Armijo-Faulty-Cienega Trail Loop in the Sandia Mountains

Armijo Trail, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico, hike, hiking

 

A part-day hike or easy day hike, by my estimate about 4 miles long and with moderate elevation gains and losses. Unfortunately, The final road access for this hike is subject to closures, as I'll detail below. You can always do the route by walking the closed sections of road, but that adds to the length of the hike.

 

The hike is at the east edge of the Sandia Mountains, wandering between about 7100 and 7900 feet, so snow-free for more of the year than higher up. Also warmer than higher up, so a good one to save for the spring or fall. The first part of the Armijo Trail skirts private property at the east edge of the National Forest, but if you stay on the path you’ll stay on public land. 

 

From Albuquerque, take I-40 east and NM 14 north. Turn left (west) onto NM 536, the road to the Sandia Crest. At 35 deg. 10.330 min. N, 106 deg. 22.539 min. W, turn left into the Sulphur Canyon picnic area. Forty meters in, the road forks. In the winter the left fork—the one you want—is closed off, and you'll need to park along the right fork and walk 0.3 mile of the left fork to the next gate.

 

When the Cienega Picnic Site is open, continue through a second gate to TSL PARK: 35 deg. 9.903 min. N, 106 deg. 22.555 min. W. (If the second gate is closed, see the information at the end of this web page.) Park at the spaces available there, or in the spaces immediately to the west. Begin the hike by heading down canyon (east) on the blocked-off road, toward the far end of a road loop. 

 

At 35 deg. 9.885 min. N, 106 deg. 22.169 min. W, find the sign marking the start of the Armijo trail. Continue down canyon 150 meters, then head up and over the rise to the right (south). Drop into Armijo Canyon and turn up canyon (right or southwest). As you continue up the canyon it bends west, toward the intersection with the Faulty Trail at 35 deg. 9.387 min. N, 106 deg. 23.382 min. W.

 

Turn right (north) onto the Faulty Trail. Or if you wish to visit Torro Spring, that’s  about 400 meters (as the crow flies) up canyon from the trail intersection. If you visit the spring, retrace your steps to the trail intersection junction and turn left (north) along the Faulty Trail. 

 

Faulty Trail, Cienega Canyon, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, hike
Where the Faulty Trail drops into Cienega Canyon

 

Shortly after dropping into Cienega Canyon, the Faulty Trail intersects the Cienega Trail at 35 deg. 10.082 min. N, 106 deg. 23.368 min. W. Turn right (down canyon, northeast) on the Cienega Trail and follow it to the picnic area (with pit toilets). Continue down canyon back to your car. If you prefer to walk off the paved road, once you’re past the picnic area there’s a footpath on the opposite side of the creek from the road.


The loop described above proceeds clockwise. If you prefer to hike the loop counterclockwise, you need to find the start of the Cienega Trail amidst the picnic facilities. That trailhead is at 35 deg. 10.188 min. N, 106 deg. 23.096 min. W, about 80 meters west of the picnic area parking lot farthest up the canyon.


When the Cienega Picnic Site is closed, you will encounter a locked gate about 500 meters (0.3 mile) in from NM 536. If your vehicle has decent clearance, make a left turn on the dirt road just before the gate and follow that road to a large parking area (with a pit toilet). Once parked, walk the dirt road back to the gate and follow the paved road down to TSL PARK. Or if you prefer, find the trail that begins on the west (right) side of the locked gate and follow that down into Cienega Canyon. Once at TSL PARK, complete the loop as described. This adds about a half-mile to the hike.

 

A horse trail zigzags from the parking area I just mentioned to the start of the Armijo Trail, and you can take that to add another half-mile or so to the hike. If you do this, you can take the road or footpath from TSL PARK up to the gate, then take a right on the dirt road, to complete the loop.

 

Armijo Trail, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
The crest of the Sandia Mountains, as seen from the Armijo Trail