Hyde Park Circle Trail

View east from the trail, showing winter-damaged trees
A trail with excellent views of the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, Sandia, San Pedro, and Ortiz mountains (i.e., views in most all directions). This trail gains 855 ft (261 m) in the first 0.94 mi (1.5km). However, the climb is worth it for the views.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: New Mexico State Parks; Hyde Memorial
Region: North-central; Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Near Santa Fe.
Elevation:
start: 8398ft; 2560m end: 8398ft; 2560m
min: 8398ft; 2560m max: 9399ft; 2865m
elevation gain/loss: 1000ft; 305m.
Most of the elevation gain is at the very beginning of the trail.
Length: 3.91mi; 6.29km. The actual length will vary depending on the route you take through the campground.
Trail:
surface: mixed
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy except in part of the campground.
obstacles: No obstacles, but it is steep in some places.
The trail is narrow and rocky in places.
Fee: $5.00.
Season: All year. This hike can be quite hot with the elevation gain. Be sure to take sufficient water.

Winter is hikable only if we are in a drought. Snow damage to the trees on the ridge shows winter may require snowshoes or skis. Check with the park before trying this trail in winter.

Dogs: Yes.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: This hike is near both the Hyde Memorial State Park and the Black Canyon campgrounds. If you stay at Black Canyon, a trail crosses the meadow from the far end of the Black Canyon trailhead parking (near the highway).
Trailhead facilities: flush toilet(s). At visitor center only. picnic area, trash can(s), vault toilet(s). Throughout the campground. water.
Hike attractions: exercise, scenery, wildflowers, wildlife.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2002-08-11 2004-08-28
Time it took us: 3:00. 3:00.
Usage (people/hour): 2.67. Most of the people are on the trail behind the campground. I only saw two people on the ridge portion of the trail. 0.50. I saw nobody on the ridge.

I could hear people in the park as well as the traffic on the road for much of the hike. The park gets heavy use due to its proximity to Santa Fe.

Cleanliness: 9. 9.

Waypoints:

Waypoint Type Description
HMPLPTrailheadHyde Memorial State Park visitor center and trailhead for the loop trail
HPLP2Trail junctionHyde Park Circle Trail crossing the campground road

Maps:

Geohack online map list

Paper maps:

Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N Arizona Strip Interpretive Association (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
McClure Reservoir USGS 1976 1:24000 Y from sar.lanl.gov (free)
Pecos Wilderness, Santa Fe and Carson National Forests US Forest Service 2004 1:54000 Y From the National Forest Store (purchase)
Santa Fe BLM 1996 1:100000 Y Public Lands Information Center (purchase)
Santa Fe USGS 1954 1:250000 Y from sar.lanl.gov (free)
Santa Fe National Forest US Forest Service 2004 1:126720 N From the National Forest Store (purchase) East half
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

From the Santa Fe plaza, head north on Washington Ave. Just past the pink Scottish Rite Temple (pictured here), turn right on Artist road; the sign says that Hyde State Park and the Santa Fe Ski Basin are this way.
Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe
No short text
Drive seven miles to the Hyde Park Visitor's Center. Park in the visitor center parking lot and pay the park day use fee. The trailhead (shown here) is across the road from the visitor center.

About the hike:

View south about 20 minutes into the hike
You start by crossing a bridge over the Little Tesuque Creek. You can barely see it in the trailhead photo above. While this trail's elevation is not large compared to many hikes we have done, the elevation gain happens in a much shorter distance. You get to start climbing as soon as you cross the creek, and you will be climbing almost non-stop for the first third of the hike. The initial part of the hike is in and out of shade, and as a result, the sun can be hot. Make sure that you take enough water on this hike.

Here is an early view south, with some of the trail in it.

As you are climbing, the trail at times has some level parts. Enjoy these---they are a welcome respite.

As you climb, you can see Black Canyon, where the campground is, however, you cannot see the campground itself. As you continue to climb, take regular stops to view the scenery; the views on this hike are great, and at one time or another, you get views off in all directions.

This view is to the SSE.

View SSE
View south about 20 minutes into the hike

When you have been hiking around 40 minutes or so, you reach a ridge line where you may get more breeze. I certainly appreciated the cooling air.

The trail is on granite and decomposed granite. Granite is made of feldspar, quartz, and mica. Sometimes you will see a bunch of only one of these minerals, or rocks which a preponderance of one. For example the rock in the picture has a lot of mica in it.

Another reason to look for the micaceous rocks is that they indicate that you are nearing the top.

When we first hiked this trail, New Mexico had been in a serious drought for a while. As a result, there were few wildflowers. However, this Scarlet Gilia (also known as a Scarlet Skyrocket) was making a go at it.
Scarlet Gilia
View WNW

When you start getting views off to the southwest (Santa Fe, the San Pedro Mountains, the Sandia Mountains) and west (Jemez mountains), you can be happy for many reasons. One is for the views. Another is because you are nearly at the top of the hike.

This view is to the WNW, and you can see the Jemez in the distance.

When you start to see trees down all around you from winter damage, you have reached the end of the big climb. Take a break, smell the forest, and drink some water.
Rock with lots of mica in it
granite-colored horned lizard
I shared the trail with this granite-colored horned lizard. He or she was gracious enough to allow me to take this photo.

Enjoy the views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

When the trail heads down, this is not really the beginning of the trek down.

View ESE from the picnic tables
The first picnic table
Right after a short climb, you reach a pair of picnic tables. These always strike me as odd, because normally I expect tables to be near a road. I wonder how they got up here. They make a nice rest before heading downhill.

From the picnic tables, the trail used to have two branches. You could go past the picnic tables, or start down here. If you have older guidebooks, they will mention this. I took this older branch the first time.

The park has changed the trail; you should take the trail that goes down. They indicate it with tree trunks on either side of the trail.

When I took this photo, I was standing near the second picnic table.

trail down, between ponderosa trunks
Oregon grape

The forest is different on the way down. You are walking through more shade.

The second time we hiked this trail, the Oregon Grape were getting ripe. The turning leaves and ripening berries indicated that autumn was on its way.

The trail heads down, steeply at times (hiking poles may be useful). You also go around several switchbacks (such as this one). Please do not cut across the area between the switchbacks; doing so is even steeper, and it can cause erosion problems on the trail.
switchback on the trail
rock-edged trail
When you get near the bottom of the hill, you will reach a junction. This is the Girl Scout Joe M. Clark memorial nature trail. The two paths will both take you to the trailhead for the nature trail. I took the lower branch. You will know you are on this trail when the trail is rock-edged.
When you reach the trailhead for the nature trail, you have several options. You could walk along the highway back to the trailhead. However, a better choice is to cross the highway, and go uphill just past the ice skating pond. You will find this bridge. Cross it, and on the other side, go up and to the left.
small bridge
HPLP2

When the trail gets to the gravel road, you should see this trailhead across the road (GPS: HPLP2. This trail is one of several that runs behind the campgrounds. All should eventually take you to the visitor center.

A ranger warned me that this trail goes through a couple of campsites. If you continue in the direction you were heading, you will find the trail picks up again. This was good advice, as I would have been quite confused had he not mentioned it. You go right through campsites 17 and 15. The trail takes up again on the other side of the road, on the right side of site 15.

Also, one time I obviously made a wrong turn and the trail I was on died out. I headed downhill and found the real trail again.

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Sat Jul 2 18:39:47 2005 Duane Costa from Albuquerque, NM said:
Hiked on Saturday, July 2, 2005, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Very pleasant, scenic hike on a well-maintained trail. The picnic tables at the 9400' overlook are a pleasant surprise.

Finding the return trail across the road east of the campground can be a bit confusing. (The park service needs to improve the signage here.) Make sure you take a trail map with you from the vistors center (or print out the on-line version on this web site) -- it'll help you locate the return trail.

If you have time, take a side trip on the cut-off trail to the waterfall east of the campground. It's only ten minutes to the waterfall and well worth it.

On Sat Sep 30 16:13:34 2006 Anonymous from Dallas Texas said:
We hiked the east side today, 9-30-2006. What a beautiful place. We had a limited amount of time so we started at the visitors center. The trail was confusing and not well marked at all. We had to ask directions from a park service crew. We found the waterfall, it was beautiful. It was not hard but was climbing most of the way. We only did the east side trails so we plan to return to follow the west side again soon. The seasonal color change was great.

On Tue Oct 20 17:57:47 2009 Twinville Trekkers from Tijeras, NM said:
We hiked the west side of this trail yesterday. It's only been 8 months since I had knee surgery for a torn ACL, so I think I was most surprised at the continual climbing and steepness of this trail. The brief flat portions were such a tease, making us think we were finally at the top of the mountain and we were done climbing up. We'd look around us and see the tops of other mountains either below us or at the same level and were amazed that we had climbed so high. It was also very satisfying and exhilarating to complete this trail. The views were gorgeous! The Fall breezes and warm sunshine made this the perfect time to hike this trail.

All that being said, the hike down was super fast and steep covering a lot of ground via frequent switchbacks covered in slippery gravel. I would never have even attempted this part without my trekking poles, and even then, I scooted down on my bottom on one particularly steep section.

We didn't make to the eastern side of the trail as it was already getting dark, but we'll be back again to complete it soon.

On Mon Jun 14 07:28:55 2010 Tracie from Palmetto, Florida said:
Six of us - "girls" who are turning 50 this year hiked the trail - only the initial side. We are all in good shape, but not used to the altitude. So we had to stop often to catch our breath. It took us less than 2 hours. The views were amazing, and we thoroughly enjoyed the climb. That was two days ago, and my quads are still sore! I would do it again regardless.

Interestingly, when we walked back up the road to our car instead of doing the other side of the trail, a tree had fallen on the road due to the high winds. Cars were stopped and we helped some scouts and the ranger move the debris.

On Wed Jul 21 13:43:12 2010 Twinville Trekkers from Tijeras, NM said:
We finally made it back up to complete this hike last week and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was much hotter than it was when we hiked the west side of this trail last October, but much of the trail is shaded, so it was better than hiking a mesa trail at a lower elevation.

We wanted to start this trail where we left off, at the little bridge on the east side of the road that crosses the creek beside Hyde Park Road. So we had to park in the Hyde Park Campground's playground parking lot and walk through the campground to get to the trailhead.

This was such a relaxing hike compared to the beautiful, yet strenuous, west side of the Circle Trail. Much of the trail was flat with only short sections of climbing with elevation change. There was a section of trail that was a little confusing, a little while after passing the Waterfall Trail sign, but we just looked at the map and used our compass, knowing the direction we wanted to keep heading for. Even though we could see the campsites below us, it was nice that the trail was elevated, to not only give them some privacy, but to allow us to enjoy our nature experience, too.

When we completed the trail, and got down to the Hyde Park Welcome Center and Lodge we realized we'd have to walk alongside the road and then back up through the campground to return to our car. We could have cut through the Maintenance Building's parking lot, but the gates were closed and we didn't want to get into trouble.Note: Be careful when walking alongside Hyde Park Rd. People often drive like speed demons. Not sure why. This is a road to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

On Sat Aug 21 16:00:39 2010 Scott and Shuangying from Lubbock, TX said:
An excellent hike that is a must for anyone near the Santa Fe area. I did this hike with my girlfriend while we were camping near the Pecos Wildnerness north of Pecos, NM. The views are simply amazing. I thought they were breathtaking enough to use the peak of the trail as my proposal site (she said yes!). The hike up was exhausting (Id consider myself an average hiker) but my girlfriend made it and she isnt the best hiker in the world. Just take frequent stops, especially at the benches, they have awesome views. Make sure to walk around the "peak" to get all the views, some will suddenly appear when you get around a couple of trees, etc.

Personally, I prefer to go up AND back on the west side of the trail and skip making the whole loop. I just dont see the point of walking along the highway for 30 minutes when the view coming up was so amazing!

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