One of the perks of living in New Mexico’s largest city is that nature is never far away in Albuquerque. I used to work close to a trail off of Tramway. A sign by the trail head featured rattlesnake, bear and cougar warnings. I doubt my co-workers in San Diego and D.C. had similar lunch break considerations.
Albuquerque has preserved several natural resources for wildlife and for humans who need wilderness in their lives. Our city parks are our open spaces and wildlife refuges. Evidently the deer in the foothills got the memo, because they no longer fear humans. They are kamikaze road hazards in the neighborhoods east of Tramway.
It would be challenging to compile all of the outstanding locations to commune with nature. Some sunset rock perches should remain hidden treasures, but here are five natural resources for residents of Albuquerque who need an outdoor fix and don’t feel like driving.
Common themes: Water, Weather & Wildlife
Always take ample water. New Mexico’s dry climate should not be under-estimated. It is common not to sweat, because your perspiration evaporates. Heat stroke is common and altitude sickness is not unusual for people unaccustomed to higher elevations. Stay on trails to protect the habitat and watch for wildlife, particularly in the Sandias where inter-species conflict could be fatal. Please note bathroom and water availability for each area.
Elena Gallegos Park
Tucked behind the residential communities at the base of the Sandias, Elena Gallegos Park is a 640-acre natural oasis. With views of Mt. Taylor to the west, the Jemez to the north and the Tijeras Arroyo to the south, this area is a haven for wildlife, including pack rats, coyotes, rabbits, bears and cougars. The habitat is dominated by piñon and juniper., with is a mix of chamisa, Apache plume, scrub oak, cane cholla cactus, blue grama grass, bear grass, and soapweed yucca.
While the La Luz trail offers spectacular views of the city, the Elena Gallegos trails are open to horses and bikes. The trail is less strenuous, which makes it more appealing to novice hikers or families with children. The elevation increase is gradual and there are several shaded rest areas available. The trails lead to a forest, which provides shade during the summer months. It is more pleasant during the spring and fall. Go early in the morning from July – August to avoid the heat.
Hiking & Biking
Hikers have two dedicated foot-traffic only trails, as well as access to the Sandia Mountain Wilderness area. For mountain bicyclists, there are several single-track trails to pick from. Trails 341, 342 230, 230A, 366, 365, and 365A are open to cyclists, with 365 being one of the most popular. Watch for hikers and horses.
To bike to the trail, take the Tramway bike path.
- Elena Gallegos/Foothills: 505-857-8334
- Winter Hours: (starting November 1st): 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
- Summer Hours: (starting April 1st): 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- Fees: Monday – Friday: $1 per vehicle
Saturday – Sunday: $2 per vehicle
- Directions: To access the park from I-40, exit on to Tramway north. After the Academy Road traffic light turn right onto Simms Park Road and travel east to the Information Center.
- Bathroom: Facilities in picnic area
La Luz Trail
The Rio Grande valley is part of what is referred to in geology circles as a horst and graben structure. Essentially the Rio Grande valley is like the center of a cake that has caved in. The area associated with the valley (the graben) is between two fault lines, with the neighboring land significantly higher (horst).
Albuquerque sits at the base of the Sandia mountains. The sheer western face of the Sandias makes urban encroachment into the crevices virtually impossible. If we can’t get all the wreckage from TWA Flight 260 extricated, it seems unlikely that developers can work out the logistics of a subdivision.
The La Luz trail traverses the face of the mountain, covering roughly 8 7.miles from the base to the top. It is not a good choice for first time hikers, with over 3000+ feet of vertical increase (from 7000 feet above sea level to 10,378). Most ratings use descriptors like strenuous, advanced or difficult. It is a workout. There are numerous places where slipping would be very bad.
Things to keep in mind
The trail is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Be prepared for unexpected weather changes and a full day of hiking if you plan to hike to the crest. If you maintain a steady pace, without a lot of rest stops, the hike takes 3-4 hours. You may be able to complete it in less time if you are fit and accustomed to this sort of terrain. The trail gets steeper at higher altitude, with a lot of switchbacks.
