The Sandia Peak Tram is the quick route to the top of the Sandia mountains from Albuquerque. The trip takes a mere 15-minutes, rising from the hustle and bustle of Albuquerque to the peace and quiet of the Cibola National Forest. The 4000-foot change in elevation takes guests through four main life zones: the Spruce Fir life zone, the Mixed Coniferous zone, the Ponderosa Pine zone, and the Piñon/Juniper zone.
At 10,378-feet, the view from the top is spectacular, with over 11,000 square miles visible on a clear day. There is no defined return time for those traveling round trip, as long as you catch a catch the last tram car down. You can enjoy the hiking trails, have dinner, and/or enjoy cocktails at Ten-3.
The temperature at the top of the mountain is typically 15-30 degrees cooler than Albuquerque, making the tram a great summer retreat from the heat. However, it is a good idea to take a light jacket, closed toed shoes, sunscreen, water and snacks if you are going to do any hiking. Afternoon storms and sudden changes in weather are common.
Whereas the ride is exhilarating for people who enjoy the adrenaline rush of amusement park rides, it is mildly terrifying for people who are afraid of heights. They are easy to spot, because they are usually standing very still in the middle of the tram car, with a death grip on the bar, stubbornly refusing to look out the window at the glorious view. They are the folks to watch when the car passes the second tower, with a dizzying 1000-foot drop below. Dangling on a string over that canyon always evokes a response. Occasionally I point out that standing in the middle of the car won’t save them if the cable snaps, but there’s no need to worry, because they won’t have long to think about it.
The tram is the second longest in the world at 2.7 miles long. It travels at about 13.6 MPH and each car can carry about 50 passengers. The tram is known as a “double reversible jigback aerial tramway.” There are two tram cars. One ascends while the other descends. They pass one another at the halfway point. The weight of the car heading down helps pull the other car to the top.
The tram has numerous safety features, including multiple emergency braking systems and a grounding system to protect passengers if the car is struck by lightning. There are four 100,000-pound track cables. The cable is strong enough to support one car individually. However, each car travels on two of these cables for added safety.
There are two support towers. The first one is 232-feet tall with an 18-degree inclination to evenly support the cables between the lower terminal and tower two. The trail used to haul materials to the site is readily visible from the tram car.
The second tower is 80-feet tall. It was built on a rock outcropping that is inaccessible by foot. Construction of the second tower involved 2,000 of the 5,000 helicopter rides required to build the tram. The steel rod anchors securing the tower are driven 40-feet into the granite.
The longest span is between the second tower and the top terminal. It is the 3rd longest clear tramway span in the world. This span crosses Domingo Baca Canyon, which was the site of the TWA Flight 260 crash on February 19, 1955. The bodies of the passengers and crew were recovered and most of the wreckage was removed while they built the tram; however, some of the wreckage remains on the canyon floor. There is a sign at the site commemorating the victims.
History of the Tram
The Sandia Peak Ski Company and the Sandia Tram were founded by Ben Abruzzo and Robert Nordhaus in the mid-1960s. Nordhaus was inspired to build a tram connecting Albuquerque to the crest of the Sandia mountains after riding trams in Europe while on vacation. Bell Engineering, of Lucerne, Switzerland, constructed the tramway. It took two years from idea to inception, because the rough terrain on the western face of the Sandias made construction challenging. The project cost 2 million dollars, with the maiden voyage launched on May 7, 1966. Today, the tram makes 10,500 trips per year and more than 12 million passengers have ridden it.
Local Legend: Ben Abruzzo was also one of the founders of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. He made the first Atlantic crossing by balloon in the Double Eagle II and first Pacific crossing by balloon in the Double Eagle V.
There are over 100 hiking trails in the Sandias. Here are a few that link directly to the upper tram terminal.
Domingo Baca – This 4-mile trail starts at the base of the mountain, climbing 3543-feet to Domingo Baca canyon to the crash site of TWA Flight 260. The trail continues to the crest, but it is a challenging hike beyond the plane wreckage.
Kiwanis Cabin – The Kiwanis Cabin is less than a mile hike from the upper tram terminal. The limestone cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936 as a shelter for skiers and hikers during inclement weather. The stone cabin was constructed to replace the prior cabin, which blew off the mountain during a storm. That wind-tossed cabin replaced an earlier one that burned. Fortunately, the third one has weathered the harsh conditions on top of the mountain much better than its predecessors.
La Luz Trail – One of the most popular trails in the Sandia Mountains and one of the most challenging. 7.5 miles one way. There’s a 3572-foot elevation gain between the bottom and the top.
Peak Nature Trail – At less than ½ mile, this is more of a stroll around the top tram terminal.
Pino Trail – The 6.5-mile trail begins in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness Area. The lower portion is high desert landscape, but the trail climbs 3918-feet into pine forests, eventually intersecting the Crest Trail. If you follow the Crest Trail north to the tram terminal, you can catch a ride down.
South Peak – Head south from the upper tram terminal on South Crest Trail #130. With a significant descent and ascent, this 6.5 mile hike involves a 2,100-foot climb.
During the winter, guests are welcome to take the tram up the mountain and ski back down. Bring your own skiing or snowboarding equipment. You can also access the main Sandia Peak Ski Area directly by driving up the mountain. Takes about 45-minutes. You can rent equipment, take lessons, and purchase lift tickets at the main lodge.
Restaurant | Ten 3
TEN 3 is open for limited indoor seating. Visit Ten3Tram.com for hours and menus. International, Mediterranean, New Mexican, and American dishes, prepared from scratch, emphasizing the unique flavors of New Mexico. They use locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. The name is a reference to the elevation and the patio provides prime seating for watching the sun shower Albuquerque in pinks, reds, and oranges at dusk.
30 Tramway Rd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87122
Wednesday – Monday, 9 AM – 8 PM. Closed Tuesday.
Sandia Tram Ticket Prices
Tram Tickets become available for purchase online 24 hours before the day you plan to arrive. There are longer wait times during the weekends and holidays. They won’t run the tram during high wind or severe weather. Prior to purchasing, please review the Refund Policy & Procedures.
Adults (21+) – $25
Seniors (62+) – $20
Young adults (13-20) – $20
Military with valid ID – $20
Children (0-12) – $15
Adults (21+) – $15
Seniors (62+) – $15
Young adults (13-20) – $15
Military with valid ID – $15
Children (0-12) – $15