When you need a Sandias woodland fix but don't want to drive all the way up the Crest Highway, the area just inside the national forest boundary provides many options for loop hikes. The trails can be muddy or icy, but often remain passable for hiking when higher trails are buried in snow. The roads to the trailheads are paved, and picnic tables and pit toilets abound. You can use this area for everything from a picnic with toddlers to serious hikes.
Let's start by looking at a trail map prepared by the Friends of the Sandia Mountains. If you click on the thumbnail below, you'll be taken to their web site for the high resolution version. I'll also provide a mid-resolution version, if for some reason the external link doesn't work. BTW, the Wagon Trail (228) now extends all the way from Cienega Canyon to Sulphur Canyon.
The basic idea is that you turn off at one of two places—Sulphur Canyon or the Doc Long picnic area—and create a loop hike based on how ambitious you're feeling. In the cool months, much of the road system in Sulphur and Cienega Canyons is closed to vehicle traffic, but the added walking is minimal.
I'll provide a couple of specific options, but don't let that stop you from crafting a route of your own. As a rule, the trails in this area are well-marked, easy to follow, and not that steep or rocky.
If you ever wondered how the Doc Long picnic ground got its name, check out this blog.