If you plan on getting around Albuquerque, New Mexico, you’d better have a set of wheels beneath your feet – Albuquerque is a sprawling land of shopping plazas, giant box stores, highway overpasses, arroyos and parking lots. The Duke City is a favorite of ours, but visiting never entails walking…anywhere. The hiking trails near Albuquerque save the day for us every time.
Before long we are looking for open space to get away from all the driving. The area around the city is stunning and the omnipresent sight of the Sandia Mountains to the east mean you will want to know where to go to stretch your legs. If you are looking for hiking trails and open space near Albuquerque, this post is for you.
It’s A (Concrete) Jungle Out There
Albuquerque is an endless series of traffic lights and busy intersections, yet it is still easy to find open space for a hike. This post features some of our favorite, unique hiking trails near Albuquerque. From dodging unexploded ordnance (sort of) to pleasant strolls in the foothills or even hiking through the wreckage of a doomed commercial airline flight (not that one, Breaking Bad fans!), these 4 hiking trails in and around Albuquerque will intrigue you and keep you moving. Don’t forget to soak those tired limbs in some of our favorite New Mexico hot springs.
Know Before You Go
I have chosen 4 trails for hiking in and around Albuquerque offering a variety of terrain, features, views and difficulty levels. To get the most out of these hikes (and others) I strongly recommend the AllTrails app for your phone, which is free. This app allows you to use the GPS on your phone for over 50,000 trails worldwide, even if you are offline. Getting lost on the trail is a thing of the past! Simply save any featured trail within the app and use your GPS beacon to guide you as you hike – no Wi-Fi needed!
Know the weather before you attempt any hike, anytime and anywhere; thunderstorms here materialize suddenly and with severity. If you go hiking in and around Albuquerque in summer months hit the trail early to avoid hiking in the height of the heat! Be confident you will have favorable weather in all seasons! Of course, bring plenty of water and protection from the sun – sunscreen, a hat and even something to cover the back of your neck.
Also, be aware of the elevation of Albuquerque and the surrounding area. If you are visiting from another part of the planet with lower elevation, acclimatize first! Take it easy for a few days if you are not accustomed to elevations over 5,000 ft.
Other safety considerations – seasonal variances, mixed usage from horses and mountain bikes – will be noted for each trail. I rate each hike as easy, moderate or difficult.
Hiking Trails Near Albuquerque:
Tree Spring Trail
Basics: This is an easy out and back trail. Distance: 3.7 mi. Elevation gain: 944 ft. Allow: 2 to 3 hrs.
Features: The scenic, lofty perch at the end of Tree Spring trail offers a great place for a picnic and to contemplate the significance of this mountain. This trail ascends the east side of Sandia Mountain and is made up of a rock layer that is, believe it or not, 1,400,000,000 (1 billion, 400 million) years younger than the rock composition of the west side of the mountain, which is comfortably settling into year 1,700,000,000 (1 billion, 700 million) with dignified panache.
The rocks beneath your feet on Tree Spring Trail are a bit older than 300,000,000 (300 million) years and at the summit of Tree Spring Trail you can spot both the younger and older rocks that make up this somewhat ancient pile. Those with a keen eye are encouraged to spot marine fossils in the rocks on the way up Tree Spring Trail.
Directions: From Albuquerque take Interstate 40 east to exit 175 – Tijeras/Cedar Crest. Follow left lane of off ramp – Cedar Crest/Route 14. Continue on Route 14 north about 6 mi. to Route 536 – the Sandia Crest Highway. Turn left and follow the Sandia Crest Highway about 5.5 mi. to the trail head parking lot on the left.
Considerations: The summit of Tree Spring Trail is often windy and offers no shelter from the sun – know the weather before you go. Also, this trail is non-wilderness and open to horses and mountain bikes.
Tale of the Trail
This is the least technical of the featured hiking trails near Albuquerque and is great for a picnic at the top, with vast views west as a reward for your effort. Expansive views east toward the plains beyond are visible during the ascent.
Put on your “fossil eyes” and spot the fossilized sea life left behind millions of years ago. Saying exactly where to spot them would take away from the experience; it is up to you to look for them. They are to be found on the trail itself and that is the only clue you will find here.
Tree Spring Trail gently meanders to the top, at an elevation of 9,432 feet. This trail is a great choice for those who want an easy hike through the pine forest with a stunning view waiting at the top. The geological significance here is an added bonus! Check out this amazing beginner hike in the Sandia Mountains today!
Birdhouse Ridge, West Ridge, Tunnel Canyon and Otero Canyon
Basics: This is a loop trail of moderate difficulty. Distance: 8.8 mi. Elevation gain: 1266 ft. Allow: 4 hrs.
Features: This is a series of 4 individual trails; Birdhouse Ridge, West Ridge, Tunnel Canyon and Otero Canyon, that wind through the east side of the northern foothills of the Manzano Mountains, known as the Manzanitas. Again, I rate this series of trails forming a nearly 9 mile loop as moderate due to the gradual elevation gain. The trails are all well-marked and a portion of this hike skirts the outer boundaries of land falling under control of the United States Department of Energy and a U.S. Air Force Installation, or military base. NO SNOOPING!
Location: Within the Cibola National Forest, the trail head is just off NM Route 337, 2.5 miles south of the village of Tijeras.
Directions: From Albuquerque take Interstate 40 east to exit 175 – Tijeras/Cedar Crest. Follow right lane of off ramp – Route 333/337. At the junction of Route 333 and 337 go straight on 337 for 2.5 miles to the trail head. The parking area/trail head is to the right.
Considerations: Be aware mountain bikes frequent all the trails that make up this loop – keep open your eyes and ears! Also, portions of Otero and Tunnel Canyon Trails are bisected by a wash that may be full of fast-flowing water after heavy rain – know the weather before you go. The wash will be dry all other times.
Tale of the Trail
Begin at the trail head and immediately begin a gentle ascent, via Birdhouse Ridge, up the eastern side of the Manzanitas. This hike can be shortened and made into a rather nice beginner hike – consult the map at the trail head and your AllTrails app.
Along the way enjoy great views of the eastern slope of the Sandia Mountain range and Route 337 below. Hiking the loop trail as described in this post can be done in either direction. It is presented here in a counterclockwise loop.
The trail presents a series of switchbacks before arriving at the top of the Manzanitas. Views east are numerous on the ascent. Atop is evidence of old clearing, sadly with scant views west of the Manzanitas. From here the trail levels out quickly and junctions with West Ridge Trail: take this trail right.
Stay on this trail until you reach the boundary marked by The United States Department of Energy, complete with a sign warning outdoor enthusiasts of the potential danger of unmarked, unexploded ordnance. This is where you (very) promptly turn left and begin a slow descent to Otero Canyon.
Go left at the junction with Otero Canyon, where the trail follows and at times crosses a mostly dry stream bed. Be aware of mountain bikes on this flat, wide section of trail.
From Otero Canyon connect to Tunnel Canyon trail and begin an ascent back to the junction of West Ridge Trail. Stay on Tunnel Canyon Trail and begin a final descent to the parking lot/trail head.
Bear Canyon to Albert G. Simms City Park
Basics: This is an easy loop trail and a great beginner hike in the foothills of Albuquerque. It can be shortened or expanded with the use of a map from Elena Gallegos Picnic Area or the AllTrails app. Distance: 7 mi. Elevation gain: 754 ft. Allow: 2.5 – 3 hrs.
Features: This pleasant, easy stroll is a series of numbered hiking trails in the Albuquerque foothills. This loop is U.S. Forest Service, non-wilderness land. These trails provide great views of the western slope of the Sandia Mountains as well as the Rio Grande valley, Petroglyph National Monument and Mt. Taylor in the distance.
Location: Within the Cibola National Forest , this Albuquerque foothills trail is located just east of Tramway Blvd. in Albuquerque.
Directions: From Tramway Blvd. (Route 556) take Spain Road east to High Desert Place, then right on High Desert Place to the Michael Emery trail head. The parking lot and trail head is on the left.
Considerations: Due to its proximity to the city these Albuquerque foothills trails get quite busy; consider coming here mid-week. Mountain bikers frequently use the foothills trails – keep open your eyes and ears! Many washes bisect these trails and may be active immediately after heavy rain – know the weather before you go. The washes will be dry all other times.
Tale of the Trail
I strongly suggest an app like AllTrails for the series of paths that make up this loop hike in the Albuquerque foothills. Old fashioned paper maps can be found at the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area.
Using the AllTrails app for the Bear Canyon Trail to Albert G. Simms City Park OR an official map only, follow trails 365, 305, 305 A, 341, and 230 A. Connect back to trail 365 which will bring you to the start of the hike. Again, use a map to follow this route or allow the AllTrails app to guide along the way.
With a map or the AllTrails app you can tailor this hike to make it longer or shorter than the 7 miles quoted here. The versatility of this route and the slight elevation gain make this one of the best all-around beginner hiking trails near Albuquerque. The views of the foothills, mountains and the city make for a very pleasant hike.
Domingo Baca Trail #230
Basics: This is a difficult out and back trail. Distance: 7.7 mi. Elevation gain: 3,569 ft. Allow: 7 hrs.
Features: This difficult hike ends near Sandia Crest, at an elevation of 10,138 feet. The Sandia Peak Tramway passes directly above Domingo Baca trail at the precise spot where TWA flight 260 crashed into the side of Sandia Mountain in 1955. The trail passes through the debris field of the doomed airplane, permitting you to explore the wreckage. This makes for one of the most unique hiking trails near Albuquerque.
Directions: From Tramway Blvd. (Route 556) take Simms Park Road east to Elena Gallegos Picnic Area.
Considerations: This is a very difficult hike due to the elevation gain and the altitude! A small portion of this trail is open to mountain bikes at the beginning of the hike. Quickly, this trail enters wilderness area, where bikes are not permitted. The trail crosses assorted washes along the way that will be flowing after heavy rains. You pass through the debris field of a doomed TWA aircraft, where all 16 souls aboard died. Treat this area with respect!
Tale of the Trail
The start of Domingo Baca trail is a pleasant enough ramble through the scrub of the Albuquerque foothills. This does not quite prepare you for the climb ahead. Soon, the trail slips undercover of pine trees and begins scrambling over giant boulders on the way.
After much climbing the trail reaches a point where the Sandia Peak Tramway passes directly above. It is here where you are likely to spot the first piece of debris from TWA Flight 260 – the landing gear. Take a moment to read the memorial to the victims and survey the the final resting place of this TWA plane.
Many people make it as far as the crash site and turn back, skipping the steepest part of the climb which lies just beyond. The end of the trail is about another hour away. Again, this is a very steep trail and should ONLY be attempted if you are certain of your capabilities and the weather.
There are many more hiking trails near Albuquerque to explore of all different skill levels. A good app and a map will help you choose a hiking trails near Albuquerque just for you. Enjoy The Duke City and appreciate the amazing outdoor opportunities waiting for you here
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