The Mountains of New Mexico
Sandia Crest & Kiwanis Cabin • Highpoint: Bernalillo County
• Cibola National Forest
• Sandia Mountains

Sandia Mountains

View from Cedro Peak, 2023

Date: (1) March 14, 2000; (2) September 21, 2003 • Elevation: 10,678 feet • Prominence: 4,098 feet • Distance: 3.5 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 400 feet • Conditions: Pleasant both times

New MexicoPB

Sandia Crest is the highest point of the Sandia Mountains, an uplifted range with towering cliffs overlooking Albuquerque, and gentler slopes covered in forest (and ski runs) on the east side. The effect is particularly noticeable and impressive when viewed from an airplane, descending into Albuquerque's airport.

Being so close to Albuquerque, the Sandias draw all sorts of visitors all year round. A paved road leads to the top from the east side, while the La Luz Trail starts low on the west side, a long and steep seven miles to the summit. An interesting third option is an aerial tramway, which lets out on the ridge a little over a mile and a half south of Sandia Crest.

First Visit, March 2000: I was on my Spring Break from teaching, so I decided to spend it in New Mexico visiting county highpoints. I left home at 4 a.m. and eight hours later, arrived in Albuquerque, with Sandia Crest on the front burner.

I did not have time for the La Luz Trail, so I chose the tram option. I found the tram station, paid my fee and got onto the tram with a whole bunch of others. The tram ride is fun, and gains 4,000 feet before letting off at the range crest.

Most people were happy enough to hang around the upper tram area and make short walks, but I took off, following muddy and goopy trails, and snow, until I arrived to the top. The hike was easy, gaining about 400 feet. I was here long enough to tag the top rocks, then I started back the way I came.

On the way down, I stopped at the Kiwanis Cabin, a stone cabin about three-quarters of a mile south of the summit, and visible from the tram as it sits on a promontory overlooking the cliffs. That was amusing, and shortly I was back to the upper tram station, where I waited for my ride down.

The whole adventure took just a couple hours and I had a lot of fun, even getting some exercise while at it. Back in Albuquerque, I ate lunch then got moving again, following Interstate-25 toward Las Vegas (NM). The next day, I would visit a whole series of high plains county highpoints, starting with a remnant volcanic plug called Sugarloaf Mountain in Harding County.

Second Visit, September 2003: βð and I were spending the weekend in New Mexico, having hiked Little Costilla Peak the day before, and driving to the top of Elk Mountain earlier today.

Once off of Elk Mountain, we toured downtown Santa Fe, then followed a scenic back by-way, state highway NM-14, toward Albuquerque. The highway is called the Turquoise Trail, and it runs through a few small settlements that came into being during the mining booms of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Turquoise was mined here, as was gold (pre-dating the California Gold Rush), and coal. Nowadays the towns are in a state of arrested decay, and many of them, especially Madrid, have become artist's colonies. We had fun walking around the shops.

From Madrid, we drove to the east side of the Sandia Mountains. Highway NM-536 runs 14 miles up the forested slopes to top out at the visitor's center and near the summit. We strolled to the top and snapped some photos. The highpoint rocks are within feet of the viewing platform. On this crystal clear day, we could see miles in all directions. After we drove down, we headed into Albuquerque for a dinner, then flew home that night, the end of a wonderful and productive weekend.

(c) 2000, 2021 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.