has advice for getting the most of this world- renowned 80-gallery walking tour on this narrow, cobblestone half-mile. You can tour with a guide, or meander at your whimsy. Both choices have their merits.
If you take Ritchel’s Curated Canyon Tour specifically designed for an intimate look at historic and contemporary art, you’ll be guided through a small selection of galleries featuring both local artists and big names like Picasso and Chagall. Ritchel’s knowledge of Canyon Road’s place in the U.S. art market, just third after New York and Los Angeles, will bring up interesting discussions along the way, such as its evolution as an art hotspot, and face-to-face chats with gallerists and artists.
If you prefer to go it alone, Ritchel suggests not trying to cram in seeing every gallery, rather take your time, take in the historic adobe architecture, and explore the quaint courtyards, alleyways, and sculpture gardens. She is an advocate for slowing down this experience, truly connecting to art that speaks to you and exploring its meaning.
It’s important for people to experience authentic Santa Fe art to truly understand the city itself. Santa Fe artists are deeply influenced by natural landscapes, history, and politics. Knowing that art and life imitate one another and seeing the work produced locally, you really get a deeper feel for what’s going on and why this place is unlike any other. Big names along the way such as Gustave Baumann, Will Shuster, and Randall Davey are great examples of this, as are many of their less famous but impactful counterparts on Canyon Road.
Ritchel believes that the Santa Fe landscape and art are intertwined for many artists here, even if subtle or subconsious. “One general theme I see is tactility, which to me relates to the prominence of earth, dust, rock, and grit here. Even the trees and shrubs that grow in the high desert have this gnarly, gritty quality. Much of the work produced by local artists has so much texture, whether it’s a hand built micaceous clay pot, a weaving made from wool, an assemblage constructed from hand-made paper and encaustic, or a painting that makes use of thick brushstrokes or natural pigments. The horizon line and the expanse of earth and sky also show up a lot in many artists’ work, whether it’s a more realistic landscape or an abstraction.”
Tips to fully embrace the experience:
- Take time to wonder.
- Slow down, notice how the sunlight passes through a sculpture, or the specialness of a hand carved door.
- Don’t look at Canyon Road as just gallery hopping. See it as an opportunity to discover (or rediscover) what speaks to you.
- Become inspired by considering the deeper meaning behind works of art.
- Learning to truly look and to connect with art in a more meaningful way makes everyday life experiences richer.
- Stop, relax, and nurture yourself with food, drinks, and reflection. Wine and art go together like peanut butter and jelly, so plan to let the creativity sink in under graceful trees at the elegant Ahmyo Wine Garden, with artful hors d’oeuvres and a great selection of New Mexico-made wines. The Teahouse, Kakawa Chocolate House, and Downtown Subscription are also great refresher stops with good people watching.
- If you tour Canyon Road without a guide, we suggest starting at the bottom where it intersects Paseo de Peralta, making your way to the top, then taking a sharp right and coming back down the hill via Acequia Madre. This tree-lined street parallels Canyon and showcases upscale, beautiful adobe homes Santa Fe is famous for. Winding down with Santa Fe’s dreamy architecture is a perfect close to your tour.
For the guided experience contact:
Photos courtesy of Elaine Ritchel
5) Pecos National Park – Village of Five Hundred Warriors
The combination of so much historical data at Pecos Pueblo with its clean facilities and well-groomed trails make this a perfect afternoon immersion into Santa Fe history. Lace up your walking shoes and set foot into the past at the once thriving Pecos Pueblo, also known as Cicuye Pueblo. A center of growth, trading, and industry from 11,500 B.C.E.-600 C.E., this community hub bridged several cultures together as they exchanged talents and goods and forged important relationships.
Start your self-guided walking tour in the Visitor Center where you can watch the historical park overview film, view war and Puebloan era exhibits in the museum that will give texture to your visit, and check out the cultural selections at the gift shop.
Short, beautiful park trails combine nature with whispers from the past helping us imagine what life was like for Native American Pecos Puebloans, otherwise known as Cicuye Puebloans, and Civil War soldiers. The designated two national landmarks on site, Pecos Pueblo with its Spanish Mission Church, and Glorietta Pass Battlefield, are well supported by not only the groomed trails but educational programs on site. Field trip requests, guided ranger tours, and exhibits all help illuminate the development of local civilization affected by commerce, religion, and territory wars. Fun Fact: Children can earn a Junior Ranger Badge after completing a field trip tour.
The 1.25-mile Ancestral Sites Trail tours the ruins of the Spanish Mission Church and remnants of the South and North Pueblos. Looping through arroyos, cliffs, and hills in the juniper and ponderosa forest on the 2.3-mile Glorieta Battlefield Trail gives you a sense of how the western landscape affected battle tactics. The South Pasture Loop Trail was an old wagon trail and gives beautiful views of the Pecos River, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and Glorieta Mesa through cottonwood groves.
The recently rehabilitated Santa Fe Trail era trading post, once Kozlowski’s Stage Stop & Trading Post and now a huge history exhibit, was a stop for major retail thoroughfare reaching its full “central hub” development in 1852. This four-million-dollar renovation is open for viewing and showcases a contemporary history of the park, dude ranching, and the Civil War.
