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.
The views of the Sandias from anywhere on campus or in town are always amazing. I recommend going outside and looking up at them right now. Whether snow dusts the tops and outlines the trees and rock faces, or if they are all shrouded in a cloud, the mountains are always a spectacle.
For the snow junkies, the Sandias don’t have as much to offer as the rest of New Mexico. The bunny hills at Sandia Peak might not compare to the world-class Taos runs, but if you are not picky and want to go skiing, it certainly is a place you can do so. For those who are less dogmatic about winter fun, there are plenty of little hills off the side of the road to sled down as well.
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.
La Luz is daunting, but hikers with any level of experience can complete it with the right amount of perseverance. The weather can be a hazard, but the trail is well marked and popular. Climbing it is a whole-day experience and should be considered an accomplishment by anyone who does it.
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 not completed in entirety but 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.
For those who enjoy scrambling more than climbing, finding The Eye in the foothills should be a goal. As the hills around Copper Avenue grow to mountains, a series of small paths leads to some rock paintings left by some intrepid and outdoorsy graffiti artist. There are well-defined trails nearby, but to get to the paintings themselves you should be prepared for steep climbs over hills and sometimes rocks.
This is not a long trip, but it is not well marked and can be difficult to find. Even if you cannot find The Eye itself, wandering around in the foothills is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Embudito Trail begins above Montaño Boulevard and goes to the often underappreciated South Sandia Peak. While not as tall as its more well-known brother, the South Peak still has unparalleled views of the city and high-altitude meadows to romp through.
Embudito is six miles long and is similarly steep to La Luz but much less popular. I highly recommend this trail not only for the views but because beyond the first mile or so, there are rarely other hikers.
Not technically in the Sandias — but still only an hour from the city — Fourth of July Canyon has plant life that makes it uniquely beautiful. This canyon in the Manzano Mountains hosts the only strand of maple trees for hundreds of miles. In the fall, these trees turn the yellows and oranges you would expect of New England, not Torrance County, New Mexico. Only three miles long, this is a short and not particularly steep hike. Gorgeous in the fall, this trail is worth visiting any time of year as it shows off an under-visited part of the state.
Colin Peña is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @penyacolin