Between the West Mesa and the East Mountains, Albuquerque offers a huge range of day hikes. The easiest option is the bosque (the wooded area along the Rio Grande), where level paths lead through groves of cottonwoods, willows, and olive trees; the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, at the end of Candelaria, is the best starting point for any walk around the area.
Anyone looking for some elevation gain will want to head to the Sandias; note that camping is forbidden in the borders of the wilderness area, though, so there’s really no place for backpacking.
On the city side, the foothills are ideal in the winter but a little hot in the summertime—the best access is at Elena Gallegos Open Space (7 a.m.–9 p.m. Apr.–Oct., 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Nov.–Mar., $1 weekdays, $2 weekends), east of Tramway Boulevard and north of Academy, at the end of Simms Park Road.
The foothills are also the starting point for a much more challenging hike: La Luz Trail, a 7.5-mile ascent to the Sandia Crest Visitor Center. The trail has a 12 percent grade at certain points, but the views are worth the effort, as is the experience of hiking through four climate zones (pack lots of layers) as you climb 3,200 vertical feet. The trail is perhaps the best known in the Sandias, so it’s well worn; the only potentially confusing part is after about two miles, where the trail crosses a streambed and makes a sharp turn south.
Near the top, you can take a spur that leads north to the Sandia Crest observation point or continue on the main trail south to the ski area and the Sandia Peak Tramway, which you can take back down the mountain.
Ideally you’d have someone pick you up at the bottom end of the tram, because the 2.5-mile trail along the foothills from the tram back to the trailhead is dusty and lacking in shade. (You might be tempted to take the tram up and hike down, but the steep descent can be deadly to toes and knees.)
La Luz trailhead is at Juan Tabo Picnic Ground ($3 parking), at the far north end of Tramway Boulevard just before the road turns west.
If you want to enjoy the views without quite so much effort, you can drive up the east face of the mountain (I-40 to Highway 14) via scenic byway Highway 536, a.k.a. the Crest Road, and park at the Sandia Crest Visitor Center at the top ($3 day-use fee). From there, an easy loop of a little more than two miles runs south along the Crest Spur Trail, which dips below the ridgeline to connect to La Luz, which in turn goes on to the tram terminal. Then you can hike back to your car via the Crest Trail.
This is the single-most-traveled stretch on Sandia Peak; if you want to avoid the crowds, start on some of the trails lower down the mountain—Tree Spring Trail, in particular, five miles up the mountain, heads up to the crest and is also a convenient link to other trails.
See www.sandiahiking.com for more details on this and other trails, plus printable maps of the more than 180 miles of hiking available in the mountains.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition