This is the back side of Wheeler Peak, so the ascents are much more gradual while still yielding dramatic views. Stop in at the visitors center (101 W. River Dr., 877/754-1708, www.redriver.org, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), in the conference center next to Brandenburg Park, for area maps and trail guides.
The least strenuous hiking option is Red River’s chair lift, which runs in the summer, weekends only in May and early June and then daily from mid-June through September ($8, plus $15 for a day bicycle pass). It deposits you at the start of numerous hiking and mountain-biking trails back down the slope.
If you prefer to stick to the lowlands, the Red River Nature Trail starts in town behind the conference center and runs two miles one-way, with signs identifying plants and geological formations.
West of town, the road leads past a number of trailheads that make for a good amble. Columbine Trail, on the left (south) 5.5 miles from the town limits, starts out easy, crossing Deer Creek, but soon moves to a series of long switchbacks that lead through a large aspen grove and then above the tree line to the ridge, a total of about five miles.
If you need an incentive, wild berry bushes flourish alongside the trail in the late summer. The right side of the road, however, is a little less scenic because a molybdenum mine has stripped a good chunk of the mountain. “Molycorp: minerals for tomorrow’s technology today” boasts the company, though the future looks awfully bleak right here.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition