“A rugged and extremely rocky traverse.
— Peter Olson
Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This trail is a tricky, exposed ridge-top traverse from the top of the ski basin to the Winsor Trail.
Following Trail 251 north from the road, you'll climb along a high ridge through mixed conifer forest with the closed Santa Fe Watershed to your east. Enter the Pecos Wilderness, and you'll soon emerge above treeline, into a low scrubby alpine tundra environment. Follow the rock cairns uphill, being careful to stay on the well-established route; alpine tundra can be very susceptible to damage from excessive foot traffic. After a short climb you'll arrive at the summit of Deception Peak, with Nambe Lake directly below you to the north. Just across a small gap to the northeast is the summit of Lake Peak. A steep scramble to the east is necessary here to get from Deception Peak to the faint trail along the shoulder of Lake Peak, and to continue along the narrow rocky ridge that separates Lake Peak and Penitente Peak. Travel here with stock such horses or llamas is not possible. You'll again pick up the trail on this ridge, with a drop to a saddle between the peaks and another climb to the wide grassy top of Penitente Peak. The area south of this ridge is the Santa Fe Watershed providing water to the City of Santa Fe. This entire drainage area is closed to all entry and recreational use.
From Penitente Peak, follow the trail down the gentle northeast ridge by following the rock cairns, and watch for the spot where the trail again enters the timber. After a descent with several switchbacks you'll find a junction with the Winsor Trail #254. Turn left here and follow the combined Skyline and Winsor Trails to the grassy meadows of Puerto Nambe. Look for the post and sign marking the junction, where the Skyline Trail again parts company with the Winsor, and turns to the north, climbing steeply up the shoulders of Santa Fe Baldy. After several switchbacks you'll arrive at a high saddle below the summit of Santa Fe Baldy. From here one can follow the ridge to the west, where there is a well-worn route to access the peak, or continue along the Skyline Trail to Lake Katherine, which sits in a high glacial cirque.
The trail down the north side of this saddle is normally snow packed until the end of June and often into July, even when the rest of the trail is clear. This section has some very steep switchbacks, and travel with stock is not recommended. Continue on the Skyline Trail to Lake Katherine.
Trail 251, the Skyline Trail, is the longest trail in the Pecos Wilderness.