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FATMAP difficulty grade
Atalaya Mountain provides a great run of moderate strenuousness starting from the foothills close to the town of Santa Fe.
The route uses the St Johns Trail nd Atalaya Trail to gain the summit, followed by the Dale Ball Trails system to return, providing a wonderful scenic loop with a different way to descend.
You can, of course, choose to return via the same route once you reach the top for a slightly shorter, and in my opinion, less interesting route.
You can also do the route in either direction, but following the route mapped provides more shade during the more challenging part of the run: the ascent.
St John's and Atalaya trails can be busy on weekends and during holidays due to their close proximity to town and the popularity of these trails.
On the other hand, the return trail is much less popular.
Initially, the trail is easy going as you wind up close to and across the dry stream bed (very occasionally it will have water after the winter snow melts).
Once you reach the forest, the going gets steeper and more strenuous.
There is a signed option to take a less strenuous detour should you wish to go a little bit further.
The steepness continues until just before the summit where the path flattens a little and gets easier. The summit is an ideal place to stop for a break and take in the views whilst enjoying a refreshment. The next trail returns via the opposite side of the mountain and although initially a bit steep, it is generally a more gentle gradient.
Shortly after starting your descent, you will have the option for a short detour to reach the summit of Picacho Peak.
Just return back to the trail afterward. The trail throughout this route is fairly smooth and dusty with only small boulders to step over every now and then.
Be mindful that snow will be present in the winter months and snowshoes or microspikes are essential when snow is present; the ascent is very steep at times and will almost certainly be slippy and/or icy.