Hiking the Sandias in central New Mexico

From climbing massive mountains then skiing down them up north, to desert backpacking and rock climbing down south, there are outdoor activities year-round in New Mexico. For many students at the University of New Mexico, these outdoor activities are popular, but it is not always necessary to take a three-hour drive to have a good time outside.

Exploding 5,000 feet above the Rio Grande, the Sandia Mountains sit in Albuquerque’s backyard. No Albuquerque local can find the eastern direction without looking for them, but the Sandias are often forgotten when talking about New Mexico’s natural beauty.

For hiking, the La Luz Trail is the most well known in the Sandias. A seven-mile ascent from the foothills to the top of the crest, La Luz is steep and difficult to complete. The trail begins winding in the foothills to eventually end with you climbing into an incredible rocky valley that leads to the alpine terrain right below the summit. To come down, you can follow the trail the way you came or get a one-way trip down the Sandia Tramway.

For the less experienced — or simply for those interested in an easier hike— Pino Trail is three miles shorter and much less steep, covering similar ground. Starting from Elena Gallegos Park, Pino rises along a valley covered with ponderosas, passing streams and springs to eventually connect with the Crest Trail.

The Crest Trail generally runs along the ridge of the mountains and serves as a backbone for all of the trails in the Cibola National Forest that covers the Sandias. Going for a total of 26 miles, this trail is mostly used as a connection between other trails. After finishing Pino, a hiker can decide to turn around and go down or go further along the Crest Trail to other destinations.

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