“Take a hike!”
Hearing that, you might think it’s an insult. But in Albuquerque, it’s usually an invitation.
Accept the challenge. Pick a trail.
Enjoying an adventure on Albuquerque trails motivates both residents and visitors. And, if you’re among those who like a challenge, there are lots of trails to choose from to match your time, your ability, and your endurance.
There are urban trails and wilderness trails. There are trails that challenge your skills in the mountains and others that test your knowledge of history and nature.
Urban trails let you think you’re out in nature
Urban trails are defined as those within the city limits. Giving the impression they are in the wild, they let you get out into nature without having to travel far. They are either paved or improved for easy walking. They accommodate hikers — including those in wheelchairs — joggers, cyclists, equestrians, and families. Children get a kick out of hiking as much as adults. The trail just has to match their endurance. Even your dog — on a leash — can enjoy it. (Clean up after your pet. It’s the law.)
Albuquerque’s premier multi-use trail, the Paseo del Bosque, runs 16 miles from the north to the south edges of the metro area through the Rio Grande’s cottonwood bosque. Along the way, you can stop and enjoy the Rio Grande Valley State Park, the Rio Grande Nature Center, and other interesting locations.
There are a number of access points along the trail, each with free parking.
Riparian Trails get you up close and personal with nature
Albuquerque is home to several riparian areas, including the Rio Grande Bosque and the Tingley Beach area. These areas offer a variety of hiking trails that wind through wetlands and river habitats. Sharpen your eyes. This is the place where you’re most likely to see interesting wildlife and birds.
Wilderness Trails — You really are out in nature
At the other extreme are wilderness trails — like those in the Cibola National Forest and Manzano Wilderness. These trails are more remote and rugged and may require permits or special equipment. Check with the Cibola National Forest and the Manzano Mountain Wilderness Area for current conditions, fees, maps, and other relevant information.
Designated by the 1964 Wilderness Act, wilderness has four critical qualities: it’s natural, untrammeled, undeveloped, and offers opportunities for solitude and recreation. Because wilderness is fragile, hiking in the wilderness has its own set of rules — like staying on the trail — with stringent penalties if you break them. There are a couple hundred trails in the two wilderness areas from easy strolls through meadows to strenuous treks up mountain peaks.
Mountain trails let you pick the level of difficulty
The Sandia Mountains dominate Albuquerque’s skyline, and they have a dozen or more trails of increasing difficulty to match your skill — whether you’re an Ironman or just a wanna-be. The Sandia Crest Trail is a 26-mile-long point-to-point trail, ranging from moderate to difficult. It’ll test your mettle.
La Luz Trail into the Sandias is Albuquerque’s ultimate hiking challenge. It’s nearly eight miles from the trailhead to the crest and, most would concede, it seems straight up. It does have a 3,000-foot vertical elevation gain. Most people walk up and ride the aerial tramway down. That adds a level of interest and survivability.
There are lots of other trails of a less strenuous nature.
History-themed trails expand your horizons
For history buffs, there are the trails in the Petroglyph National Monument on Albuquerque’s west side. Many of the large rocks have petroglyphs chipped in the desert varnish by ancient ancestors about 800 years ago. There are hundreds of them, and they tell tales of hunts, celebrations, rituals, and who knows what else! Your first stop should be the visitor center, near the intersection of Unser Boulevard and Western Trail NW, to pick up maps and brochures. The Boca Negra Canyon and Rinconada Canyon trails are the most popular.
Albuquerque’s history includes volcanic episodes, brought to us by the Rio Grande Rift. To experience these ancient, yet dormant, cinder and spatter cones, you can take the Volcanoes Hiking Trail, accessible from Atrisco Boulevard NW. This easy to moderate trail is a 3.5-mile round-trip loop, taking you to the JA, Black, and Vulcan volcanoes and some rather spectacular vistas. The aftereffects of this curtain of fire are colored minerals embedded in the basalt — olivine, feldspar, pyroxene, magnetite, and others.
Two final notes
First, while this article has focused on geographic definitions of trails, there are also skill levels.
Easy trails, generally flat and short, are great for beginners and families with young children. They often have interpretive signs and other educational features.
Moderate trails are a bit more challenging and may have steeper inclines or uneven terrain. They are suitable for those with hiking experience and a commensurate level of fitness.
Difficult trails are more strenuous and require a higher level of fitness and experience. They may involve steep climbs, rocky terrain, or exposure to the elements.
The second note deals with safety. Denver is not the only mile-high city. Albuquerque’s average elevation is 5,300 feet above sea level. Add to that it sits in the high desert, despite being next to the Rio Grande. With the altitude and dry air, you may not feel sweat on your body, but you’ll dehydrate quickly. So, always — always — carry water. Wear comfortable shoes with ankle support. Sunscreen and hats are also essential. Thunderstorms can develop quickly. Besides the threat of lightning, you should be cautious of being soaked and chilled from rain.
That being said, Albuquerque is an excellent destination for hiking enthusiasts and provides plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors and bask in the natural beauty of our region.