Sandia Wilderness, Albuquerque NM

A 20 mile loop in the wilderness overlooking Albuquerque

The hike: Winter in the Rockies but no skis or snowshoes? Try some of the 200 miles of trails in the Sandia Mountains that, except after the occasional snow storm, are hikable most of the winter. Situated east of Albuqueque, the Sandias are a 20 mile long eastward tilting block of sedimentary rocks (sandstone and lime stones of the Sandia and Madera formations) resting on craggy (Sandia) granite. This 20.1 mile loop in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness Area of the Cibola National Forest begins at the Canyon Estates trailhead with easy access to Interstate 40.

Don’t let the suburban trail head fool you because it is all wilderness once you leave your vehicle. The first 1.5 miles starts on the South Crest Trail at about 6500 and climbs 900 feet. It begins in the pinions, junipers, prickly pear and cholla cactus of the Upper Sonoran Desert and ends in Ponderosa pines. About a half mile from the trailhead take a short diversion to Travertine Falls. At 0.8 miles, turn right onto the Faulty Trail. Once you top out the trail stays fairly level. Over the next 5.2 miles you’ll pass several tails heading to the top of the mountain that can be used to shorten the hike, and several creeks. There is an excellent, but dry campsite at 7.3 miles. Water is available in Cienga Canyon 0.4 miles down the trail. (I suggest bringing large collapsible water bladders because the good campsites are not necessarily near water). At 7.7 miles drop into Cienega Canyon and climb 1500 feet in 1.7 miles to the South Crest Trail.

The next six miles traverse south along the crest through meadows, Douglas firs and aspens, giving access to South Sandia Peak (9782 feet) and amazing views of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Rift Valley. For a real treat, spend the night on the crest and watch the sun go down. After the alpenglow wanes, the city turns into a radiant plaid of light. Look for South Sandia Springs (metal trough full of cold clear water) at 14.9 miles, about a half mile past where it is shown on the USGS topo. Now it is down hill 5.2 miles through 4 ecosystems and countless panoramic views to the parking lot. There is a $3.00 per day trailhead parking fee, but no permits are necessary.

Directions: From Albuquerque, take I-40 east to Tijeras. Take exit 175 and turn left (north) on NM 337. After passing under I-40, veer right and follow Arrowhead Trail 0.6 miles to the trailhead..

Info: USGS Quads are Tijeras and Sandia Crest; reach the Sandia Ranger District at (505) 281-3304. Go to for forest service trail map.



Weatherproof Topographic Maps at - Hiking Trails of the Ouachitas and Ozarks
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