Extending from Atalaya Mountain to within a few miles of the Santa Fe National Forest’s Winsor Trail, the Dale Ball Trail System is a go-to place for many hikers, bikers, and runners seeking a memorable (and close-to-home) outdoor experience. The trails are particularly popular in the spring, as the open expanse of land is bathed in warm, snow-melting sunlight.
The 23-mile network of winding trails looping around homes in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was the brainchild of retired New Mexico businessman and Santa Fe Conservation Trust cofounder Dale Ball. Now 90 and living in Albuquerque, Ball had a vision of establishing a network of trails close to the heart of Santa Fe that was low enough in elevation to be used all year long. With easements secured through Santa Fe city and county land, money from a generous anonymous donor and the McCune Charitable Foundation, and hard work from hundreds of volunteers, the non-motorized-vehicle-only trail system became part of the local landscape in 2005.
The system’s three interconnected parts—northern, central, and southern—link to other trails in the area, including the Dorothy Stewart (Santa Fe City) and Atalaya Mountain (Santa Fe National Forest) trails to the south. In 2012, about three miles of freshly cut trails were added to connect the northern tip of the Dale Ball system to the Winsor Trail in the national forest via La Piedra Trail.
Much of the switchbacking Dale Ball system offers sweeping city views as well as panoramas of the Jemez, Sandia, and, at the highest points, Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There are 44 trail junctions, many with full signage, to help guide travelers along their way.
The heavily used northern section, accessed from the Sierra del Norte trailhead on the west side of Hyde Park Road, comprises a series of short, fairly level circuits that wind through pinon and juniper trees. The central section, which is accessed just two miles from the Plaza off Upper Canyon Road at the Cerro Gordo trailhead, has longer stretches of trail between junctions and some challenging terrain that passes through arroyos and climbs up moderate peaks. Ponderosa pines are found along the southern trails, which are accessed from the Dorothy Stewart trailhead near St John’s College. This section includes steep climbs and is considered the most difficult part of the trail system.
“Hard-core runners and hikers who want a more challenging climbing experience [prefer] the south trails, but you don’t find many mountain bikers there because it’s just too steep,” says Tim Rogers, trails program manager for the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, which works in conjunction with city and county personnel to maintain the trails. Mountain bikes and dogs on leash are welcome throughout the system, except on the Nature Conservancy Preserve Trail, which is near the Santa Fe River and designated for hikers only.
“I walk on the Dale Ball Trails for the exercise,” says Santa Fean Margaret Alexander, who, as a member of the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe, has helped to maintain the Dale Ball system. “The terrain is always beautiful, much more lovely than the inside of a gym or any indoor space, and that aesthetic experience is important to me.”
Thank you for reading articles in The Vault: The Best of Past Issues. The Santa Fean magazine will not be updating these articles with current information, as these articles are posted as originally published.