New Mexico really does have some beautiful sunsets, and quite often when the day is ending the Sandia Mountains, on the east side of Albuquerque, do take on a gorgeous red color. Sandia means “watermelon” in Spanish so the name fits well. It is not unusual to find people of all ages at the bottom of these mountains any day of the week, or any month of the year, ready to hike a distance, ride a mountain bike, take a stroll or get in shape for a marathon run. Avid hikers come from far away because of the wide selection of trails.
The Sandias offer about 150 miles of hiking trails. You can choose any gradient to venture out on whether you are a novice or an experienced hiker. On the west side of the range you can find a starting point or trail head by simply driving toward the mountains on one of the major streets in Northeast Albuquerque. On the east side it is a little trickier, but definitely possible to locate several as well.
A convenient partnering solution
What some enjoy is to partner up by parking a car in one place and take another car so you can hike over the mountains conveniently. That is a fun routine for those who want to hike from the north end to the south end so they can experience trekking the whole top of the range. That hike will put you at well over 9000 feet for most of the outing, and you will reach the highest at the top of Sandia Crest where the altitude is almost 11,000 feet. Since many of the trails start at over 7000 feet, that is not as steep as it sounds.
Although you might get a healthy dose of New Mexico sunshine if you forget a hat, it is possible to hike a trail or two that is mostly shaded. In the cooler months the blue sky and warmth of the sun are welcomed. No matter what season you pick, you will experience amazing views of the surrounding areas, wonderful wildflowers, cacti blooming and lots of birds. If you come in October when the annual Albuquerque Balloon Festival takes place, you will get the best location to watch hundreds of hot-air balloons in the sky.
The cool side
The east side of the Sandias is always cooler, and that is where you will find access to the Sandia Peak Ski Area. Skiing only happens on this side, and many years there is not enough snow. By car, if you are on your way up that side of the mountain, be sure to stop at TinkerTown Museum for a real treat. On foot, there are lots of hiking trails on this side too.
Take the tram
For hikers who want to start at the top and work their way down, the Sandia Peak Tramway offers that opportunity. Located toward the north end of the many trailheads, it moves over 10,000 people a year from the bottom of the mountain to the top. That means you can skip the uphill part, ride the tram to the top and walk down, and it is still a pretty darn good workout. And, you will find a restaurant at either end. There really is a choice for everyone.
If you are visiting New Mexico, make sure you remember to visit the Sandia Mountains. If you are a serious hiker, come specifically for that reason and you will not be disappointed. Be prepared to experience the amazing intersections of many trails set in a beautiful mountain range.