KRYSTYNA GONZALEZ SEES HIKING as a form of therapy. A social worker, photographer, and Women Who Explore ambassador, she started hiking regularly in college, an activity that easily grew out of her affinity for the outdoors. “Hiking is my big coping skill,” says Gonzalez, a Las Cruces resident. “When I am hiking, I am not thinking about what is stressful in my life anymore.”

These days she tackles trails at least once a week, leads group treks through the Organ Mountains and the Gila Wilderness, and has summited the Organ Needle (among New Mexico’s most challenging hikes) 16 times. “There’s a lot of physical, mental, and emotional aspects to that hike,” she says. “It tests your limits.”

But it’s not just about scaling peaks. Gonzalez feels a connection with rocky brown terrain, prickly cacti, and colorful wildflowers. She loves discovering hidden gems, such as natural archways, and often adventures solo, finding a sense of confidence in her ability. “I think to myself, How cool is that, that I am doing this by myself?

In April 2021 she led a small group on a four-mile hike up the Organ Needle. After the grueling, 4,490-foot ascent, they camped at the crest, overlooking the city lights. The forecast predicted rain, but they woke up to fresh snow and big fluffy clouds, almost within reach. “It was such an incredible experience,” Gonzalez says. “The other hikers still message me to say they think about it.”

Part of what Gonzalez enjoys about hiking—in addition to showing it off to her thousands of followers on Instagram (@justakrys)—is her capacity to inspire other women. “I am here to say it’s possible,” Gonzalez says. “One just needs to become informed.”

Get outside and hike a new trail this summer. Photograph courtesy of Krystyna Gonzalez.

Tips for Solo Hikers

Go easy. “Start with a small hike, nothing too difficult or overwhelming,” says Krystyna Gonzalez. “Try a trail around people, which gives you a sense of security, or a familiar trail.”

Be prepared. “I always carry water and my first-aid kit,” she says. Hiking shoes are a must in the rough terrain near Las Cruces, and a light jacket is always smart. “You never know.”

Stay safe. Cell service can be spotty or nonexistent, so invest in a GPS device. “I can keep in contact with my loved ones and it has an SOS button, just in case I ever need it.”

Take a hike

Here are three of Krystyna Gonzalez’s favorite trails.

Lightfeather Hot Springs (Easy): The 1.9-mile out-and-back trail, near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Visitor Center, makes a good family hike and includes a few river crossings (bring your water shoes) before arriving at the springs, which are near the Gila River.

Achenbach Canyon Trail (Moderate): Near Las Cruces, and more challenging and less frequented than the nearby Dripping Springs Trail, this 5.5-mile loop through meadows ends at stunning cliffs. Look for the cave on the return loop as a bonus.

Williams Lake Trail (Moderate): To avoid snow, it’s best to tackle this 4.2-mile out-and-back trek, near Taos Ski Valley, in the warmer months. The sensational lake views are worth the 1,000-foot elevation gain, and the summit makes for a great place to camp—just make sure your site is at least 300 feet from the water.