Hiking Atalaya Mountain
The Atalaya Trail is a short but steep trail to the summit of Atalaya Mountain and offers some of of the best views Santa Fe, the Jemez Mountains, and the Galisteo Basin. Average hikes times range from three to four hours depending on if you start at the lower trailhead (2.5 miles to the summit) or the upper trailhead (2 miles to the summit).
The Lower Trailhead
The base of Atalaya is 2.5 miles from downtown Santa Fe. The most direct route is to take Alameda east from Paseo de Peralta. Alameda will eventually veer right and turn into Camino Cabra. Keep driving. At the top of the hill, turn left on Camino Cruz Blanca. You will then see a right turn into the St. John's College campus and a sign that says "Atalaya Trailhead". There is a parking lot on the left. This is the lower parking lot. And this is not really the Atalaya Trailhead. It is the St. John's Trailhead. The trail will follow an arroyo for awhile and then steeply climb up to the Wilderness Gate Road. Cross the road and hike up the stairs. Follow the trail a little farther and the trail will intersect the Atalaya Trail.
The Upper Trailhead
If you want to start at the Atalaya Trailhead, do not park at St. John's. Instead, continue up Camino Cruz Blanca for another half mile until it veers right. At that point, the road turns into Wilderness Gate. You will see an entrance into the Wilderness Gate subdivision. This is a private road. Do not drive in. You will see a small parking lot on the left with a Forest Service kiosk. Park here. WARNING: This parking lot only has room for about eight cars and is usually full after 8:00 AM. You might have to wait for a spot or drive back down to the lower trailhead. The trailhead is not straightforward. It is located SE of the parking lot. Walk along private road into the Wilderness Gate subdivision or along the path east of the road. After a few yards you will see a gate on your left. This is the gate to the Ponderosa Ridge subdivision. Walk toward to gate and you will see that you can walk around it on the left. From here, walk up the private road until you see some wooden steps. Walk up the steps and you will see a fence line and an entrance point. This is the Atalaya Trailhead and the beginning of the Santa Fe National Forest.
From here, follow the trail through the pinons. You will come to a junction leading to the Dale Ball Trails. Go right. The Atalaya Trail will continue up a couple switchbacks and then level out. Here is where the St. John's Trail connects to the Atalaya Trail.
From the St. John's Trail and Atalaya Trail Junction
At the junction, if you face due east and look up, you will see a mass of rocks that are just below the summit. Continue along the trail as it follows the ridgeline heading toward the summit. It will be gentle for awhile, but as the forest transitions from pinon to ponderosa, the terrain gets steeper. You will come to another junction that allows you to choose a shorter but steeper route or a longer less steep route. These two routes will converge at the top of this steep section. The trail continues up the ridge to another steep section. At the top of this, you begin the switchbacks. There are five in total. The trees part along the trail in several places to give you great views to the south and east. At the top of the last switchback, you will reach a saddle. Turn left (north) and follow the remaining trail to the summit. The summit is surrounded by trees and does not offer a panoramic view. Instead, backtrack a few yards and you will see a rock outcropping on your right. This is the mass of rocks you saw from below and this is where the best view is. Enjoy. Relax. Take in the view.