About 30 miles northeast of Santa Fe (via US 84/285 to NM 503) 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, picnickers, campers, and boat lovers alike.
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 a filigree of 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.
There are two campgrounds, each with picnic shelters, grills, and restrooms. Drinking water is available April through October at the North Lake Campground only.