Though the trail is outside of New Mexico’s largest city, and well known, the traffic is usually light other than close to the trail heads. The 3-4 miles in the middle are often uninterrupted, solo experiences. Late spring, summer and fall are the best times to hike. It is a hot trek in the summer. There isn’t much in the way of shade.
Falling has killed multiple people over the last couple of years. Do not leave the trail. This destroys native habitat and increases the chance of accidents. Take plenty of water and high energy snacks. There is no water available at either end.
The Tram can be taken up or down if you prefer a one-way sojourn. The cost of the tram ride is $25. Make arrangements to shuttle from the tram parking lot back to the La Luz parking lot. There is a bathroom at the bottom and at the top below.
The Rio Grande Bosque
For residents looking for a convenient place to get exercise and fresh air, the Bosque Trails are a phenomenal natural resource in the heart of the city. Motor vehicle use is prohibited. Part of 400 miles of multi-use trails in Albuquerque, this 16 mile swath of green space is uninterrupted by roadways, offering outdoor enthusiasts numerous low-impact recreation options, including hiking, bicycling, mountain biking, in-line skating, boating and horseback riding.
This trail follows the river, which provides beautiful scenery and flat terrain. As the weather warms up, this becomes a heavy traffic route, with commuters, recreational cyclists, runners, walkers, strollers, dogs, horses, goats, llamas, alpacas, etc. Avoid startling horses, particularly along the dirt trails near the river. Often equestrians choose those paths to avoid cyclists.
The paved trail runs under Paseo del Norte and Montaño, becoming icy during winter months. It doesn’t matter if there is no ice anywhere in Albuquerque, there will be ice in the Montaño tunnel. The tunnels also present a hazard due to speed gained on entry and limited visibility, leading to unexpected encounters with horses, joggers, and other cyclists in the tunnel.
For visitors there are several places to rent bicycles convenient to trail access points. Trail maps are available.
- Northwest side of Alameda Bridge. Call the Village of Corrales for more information at 505-897-0502. The San Juan Diversion Dam just south of the bridge creates a hazard requiring a portage. Contact the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority at (505) 768-2500 or view more information about the diversion.
- The Calabacillas Arroyo has parking and access to the river with some walking required. Calabacillas is located on the west side of the river, about 1 mile north of Paseo del Norte. Take Coors north to Westside Drive, Westside east to the dirt levee road and east to a dirt parking lot.
- The north side of the Central Avenue Bridge on both sides of the river offers limited access for boaters with some walking required to get to the river.
- The northwest side of the Bridge Street Bridge has river access adjacent to existing multi-use trails (some walking required). Limited parking is available on the southwest side of the bridge.
- The Rio Bravo Bridge has access with some walking required to reach the river. The northeast corner has parking and a picnic area. This site offers a wheelchair accessible fishing pier.
Parking and access points
- Alameda Boulevard has ample parking, with space to accommodate horse trailers. Riders can head south towards Albuquerque or across the river into Corrales. There is a wildlife viewing area at the Alameda Wetland next to the parking lot. The porta-potty offers one of the only public facilities available on the Bosque Trail.
- Paseo del Norte parking available at the Shining River Open Space. About 1 mile south of the Alameda parking area, before El Pueblo. Access from Rio Grande Boulevard.
- Montaño Road parking is south of Montaño Road with dedicated ADA and equestrian parking areas. This area also has a picnic area available. After the 2003 bosque fires, local firefighter/artist Joseph Mark Chavez carved the cottonwood stumps remaining into sculpture. The Aldo Leopold Interpretive Trail and Forest can also be accessed from this parking area. Eight interpretive signs about the life of Aldo Leopold, who helped protect the Rio Grande Valley State Park, are located along the trail. Bald Eagles frequent the area during the winter.
