Middle Fork #24 + Sugar Nymphs = perfect day

Helena Mieras of Questa, Mary Miller of Llano Quemado and Yuki Goins of Red River enjoy a hike on Middle Fork #24 along Rio Santa Barbara. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

It was the day after my birthday (in June) and I had a plan: I wanted to introduce my niece Helena and sister Mary to a gorgeous trail outside Peñasco, New Mexico — and I wanted to get lunch (and cake) at Sugar Nymphs Bistro. Our time was limited as Helena had to get to work at 4 but, fortunately, Middle Fork #24 Trail from the Santa Barbara Campground does not require a destination to be enjoyed. The trail itself is enough.

The Carson National Forest website notes Middle Fork Trail 24 gets “heavy” usage and is “moderately difficult”. On the day we were there (Saturday, June 10) the parking lot outside the Santa Barbara Campground had several vehicles and horse trailers. I imagine it is packed on summer weekends.
  
The trail heads 12 miles up the center of the Santa Barbara drainage to the Continental Divide and Pecos Falls (we didn’t go that far). A short distance up the trail rock cliffs form a wall on either side. On the day we were there, it was lush and green with wildflowers everywhere and the Rio Santa Barbara was full and loud from spring runoff. We hiked just long enough to get back for a late lunch at Sugar Nymphs. 

Professional pastry chef Ki Holste and former San Francisco chef Kai Harper assure that the food is excellent. If we expected the place to be empty by mid-afternoon, well, let’s just say we were mistaken. Their website touts “rustic food, fresh ingredients” with house-made desserts, bread and pizza. Yep. It did not disappoint. We even bought cake to take home to family members who could not come along. Check sugarnymphs.com for operating hours, menus, etc., or call 575-587-0311.

 

Directions to the Middle Fork #24 Trail: From the Taos Visitor Center head south on Paseo Del Pueblo Sur then turn left onto NM-518. After 15.8 miles turn right onto NM-75 W. Drive another 5.4 miles to Peñasco to the sharp right curve and the junction of Highway 73. Turn left on NM 73 and drive 1.5 miles. Just before NM 73 veers right to cross over the Rio Santa Barbara, turn left onto Forest Road 116. This road is 6 miles long and dead ends in Santa Barbara Campground, where parking, outhouses and drinking water are available. The trailhead is at the north end of the campground loop.

Sugar Nymphs Bistro is in Peñasco. When you get back out to NM-75, turn left and drive about .2 mile. The restaurant is on the right.

(Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Helena gets ready to test a LifeStraw in the Rio Santa Barbara. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Middle Fork #24 is a dog friendly trail. Just make sure you bring a leash to avoid unexpected encounters. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Mountain arnica in bloom. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
This group was in it for the long haul. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
(Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
(Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Helena contemplates the beauty of her surroundings. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
(Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Mary takes a short rest while Helena gets a close-up of flowers in the background. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Helena checks out the result. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
(Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
(Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
In june the river often rain right down the trail. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
(Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
sign seen a little way up the trail. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
We encountered an outdoor group from Albuquerque on the trail. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Helena and Yuki come back up to check on the slowpoke. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

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