The blue granite peaks of the Sandia Mountains, a volcanic escarpment, and riverside forests form a trio of outdoor playgrounds around Albuquerque. Two additional ranges—the Jemez and the Manzano—lie a short distance from Duke City. All offer scenic hikes that lead to picturesque views or even natural hot springs. From challenging mountain accents to gentle nature trails, these routes provide opportunities for all levels of hikers. Whether you're looking for an hour-long meander or a day-long trek, there's a trail that suits your needs—and the best part is that it won't take you longer than an hour and half to get there from downtown Albuquerque.
So grab your hiking boots and head out for a hike on one of central New Mexico’s best hiking trails.
Any list of the best hiking in Albuquerque has to include La Luz, which travels from the city’s foothills into the Cibola National Forest. The crest ascent climbs the Sandia Mountains through pine forests and across cliff faces. As you go up, scenic views unfold over the Rio Grande Valley.
Even though it's one of the most popular trails in the area, La Luz is not suitable for everyone: The eight-mile path, which begins at La Luz Trailhead, gains more than 3,500 feet in elevation. If you make the trip to the top, you can return the way you came—but if you're tired from the StairMaster–like climb, travel along the Crest Trail to the Sandia Peak Tramway terminal. From there, you can hitch a ride back to the base. Just keep in mind the tram doesn’t share a parking lot with the trailhead, so you will need to arrange a ride share between the lots.
Glide to the top of the Sandia Mountains via the Sandia Peak Tramway, and head north or south along the 26-mile-long Crest Trail. Of course, you don't have to travel the entire trail if you don't want to—the Kiwanis Rock Cabin, just 1.7 miles from the tramway, is a popular turnaround spot. For a bigger challenge, follow the South Crest Trail to its terminus: When you reach the town of Tijeras, you will have hiked 13.5 miles with a 4,000-foot drop in elevation.
Aldo Leopold Loop Trail
A grandfather of conservation, Aldo Leopold once made his home in Albuquerque. A trail dedicated to him—and located in the park he once oversaw—now winds through the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. The 2.3-mile moderately trafficked trail loops beneath a canopy of cottonwood trees on the sandy banks of the Rio Grande. This trail is suitable for families; kids will particularly enjoy the wildlife along this trail. You may spot ducks, coyote, lizards, or even porcupines along the gentle route.
The Pino Trail is an alternative to La Luz Trail. This nine-mile (one way) trail climbs nearly 3,000 feet, so only fit, experienced hikers should attempt the full trail. However, anyone can travel the out-and-back as long as they wish. Because there’s plenty of shade along this trek, it’s fitting even in mid-summer. In fact, the best times to hike here are April to September.
One of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, the Petroglyph National Monument stretches along 17 miles of Albuquerque’s West Mesa. While most visitors head to Boca Negra Canyon, the short, 1.5-mile trek through Piedras Marcadas canyon offers some of the highest concentrations of etchings in the park. Native Americans and Spanish settlers chiseled designs in the black, volcanic rock here. Be on the lookout for handprints, faces, geometric designs, animals, and anthropomorphic figures along the trail.
The Volcanoes Day Use Area is part of Petroglyph National Monument, but it’s an often-forgotten area of the park. A network of trails summit and circle the trio of dormant volcanoes here. In late spring and early fall, watch for desert wildflowers along the route. The area is open sunrise to sunset, but the gate is locked between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you arrive before or plan to stay after those times, plan to park outside the gate; keep in mind that this will add another 0.25 miles onto your hike.
South Piedra Lisa Trail
The South Piedra Lisa Trail gives access to the more than 37,000-acre Sandia Mountain Wilderness, which is protected in its primitive, natural state. The 4.4-mile out-and-back is a moderate trek that mostly follows the foothills, so there are no large accents.
Spence Hot Spring Trail
North of Albuquerque, the volcanic Jemez Mountains are known for red rocks, meandering streams that carve wildflower meadows, and natural hot springs (care of the volcanic, geothermal activity). Reaching the popular Spence Hot Springs requires a quick, 0.6 mile hike. If you’re visiting the springs, keep in mind that the small, 95-degree F pool accommodates only a few people. You may have to wait your turn to soak.
Mc Cauley Warm Springs
Another popular natural spring within the Jemez Mountains, Mc Cauley Warm Springs lie beyond Battleship Rock, one of the mountain’s landmarks. The 3.4-mile out-and-back travels to a set of pools seldom warmer than bathwater. The route also features a picturesque waterfall—a delight in the arid climate of New Mexico.
Spruce Spring Trail to Red Canyon Trail
Set in the forested foothills of the Manzano Mountains to the south of Albuquerque, the Manzano Mountains State Park offers a network of less-traveled trails. It’s accessible through the town of Mountainair. The Spruce Spring Trail connects to Red Canyon Trail Loop to create a 7.1-mile loop that passes a waterfall along the route.