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Car-Free Ways to Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico

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As fall cools the Southwest, now is the time to consider leaving your car behind and setting out on a walking, biking or even a completely car-free vacation. Jamie Stringfellow, co-founder of, offers up guided and self-guided car-free adventures in our country’s oldest capital.

Santa Fe, the second-oldest incorporated city in the country, also has the nation’s oldest established street––good “street cred” for a pedestrian and bike-friendly town. Plus the city has a compact downtown, surrounded by miles of hiking and biking trails.
Speaking of trails, Santa Fe is home to numerous historic trails. The Santa Fe Trail once connected Santa Fe to Missouri and blazed the way for the Santa Fe Railroad. Today, there are many new trails––including a converted rail trail.

One caution: before attempting any long uphill climbs or bike rides, I’d spend a couple days getting used to the altitude. At 7,200 feet, Santa Fe is the highest state capital in the U.S.

Guided and self-guided walking, biking and kayaking


Car Free Santa Fe image4

Gallery signs on Canyon Road

Inger Boudouris, chef concierge of the Hotel St. Francis, says that the best guided walking tours are “Historic Walks of Santa Fe.” They offer a range of tours that include “Ghostwalkers,” which are led by a “legendary spirit” of Santa Fe’s past; Georgia O’Keeffe Museum tours; and the “Artists at Home Tour,” which brings visitors to local artists’ studios and homes.

Art is probably the best way to organize a self-guided walking itinerary as well. The city, known for blue skies and powdery light, has drawn such notable artists as Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams. Now one of the top art markets in the country, Santa Fe’s Canyon Road has more than 100 galleries and studios tucked into historic adobe buildings.

Inn to Inn

A friend suggested a spa-to-spa walk from La Posada up to Ten Thousand Waves where my friends Talie and Jan could soak in hot tubs and be massaged. The next day, we would walk back to the Hotel St. Francis near the Santa Fe Plaza.

We started at La Posada de Santa Fe, one of the prettiest little hotels I’ve ever seen. Prep yourself for your uphill walk at the Spa with their “Desert Body Quench” treatment, then sit on the hotel’s roof deck and plot out your route up the hill. The hotel offered to let us keep our larger bags there, so we could travel with small daypacks.

Inn to Inn map

That day’s route was just five miles so we opted to walk around town, have an early supper on the plaza and embark on our journey around 6 pm. When I told people the route, they said….”but it’s five miles! Up hill!” I found this comical- these were typically fit Santa Fe residents who clearly weren’t intimidated by a little exercise.

We walked on the generous shoulder and trails just off Hyde Park Road. The locals were right; the most direct route up the hill turned out to be pretty tiring. But we were all the more deserving of those foot baths that awaited at Ten Thousand Waves.

On Route to Ten Thousand Waves


Ten Thousand Waves was once a hangout for artists and hippies who climbed up the hill for the soothing hot tubs at the end of a day. Today, it’s a Japanese- style spa with a few overnight cabins. As the stars came out, we left the foot baths and moved on to an hour-long soak in a big hot tub.

The next morning, we walked down to the Hotel St. Francis, a European style inn right off the Santa Fe Plaza. I’d suggest a carbo reload of the hotel’s stuffed sopapillas and an organic goat milk flan, on the terrace of Table de los Santos, followed by an in-room massage.

More Car-Free Santa Fe Ideas

  • Get a great base camp: You don’t have to walk inn to inn, if you find one really great inn, surrounded by trails and chock full of ways to explore without a car. Set in the Little Tesuque Valley, amid the sunset-colored foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, The Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort and Spa sits on the boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest. The concierge there can help with trails or set you up with guided horseback riding, bird watching, mountain biking, and even hot-air balloon tours and whitewater rafting.
  • Day trips: There are day hikes and biking trips (and in winter snowshoeing trips) outside of town, ranging from easy to moderate; check out the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works site.
  • Car-Free Bike Transit: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief (which allows bikes on board) travels from Los Angeles to Chicago, making stops in Albuquerque. From there you can get the New Mexico Railrunner Express Train up to Santa Fe [ ,]. And the original Santa Fe Railroad has been converted to a rail trail from Lamy (the vintage Amtrak station just east of Albuquerque) all the way into Santa Fe – a bracing twenty or so mile ride into town.
  • Paddling adventures: Though Georgia O’Keeffe is strongly associated with Santa Fe, she actually spent much of her time up in Abiquiu, about 50 miles north of the city. The Abiquiu Reservoir offers great paddling (and some of the best fishing in Northern New Mexico), along with a panoramic view of Cerro Pedernal (O’Keeffe’s favorite mountain). Click here for kayak rentals and instruction.

Text by Jamie Stringfellow for Jamie Stringfellow writes from Hermosa Beach, California, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. She is the co-founder and editor of

All photos by Talie Harris.

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