Top 10 City: Albuquerque’s Backyard Trails: The Sandia Foothills

When one thinks of mountain bike meccas, many towns and trail systems may come to mind: Moab, Fruita, Whistler… or one of the others on Singletracks’s Top 10 List of North American MTB Destinations. Of course, if you ask any resident of Colorado, they may question why you would even consider mountain biking outside of state lines (because clearly perfection has been reached).

While destination trips are typically the highlight of our obsession, the bulk of the hours spent in the saddle are on our hometown trails. I admit that I tend to overlook my hometown trails for that very reason: the familiarity tends to dull the excitement. Occasionally, it seems the highlight of my ride is avoiding the cactus patch I once tackled as though it was Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl (I spent the evening with a pair of tweezers and tequila, in case you were curious).

But I digress. The Sandia Foothills in Albuquerque is a jack-of-all-trades trail system. Want to take your pregnant wife or five-year-old for a “relaxing,” easy ride? Yup, there are trails for that. Want to tackle a gnarly rock garden and huck off boulders after dropping said wife and kids off at the car? Yup, there’re trails for that too. Need to train for that 24 hour race you were peer pressured into signing up for? You guessed it, there are more than enough miles of singletrack to keep you interested. And all of this is basically within city limits: Albuquerque’s backyard.

jkldouglas hucking off boulders in the Foothills Trail System

The 2,650-acre trail system is part of the Sandia Foothills Open Space located in the shadows of the Sandia Mountains. With an elevation ranging from 5,200 feet to 6,800 feet, you can get stellar views of the city below (the Rio Grande is at an elevation of about 4,500 feet) and the miles of open land south, west, and to a certain extent, the north. Evening rides are some of my favorites, as they provide some of the best views of sunsets, and even impending storms as they roll in during monsoon season.

Overlooking the north foothills with a view of the Sandia Mountains in the background.

There’s all the wildlife and landscape that you would expect in the high desert: coyotes, rattlesnakes, cougars, mule deer, juniper, and cactus. All of it combines for an exemplary trail system. The cholla cactus line a good portion of the trails, and they do an excellent job of preventing trail creep by encouraging you to stay true to the trail, while the prickly pear cactus make you second guess trying that technical climb. If you ride early in the morning or in the evening, you’re likely to see coyotes. It’s always a constant reminder that you’re still in the Wild West.

Evening ride after a light winter dusting.

The foothills trail system spans the length of the city’s east side and has six different trailheads. There are two distinct sections of the trail system, cleverly dubbed the “North” and “South” foothills. These two sections can easily be strung together for a longer ride with a short mile of asphalt under your knobbies.

The South Foothills offer steeper climbs and some of the more technical sections. The North Foothills have sections, when strung together properly, that are family-friendly. The climbs in the north are mostly long and smooth, providing for flowing, fast downhills. My husband and I even have a route that we refer to as the “pregnancy loop,” which we biked together during the first few months of my pregnancy (until my belly started hitting my knees). Honestly, we still ride that loop occasionally because it’s just that much fun. With that said, the North Foothills provide ample opportunities for you to remove any unwanted skin on your knees, elbows, and face. Surprisingly, granite can be unforgiving at times.

If you ever find yourself in Albuquerque, I highly recommend you spend a few hours in the saddle in the Foothills. Heck, it’s even worth a destination trip. Albuquerque, and New Mexico as a whole, has a great deal of fantastic trails to offer… and green chile!

Your Turn: Do you have a go-to backyard trail system that is worthy of national acclaim? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

Related posts:

  1. Top 10 City: Albuquerque, Part 2: The Sandia Mountain Backside
  2. Top 10 City: Albuquerque, Part 3: The Manzanitas
  3. Ride Report: Foothills Trail in Fort Collins, CO
  4. MTB News Bites: Backyard Bikepark, Rio Olympics, and New Full HD Helmet Cam
  5. In Search of Dry Land, Volume II: Oil Well Flats, Canon City, Colorado

4 thoughts on “Top 10 City: Albuquerque’s Backyard Trails: The Sandia Foothills

  1. In college I was fortunate enough to live in ABQ for a month and take a class, and I often think back and reflect on how much there is to do there. I agree, that people don’t really consider NM as a destination mountain biking state, but some of the most interesting trails in the country are there: White Mesa, Otero, Windsor, Dale Ball, and of course the foothills…which can be vanilla, or overflowing with gnar if you look hard enough. Not to mention all of the non-biking activities to do, like ski Taos or hike Cabezon Peak. And you said it, the food is amazing, and cheap.

    Thanks for the great article…and awesome photos! I wish I could huck like that…maybe one day. :)

    • The summer heat isn’t really as bad as you may think, although probably not as cool as Salida. A really hot day for us is 90 which paired with the dry climate isn’t really that bad. I moved from Florida so I think 90 degrees with 5% humidity is great. The East Mountains, where all of the really good trails are, runs cooler due to the higher elevation. So a 87 – 90 degree day in Albuquerque is more like an 80 – 83 degree day in the East Mountains.

      The real issue is coming when the East Mountains (Cibola National Forest) isn’t closed. All of the East Mountains trails are in the National Forest and the rangers keep a very close eye on fire dangers. Depending on the snow pack (which was bad this year) you can almost assume that the East Mountains will be closed from mid/early June to early July, before the monsoon season starts. If we get some good spring rain this doesn’t always happen, but I always assume it will.

      Let me know if you ever plan on coming down. I would be happy to show you around.

  2. The article does a good job of describing what the north and south foothills have to offer. The trail link in the article shows there is about 12 miles of singletrack. However if you ride both the north and south foothills you can easily ride over 30 miles without hitting all of the trails. There is buff singletrack as well as lines that will make you pucker up, if you know where to look.

    If you are a more advanced rider, definitely try and ride with a local or someone who knows the trail if you want to hit all of the good stuff.

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