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Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States

Santa Fe Rail Trail

Ride the Rail Runner Express to Santa Fe for a glorious day of art, nature, food, southwest culture, & beautiful trails.

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 15.0 miles / 24 km
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
Overview: Planes, trains, and automobiles ... and bikes (a New Mexico biking odyssey)

Before we begin our trail exploration, let's take a look at a couple southwestern recipes. We'll start w/ a "Regular Trail Burrito." Grab a tortilla, slap on some refried beans and chicken. Add a little rice & lettuce and there you have it.

Now let's spice it up New Mexico style. We'll toss in some green chiles, sliced jalapenos, add some spicy salsa and sprinkle on some jabeneros. Now you've got the Santa Fe Rail Trail. It is definitely a more spicy version of the typical rail trail.

Rather than rails to trails, the Santa Fe Rail Trail is more of a "rails beside trails." For its entire length, the trail is accompanied by a functioning railroad line.

The first 3.5 miles of the trail is asphalt, and it runs right beside the Rail Runner railroad tracks. (See picture above.) You may have gotten to Santa Fe on the Rail Runner since it is an affordable and enjoyable transportation option between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. And it is also a bicycle friendly way to get between the two communities since bicycles are welcome on the train.

The next 11.5 miles is where the trail becomes unique from other rail trails. It continues to follow an active rail corridor, but that's where the similarities end. From this point on, the trail is no longer paved, no longer straight, and no longer tame. It becomes a dirt-covered roller coaster. Long ago, my knees begged me to retire from mountain biking, but I figured, "As long as I'm here...."

It turns out that my knees had another few miles of single-track left in them, and I enjoyed the thrills. Fortunately, the main trail is not overly strenuous, but there are many side trails to entice the thrill seekers among you.

The best place to begin your ride is the South Capitol rail station in Santa Fe. This is the second stop on the Rail Runner train route from Santa Fe to Albuquerque and is not too far from the center of Santa Fe. As often seems to be the case, shortly after you begin your ride, you come to a microbrewery called Second Street Brewery. The paved trail continues past the currently inoperable Zia Street train stop until you get to a fork in the train tracks. From here the trail follows the tracks for the route of the Santa Fe Southern Railway. This set of rails is used much less frequently than the Rail Runner track. In fact, from this point on, you have only a small chance of seeing a train while you are pedaling your way down the Santa Fe.

Now if you're wondering why I titled this entry, "Planes, trains, and automobiles ... and bikes," here's the scoop. I started my journey in a car from Boulder, CO to Santa Fe (someone else driving); on the next day, I rode my bike on the Santa Fe Rail Trail and all around Santa Fe; next, I hopped on the Rail Runner from Santa Fe to Albuquerque; after attending a fine Cibola High School graduation ceremony, I flew back to Denver on Frontier Airlines ($36 ticket). I then rode the RTD Skyride bus back to the Boulder area. The bus portion isn't reflected in my title, but is just an added bonus for those of you who had the perseverance to read this description to the very end.

Tips: - As noted numerous times in this guide, the Rail Runner Express is a great way to get to and from the Santa Fe Rail Trail.
- Pack a water, cell phone, snacks, and first aid kit. You will be in some fairly remote country.
- Take advantage of all the eclectic attractions in Santa Fe. Enjoy the food, shoppes, and attractions.
- Make sure to bring and wear plenty of sun screen.

Points of Interest


Rail Runner Express and downtown Santa Fe

Thanks to the incredible Rail Runner Express, this remote trail is accessible to anyone in the world.
The Rail Runner Express is a convenient, stylish, comfortable, and extremely affordable commuter train that runs from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Santa Fe, NM and drops you off right near the Santa Fe Rail Trail. It also drops you off in the quaint, bustling, artistic center of Santa Fe where you can eat wonderful food, browse authentic New Mexican art boutiques, and enjoy all that this southwestern capitol has to offer.
On your way to and from Albuquerque, you will pass through Native American lands, ancient pueblos, and beautiful southwest scenery.
By the way, bikes are welcome on the train.

Second Street Brewery

This brew pub, located right off the trail, makes a nice stopping spot to rest your trail-weary bones and enjoy some refreshments.
There's something about rail-trails and brew pubs. It seems as if some of the best brew pubs are located near these trails, whether you're in Louisiana, Colorado, or New Mexico.

Zia Road crossing

This is a good-news, bad-news "point of interest."
There used to be a Rail Runner Express stop at this intersection which made it ideal for accessing the Santa Fe Rail Trail. Unfortunately, that transit stop is no longer open.
The good news is that you can find lodging near the trail here. The Santa Fe Suites are located on the other side of S. St. Francis Drive, behind the Albertson's grocery store. If you are spending the night in Santa Fe, this hotel is one of the more accessible and affordable for trail users.

dirt trail begins

At this point, the rail trail switches from asphalt to dirt. From this point onward, a mountain bike is necessary since the trail is not only dirt, but it's also single track with lots of fun ups and downs. Although it never becomes technical or overly difficult, knobby tires and a front suspension come in handy.

beautiful and varied rail bridges

As you venture forth upon the trail, you will see some incredible rail bridges. It is heartening to see that the architects of the railroad were not content to just build a function structure spanning the arroyos of the desert. The seemed dedicated to making these bridges as artistic as they were functional.

end of Santa Fe Rail Trail

At this point, trail users can either turn around and go back, catch a ride back to Santa Fe, or road bike back into Santa Fe on highway 285.

side trails galore

The Santa Fe Rail Trail is good for bikers and hikers of many different levels. The main trail has occasional roller coaster sections, but in general, it's fairly flat with few steep ascents or descents.
However, there are many side trails to suit the fancy of heavy-duty mountain bikers.

prolific cacti

It wouldn't be a southwest trail without the ubiquitous cactus plant scattered to and fro on the landscape. What makes the Santa Fe trail so interesting is the wide variety of cacti to be found alongside the trail.
Take some time to look at its shape and distinguishing features. They really are quite fascinating viewed from afar and up close.

rail to trail to rail

Many rail trails are build on the right-of-way of retired train routes. The Santa Fe Rail Trail follows not only one but two active rail lines.
As mentioned before, the Rail Runner Express carries commuters and tourists between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It runs alongside the rail trail and can be seen sliding past trail users on its journey back and forth. Then, it veers off to the west.
However, as you continue on the trail, you'll still be following an older looking railroad track. You are now following the route of the Santa Fe Southern Railway. It runs much less frequently than the Rail Runner Express.
Here's where the railroad buffs are going to fall in love with this rail corridor. In addition to riding to Santa Fe in a train, then traveling on a trail that parallels the tracks, you also have the opportunity to become intimately involved with the Santa Fe Southern Railway. This is the train that uses the tracks that follow the trail all the way to the end.

The SFSR train offers great railroad enthusiast packages that include the "Hot Shot Train" that runs on Wednesdays and Sundays and offers beautiful views of the desert from the comfort of a historic train. For the more adventurous, there's the "Friday Evening High Desert Highball" that offers a relaxing evening of great scenery, fun people, and complimentary snacks (as well as a cash bar onboard). And finally there's the Saturday night "Barbecue Dinner Train" that provides a wonderful dinner, scenery from the vintage coach cars, and live music.
There's even a triangular train trip that offers a tour of both Albuquerque and Santa Fe on three totally different types of trains including the SFSR, the Rail Runner Express, and the Amtrak train.
Pictures in this guide taken by: trailsnet,

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