Plan your guided informational walking tour or wing it and explore on your own. Both ways are fascinating and worth the trip to Pecos. Make sure to plan ahead and be safe at this 7,000-foot elevation. Don’t overdo it, drink plenty of water, and do not leave pets in your car.
Entry to the park is free, dogs are allowed on some trails, and river access is granted for fishing only by permit. There are nearby campgrounds to the north in the Santa Fe National Forest on NM Highway 63.
Visit: nps.gov/peco/index.htm for more park and area information.
1 NM-63, Pecos, NM 87552
6) Rainbow Ryders and Santa Fe Balloons – Sky Bound Ways to See New Mexico
Rainbow Ryders is a large balloon company with years of commitment to strengthening the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Their deep investment in safety, clean flight records, and ensuring people have a good experience broadens visitors’ vision of what Albuquerque has to offer.
Being able to see the Land of Enchantment from a bird’s eye view is important for many reasons. Founder and president Scott Appelman’s take on the importance of balloon flight is at once practical and delightful. He says that while airborne guests can really appreciate how clean New Mexico air is. Being able to see 70 or 80 miles in any direction is a unique vantage point that affords this visual understanding. Seeing Mount Taylor, past Belen and the Socorro area, while flying over the Rio Grande corridor is amazing, and opening visitors’ eyes to our dramatic mountainous landscape helps them understand what the Central New Mexico high desert really is.
Floating through the seasons with year-round operation shows you spring’s brilliant greens in the Rio Grande Valley and breathtaking, changing fall colors in the Sandia mountains. Flying just over the treetops of the Rio Grande on a sunset or sunrise trip, observing turtles, rabbits, coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and eagles in their natural environment without imposing on their lives is visually stunning. Appleman and his fleet of pilots, trained to the highest safety standards, respect nature. But one time he learned his lesson the hard way by getting a little too close to a hawk’s nest. The mother hawk circled the basket, telling him off to let him know he was too close.
Weather will dictate where you meet and ride with Rainbow Ryders. If you fly over Petroglyph National Monument, you’ll witness communications made some 80,000 years ago by ancestors messaging their spiritual beliefs through rock art. Appleman points out that flying over the Albuquerque metro area is a terrific way to check out real estate if you are thinking about moving here, or just for general interest. You can see forty years of humans’ effect on the landscape. New versus old landscapes are obvious. Mature communities show up much clearer from the sky with their assorted colors and shapes. The lack of trees in newer subdivisions versus old growth in mature communities is an interesting view from the sky. These are the kinds of things your Rainbow Ryder guide will school you on.
Afraid of heights? One of Appleman’s most heard comments post flight is, “I have always been afraid of heights but had no problem with this.” He feels it has to do with being cradled by the basket and the professionalism and training of his pilots.
Rainbow Ryders operates year-round. To book your bucket list trip, contact:
Santa Fe Balloons
What makes Johnny Lewis’s balloon rides original is not just where he takes visitors, but his passion for the balloon itself. In college he watched the famous ballooning movie Around the World in 80 Days and was hooked. He used knowledge from a home economics sewing class to craft the nylon balloon, or envelope, a weed burner from his Texas ranch for the burner, got his brother to create the aluminum basket (gondola) with a welder, and his first highly functioning passenger balloon was born. His rides include tutorials on how the balloon works and “getting the guests involved, kind of like a sailing crew.” He sometimes even allows passengers to operate the burner to really get a feel for how it works.
Since those college days, Lewis has flown all over the world to such famous places as the Pyramids of Egypt, accruing over 6,000 hours of flight time and a spotless safety record. He searched far and wide for a pristine landscape from which to operate Santa Fe Balloons and chose Las Barrancas (The Ravines) because of its 130,000 BLM acres of primal rocky terrain and quietly impressive views of the foothills and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Here there are no power lines, houses, or humans. This deep red rock canyon just north of Espanola feels like the land before time.
Stepping into Lewis’s balloon you may notice that it is smaller than most, a design for maneuverability and detailed exploration of this treasured outdoor space. He adds that the weather is very predictable, and the balloon and environment are so stable that when coming up over a cliff wall to a five hundred’ foot drop, even people who are afraid of heights don’t become emotional over it. “With this smaller balloon I can drop in super low to the ground and fly right up the canyon walls. When you contour the ground, you see things you’d normally have to find by hiking in, but hiking isn’t allowed here because it would cause damage. The EPA says ballooning is one of the cleanest ways to see a place without leaving a footprint.”
What you can expect on your sky trip with Santa Fe Balloon:
Lewis’s crew will pick you up 30 minutes from sunrise at your hotel.
- You’ll watch the fascinating process of balloon inflation, a tiny package that grows as large as a ten-story building.
- Lewis will charm you with his passion for ballooning, sense of humor, and Texas style.
- You’ll float through a heavenly red rock canyon without footprints on a well-executed Las Barrancas trip.
- Your trip will end with a traditional champagne toast, which has interesting roots, Lewis told us. “The tradition started in 1783. The king told his commissioned flight crew to give the farmers whose fields they landed in cake and champagne so the farmer wouldn’t think the balloon was a demon and stab it,” which had actually happened before. That tradition continued and to this day it is still proper to share the toast with the landowners who allow pilots to land on their property.
Reserve your trip May through October by contacting: