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A Summer’s Day Hike to Nambe Lake

Nambe Lake, high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe

Summer weather opens up all of the wonderful high country hikes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe, and if you’re up for a more challenging trek, be sure and put the hike to Nambe Lake – the nearest alpine lake to Santa Fe – on your bucket list. You’ll need to be in more than average condition to reach the lake, which sits at an elevation of over 11,300 feet, but the actual hiking distance is only 3.3 miles from the trailhead at Ski Santa Fe, the jumping-off spot for most of the high country hikes around here. If you’re longing to be immersed in alpine scenery, this the the hike for you!

A glacial meadow above Nambe Lake

Wildflowers are everywhere now, and some of the Rockies most beloved species are showing off all along this climb.

Rocky Mountain iris with Western Swallowtail

Star Solomon's Seal in shady places at the beginning of the hike

The elusive Calypso Orchid, in the aspen forest

All along the cascades of the Rio Nambe you’ll find this gem now:

A flash of purest magenta will catch your eye

This is the Bog Primrose, or Parry’s Primrose, one of the delights of the high country streams. Its color is amazing.

Parry's Primrose, glowing above the burbling water of Rio Nambe

The cheerful little Elkslip brightens all the damp and boggy places:

Elkslip flowers by a streamlet of pure transparent water

If you have any energy left to climb up among the massive bouldery talus that borders the cliffs, you might be rewarded by the first blossoms of the true Queen of the High Rockies, the etherial Blue Columbine:

Rocky Mountain Columbine

The Rio Nambe accompanies you along the entire climb you make after you turn at the junction of the Lake Trail (400) off of the Winsor Trail (254) – a climb that will take you up 1000 feet in just about a mile, in a canyon choked with glacial moraine. The stream cascades endlessly from rock to rock:

Waterfalls along the Rio Nambe

A little over midway up the canyon, a boggy glacial meadow opens up and gives you a respite from the stair-mastering you’ve been enjoying previously. It’s our own little mini-Yosemite:

The first glacial meadow

and the creek here meanders lazily in deep trenches of purest water:

Corn lilies along the Rio Nambe in a meadow setting

Don’t be fooled however; you’ve got another massive step in elevation over a steep and bouldery trail to reach the lake.

It’s worth it:

Nambe Lake, looking up into the cirque

Lake Peak towers above the southern end of the lake:

The north face of Lake Peak

This is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a well-deserved break:

At the edge of Nambe Lake

The air here is fragrant with the balsamic incense of the Englemann Spruce which surround you on every side:

A grove of Englemann Spruce glowing in the alpine sunlight

Little details will catch your eye, like this patch of stonecrop clinging to a outcropping of gleaming white granite:

Stonecrop and granite

Every view here is captivating:

Nambe Lake, looking downstream

Now is the perfect time to plan this hike. The days are long and the summer thunderstorms of July and August haven’t set in yet. As I mentioned, this is not a walk to be undertaken lightly: although the distance is only 3.3 miles, you’ll make an immediate 800 foot elevation gain in the first mile of the walk, enjoy a leisurely descent back down toward the Rio Nambe, and then face a 1000 foot gain in the last mile of the hike, over two enormous bottlenecks of glacial moraine, the second of which holds back the lake. The trail is rough in places and even a little hard to follow in those sections where hikers have made alternative paths along Rio Nambe. It’s popular in the summer months, and you may not find that perfect solitude that we New Mexicans are accustomed to enjoying on many of our mountain trails.

But is sure is beautiful up there.

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