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!

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