Juan Tabo Canyon in the Sandia Mountains

Juan Tabo Canyon, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
Lower Juan Tabo Canyon (the ribbon of green from upper right to lower left)



This hike includes an easy exploration of Juan Tabo Canyon and a strenuous loop option. Given the elevation and limited tree cover, it’s best as a cool weather hike. Given the arroyo crossings and arroyo-bottom travel, save the hike for dry weather. Also, don’t count on helpful trail signs like those elsewhere in the Sandias. If you encounter a fence during your wanderings, you’ve reached the edge of the national forest and shouldn’t go any farther.


The trailhead is off Forest Road 333, which heads north from the east-west portion of Tramway Boulevard (at the north end of Albuquerque). Park in the small area on the left at 35 deg. 13.003 min. N, 106 deg. 29.246 min. W (6710 feet). (If this small area is full, park a quarter-mile farther on. If using one of the backup parking areas, head west through the trees to intercept the trail.)


Forest Trail 2, Juan Tabo Canyon, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
Leaving the trailhead


Forest Trail 2 starts at the north end of the recommended parking area and wanders north and west, over a low rise and down into a side drainage of Juan Tabo Canyon. The trail is a former road so has a gentle grade and is easy walking, including for kids. Beware of the many gifts left behind by irresponsible dog owners.


At 35 deg. 13.310 min. N, 106 deg. 29.444 min. W, Forest Trail 2 drops into a sandy arroyo bottom. To explore farther northward, head about 40 meters up the arroyo bottom (a right turn) and then turn north (left) to leave the arroyo. For your first visit I recommend walking down the arroyo (a left turn). According to Mike Coltrin’s excellent guide, this is the Sandy Arroyo Trail (No. 2B). 


The Sandy Arroyo Trail, which looks like a sandy arroyo rather than a trail.
The Sandy Arroyo Trail, which looks like a sandy arroyo rather than a trail.


At 35 deg. 13.333 min. N, 106 deg. 29.704 min. W, a 200 m long path leaves the arroyo and takes you through a low spot to Juan Tabo Canyon’s stem drainage. Or you can continue about 300 m down the side drainage and reach the main drainage that way. Once there you can explore up and down Juan Tabo Canyon’s main drainage (nominally along Forest Trail 4). The downstream portion of the canyon narrows, and soon you’ll need to pick your way through or around dense patches of canyon-bottom vegetation. (The good news: there’s shade.) 


At 35 deg. 12.932 min. N, 106 deg. 30.186 min. W, you’ll encounter the boundary fence for Sandia Pueblo. Time to turn around. At this lowest possible point in the hike you’re at 6190 feet, or 520 feet below where you parked. Given the gentle gradients involved, your legs aren’t likely to notice the change in elevation. To keep it an easy ramble, explore Juan Tabo Canyon as much as you wish, then retrace your steps along Forest Trail 2 to your car. 


Pueblo of Sandia, Juan Tabo Canyon, Sandia Mountains, New Mexcio
The adjacent Pueblo of Sandia land is posted.


Here’s a way to turn your outing into a loop hike. It provides great views but involves hill climbs, and is for fit, experienced hikers only. Once you reach Juan Tabo Canyon, head downstream. As you approach 35 deg. 13.080 min. N, 106 deg. 30.026 min. W you’ll encounter a dense patch of trees and brush in a bend of the canyon bottom. Skirt the vegetation to the left (southeast side), using a faint path, until you reach the waypoint just provided. There, a second faint path branches off the first one and zigzags upslope. Follow the second path out of the canyon bottom. At first this unofficial path is steep and slippery, so a great reason to deploy your hiking poles.


The unofficial path heads mostly south to a junction at 35 deg. 12.890 min. N, 106 deg. 30.018 min. W. (Just before that junction, keep an eye out for a mine shaft off to the left.) At the junction, take a left and head uphill (north) along a different unofficial path, until you pass to the right of a high point at 35 deg. 12.979 min. N, 106 deg. 29.982 min. W. The trail drops a bit before climbing again, as it follows a ridge line eastward to the high point of the hike (at 35 deg. 12.987 min. N, 106 deg. 29.552 min. W; 7040 feet). 


Juan Tabo Canyon, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
From this location the trail heads down to the left, then up to the right to reach the high point of the hike (slightly right of center in this photo).



You have now climbed 720 feet from the canyon bottom and have a 330 foot drop back to your car. To complete the loop, take the path that heads down the ridge line to the north. As you continue to drop, that ridge line will bend east. You’ll come out on Forest Trail 2 at 35 deg. 13.082 min. N, 106 deg. 29.319 min. W. Take a right turn and continue 200 meters along that numbered trail to reach your car.