Thirty miles north of Santa Fe, NM, the snow-fed waters of the Rio del Medio and the Rio Frijoles begin a 2,000-mile journey and a 7,000-foot descent to the Gulf of Mexico. For a time they gather at Santa Cruz Lake at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Chimayo, behind the 125-foot Santa Cruz Dam.
Built in 1929 by the Santa Cruz Irrigation District, the dam is 535 feet across and 90 feet deep at the overflowing spillway. The lake covers 121 surface acres with water in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, providing recreational opportunities for anglers, boaters, picnickers, campers and hikers.
Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area is located on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Santa Cruz Irrigation District regulates water releases for agricultural use in the Santa Cruz Valley. The lake normally contains water year-round and may vary in depth as much as 30 feet.
The local terrain is comprised of rugged, rolling foothills, with wide open mesas and chiseled steep canyons. The elevation at the lake is 6,285 feet and rises to 6,600 feet at the Overlook Campground. The eastern shoreline is fringed with juniper and pinon pine, cottonwood, and mountain mahogany. The west side is dominated by a large buttress of granite.
The climate at Santa Cruz Lake is semi-arid. Rainfall generally occurs from May through October with the bulk in July and August. Wind is primarily from the northeast during the winter, and southwest during the spring, summer, and fall. Summer temperatures range from 54-92 degrees and in the winter from 5-45 degrees.
- Camping/Picnicking -- Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area currently has 1 campground available for use; the Overlook campground which is located above at the top of the escarpment on the South end of the lake (5.5 miles south on NM 503 of the North Shore & boat ramp area). The Overlook Campground provides 1 vault toilet, campsites with picnic shelters and campfire rings/grills. This campground is not accessible from the lake. The North Shore Campground at the lake near the boat ramp is currently CLOSED until further notice due to a halt in construction.
- Swimming / Wading -- Swimming is not allowed at Santa Cruz Lake due to dangerous underwater currents. Wading is allowed in knee-deep water only. Shoes must be worn to protect feet from broken glass and other sharp objects. Public nudity is not allowed in the recreation area.
- Boating -- All boats are restricted to trolling speed throughout the lake. A “No Wake, five MPH” restriction is in place for all boats using the lake. All boaters must comply with State of New Mexico and BLM regulations for boating safety, equipment, and registration. A U.S. Coastguard-approved personal floating device (PFD) must be provided for each person in the boat. All children 12 years old and younger must wear the PFD at all times while on the lake. The boat ramp area is for loading and unloading ONLY; NO parking allowed.
- Fishing -- Santa Cruz Lake is periodically stocked with rainbow trout by the NM Dept. of Game and Fish. German brown trout and other species are occasionally caught. All anglers must have a valid New Mexico fishing license and a Wildlife Habitat Improvement validation or stamp in their possession. No ice fishing is allowed due to unstable ice conditions. Daily limits, bag and possession limits are 5 fish per license holder. Children 11 years old or younger do not need a license, but must abide by these limit restrictions.
- Hiking -- The Santa Cruz Lake trail system includes 6.4 miles of trail. The trails are moderate to difficult. As of March 2016, some trail sections are washed out and impassable; including only .5 miles into the La Caja Trail from the east side/NM 503. Please turn around if/when a trail gets dangerous to travel. A downloadable trail map with current trail conditions will be posted as soon as possible. Please bring water and wear sturdy shoes for hiking. Trails include Laguna Vista, Debris Basin, La Caja, and Overlook. BEWARE OF COUGAR, BOBCAT & RATTLESNAKES which have been sighted; don’t hike alone & protect small dogs.
North Shore/boat ramp area- picnic tables & shelters with fire rings/grills and 3 vault toilets. North Shore/fishing pier area- no picnic tables or shelters, and 2 vault toilets. One campground at Overlook area (not accessible from lake) with picnic shelters, grills and 1 vault toilet. Drinking water is available at the North Shore area ONLY.
- Cultural Resources -- Sites and artifacts dating back centuries have been found within the recreation area. Please protect these valuable resources of the past. Removal or disturbance of these artifacts destroys valuable information and is a serious crime punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.
- Campfires -- Campfires are allowed in designated fire rings/grills ONLY. Campfires are allowed in grills or firepans only. Camp stoves and charcoal fires are recommended. Firewood collection is not allowed - please bring your own campfire fuel. Please do not leave your fire unattended and make sure it's completely out before you leave; don't add dirt to fire rings.
- Parking -- Please have respect for others when parking vehicles. Pay attention to parking designations. Blue areas are Handicapped Parking Only. Yellow areas are No Parking at any time. Park in designated parking spaces only; No Parking in the boat ramp area.
- ATV's, Dirt Bikes, Horses -- NOT allowed at the developed areas of the North Shore or Overlook.
- Pets -- Pets are welcome in all areas of the recreation area, but must be kept under control and on a leash at all times. Quiet hours apply to pets. Equestrian use in the campground is prohibited. Please be considerate of others and pick up after your pet.
- Fireworks & Firearms -- Discharging firearms and fireworks or any other implement capable of causing injury or damage to property is prohibited anywhere within the boundaries of the recreation area.
- Trash receptacles -- located at the North Shore & Overlook areas; please use them.
- Washing -- For public health and safety, bathing, washing clothes, or washing dishes is not allowed at water spigots. Please do not hook RVs up to water spigots.
Location / Access
Download GeoTIFF map of Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area
About 30 miles northeast of Santa Fe. From Santa Fe: take US 84/285 N to NM 503 in Pojoaque. Turn right onto NM 503 and continue on this scenic 'High Road' towards Chimayo. Pass CR 98 which turns left to Chimayo and continue on NM 503; first you will see the Overlook Campground turnoff on the left, then continue towards and past Cundiyo to Santa Cruz Lake Rd (CR 98A) which is approximately 5.5 miles past the Overlook Campground turnoff. Note: There is no Recreation Area entrance sign at Santa Cruz Lake Rd off NM 503 from the South.
From the North: Take NM 503 South from NM 76 (east of Espanola) to Santa Cruz Lake Rd; turn right.
*Please NO RV's or vehicles with trailers longer than 30' on Santa Cruz Lake Rd; tight turns on entrance road and in parking areas.
**Santa Cruz Lake Rd (98A) dead ends at the boat ramp & fishing pier areas; No through road.