- Campbell Road doesn’t offer parking, but there is an access point to the trail and the Rio Grande Nature Center
- Central Avenue parking is west of Tingley Boulevard, next to the ABQ Bio Park. This area has ADA compliant parking. The Rotary Club Park on the northeast side of the bridge has shaded picnic tables and walking trails, with convenient river access. Tingley Beach is within walking distance.
- Marquez Street can be accessed by traveling west on Bridge Street, turning north on 8th and west on Marquez. Marquez turns into an open space parking area.
- Rio Bravo Boulevard west to Poco Loco Street, west of 2nd street right before the bridge crossing the Rio Grande. This area offers picnic tables and walking trails as well as access to the paved trail. There is a fishing pier for anglers.
- Bathrooms: Facilities at Tingley Beach with porta-potties at the Alameda parking lot
- Fees: No fee for parking
The Rio Grande flows year-round, though the flow often dwindles to a trickle during the summer months. However, the precious water is sufficient to support a ribbon of deciduous forest. The cottonwoods lining the Río Grande is the largest continuous cottonwood forest left in the United States. The trees stabilize the river banks, providing habitat for many species, and providing Albuquerque with a shaded playground.
One of the best places to learn about the unique ecosystem along the bosque is at the Río Grande Nature Center. It is located at the end of Candelaria Road, west of Rio Grande Boulevard.
The center is designed to encourage culture and nature to converge. Visitors can observe about 250 species of birds. Concrete walls, with strategically placed holes, form a barrier for birdwatchers observing the species migrating along the Rio Grande Flyway. One of the highlights of the Nature Center is the glass-walled library, which provides a unique opportunity to view birds and wildlife in their natural habitat. A speaker system transmits the sounds of pond life into the room.
The park has an interpretive museum, with displays and wildlife presentations offered, including workshops and seminars that are ideal for kids. Summer and Fall camps are available for parents searching for nature based summer programs.
Demonstration gardens, indoor and outdoor wildlife viewing add to this valuable public resource. Hawks, owls, geese, ducks, pheasants, cranes, herons, roadrunners, woodpeckers, coyotes, squirrels, turtles, beavers, muskrats, porcupines, rabbits, pocket gophers are among the species commonly seen, depending on the time of year.
There are no bikes allowed at the Rio Grande Nature Center. A trail system runs along the river.
There is a bathroom in the visitor center, which is useful to keep in mind if you happen to be biking the Bosque trail and need to make a pit stop between Alameda Boulevard and Tingley Beach.
Additional park Info
Petroglyph Park & Three Sister Volcanoes
Established in 1990, Petroglyph National Monument stretches 17 miles along a basalt volcanic escarpment stretching the length of Albuquerque’s western horizon. The boundary of the monument is delineated by a chain of dormant fissure volcanoes; JA, Black, Vulcan, Bond and Butte (south to north).
The Monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources. In addition to the five volcanoes, there are hundreds of archeological sites, including 24,000 petroglyphs created by Ancestral Puebloan people and early Spanish settlers. Many of the images are recognizable; people, animals, crosses and livestock brands.
The monument is unique in history and landscape, as well as management structure. The 7,244-acre monument relies on a partnership between the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division to protect the petroglyphs while simultaneously providing recreational and educational opportunities to the public. When visiting Petroglyph National Monument, stop in at the National Park Service’s Las Imagines Visitor Center.
Suburban encroachment on the west side and the prevalence of vandalism pose risks to the preservation of the petroglyphs, because some people cannot resist adding graffiti.
The hikes are short, not particularly challenging, with beautiful views of the city, particularly when there are a lot of balloons flying. Sunrise and sunset hikes are ideal times to explore. It gets hot by 9-10 am during the summer (June – August).
- Piedras Marcadas Canyon trails to petroglyphs
- Boca Negra Canyon three trails leading to petroglyphs
- Volcanoes – five dormant volcanic cores
There is a bathroom at the parking area and the cell phone signal is solid.