Outdoor recreation in Albuquerque is made easy with easy access to its many natural areas, and the Elena Gallegos Open Space, which lies in the Sandia foothills, offers some of the best hiking trails and recreational areas in the city. Set aside through the city of Albuquerque's Open Space program, the open space acres offer visitors the chance to get outdoors without going far from home. Located east of Tramway off Simms Park Road, it has trails, a picnic area, group facilities and spectacular views of the city and Sandia Mountains.
An information center at the entrance to the park has maps and other information for visitors. Though there is no fee to enter, vehicles must pay a fee $2 on weekends and $1 on weekdays. The winter hours, starting November 1, are 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. The summer hours, starting April 1, are 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.
The park is 640 acres of pinon-juniper and has the typical look of high desert. Vegetation includes scrub oak, chamisa, cane cholla cactus, yucca and native grasses such as blue grama. At 6,500 feet, it's easy to see sights such as the Jemez Mountains, Mount Taylor and the city of Albuquerque. Wildlife includes coyotes, cougars, pack rats, and bears; look for their scat.
The Elena Gallegos has seven picnic areas with barbecue grills that are open on a first come, first-serve basis. Weekends are busy, so the earlier you arrive, the better chance you have of getting a grill. Weekends can be busy year-round, but especially in summer.
Group Reservation Areas
Two reservation areas are available for groups, and both are available year round. The Kiwanis Reservation Area is an outdoor facility with three grills, a volleyball net, and a horseshoe pit. There is also running water, electricity, and restrooms. The Kiwanis area can accommodate up to 250 people for events such as reunions, wedding receptions, and large parties. To get to the Kiwanis Reservation Area, follow the entrance road counter-clockwise around the entry booth. Follow the signs and turn right into the area.
The Double Shelter Area accommodates smaller groups of up to 50 people. There are two picnic tables, two grills, electricity and close proximity to restrooms. This shelter has a large amphitheater that can be used for talks and presentations. It can also accommodate small weddings. Amphitheater seating overlooks the city below. To get to the Double Shelter Area, follow the one-way road to the right of the entrance booth. Continue until you are headed back toward the entry booth and look for two picnic tables under a single roof on the left side of the road.
The Double Shelter Area is the location for the Open Space Summer Series. The Saturday Sunset Series takes place every Saturday at 7 p.m. It features musicians, speakers, poetry, talks such as Tales of New Mexico, Klezmer dance, marimba music and more. All events are free.
Open Space also has a series of Sunday hikes that take place at different open space locations, and sometimes they take place at Elena Gallegos. Events normally take place at 9 a.m. Sunday hikes at Elena Gallegos have included an introduction to using GPS and a wildflower hike.
A network of multi-use trails crisscrosses the open space for use in hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. For those who prefer the relative quiet of hiking, there are hike-only trails. A favorite hiking trail is the Pino trail, which begins at the desert floor and goes up to a reasonable grade to the pinon-conifer hills. Trails are clearly marked. Dogs are welcome, on a leash, of course.
The trails are beautiful at any time, but especially at sunset. New Mexico is known for its sunsets, and seeing the sun going down in the west from the foothills is spectacular in and of itself, but also seeing the Sandia Mountains turn from brown to pink in front of you with the setting sun is even more spectacular.