Tecolote Trail in the Sandia Mountains

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


Here’s an easy, kid-friendly hike that lets you sample the middle elevations of the Sandia Mountains. The round trip is 2 1/2 miles and the elevation gain is only about 200 feet. It’s a good spring through fall hike; if you do it in the summer, you’ll be happier getting an early start to beat the heat. This is such a straightforward hike that I’ll provide long-lat values only for the parking area and far end. 


The trail is sometimes rocky, so use sturdy footwear. Also, oak brush crowds the trail in places, which poses a risk of ticks—so wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and do a skin survey afterwards.


To reach the trailhead from Albuquerque, drive east on I-40 to the Tijeras exit and then north on NM 14 (the Turquoise Trail). Turn left on NM 536 (the Crest Highway) and head into the Sandias. About half a mile after you pass the Tree Spring Trail turnoff, turn right at 35 deg. 11.994 min. N, 106 deg. 24.331 min. W, into an unpaved parking area for the Tecolote Trail (No. 264). If the area looks disturbed to you, that’s because it lost a lot of trees to bark beetles (a natural process amplified by global warming). The dead trees were salvaged and the area has been replanted.


Because of all the salvage logging and replanting, the start of the Tecolote Trail isn’t super obvious. Head NNE and uphill out of the parking area, away from the highway. Pass to the right of the pit toilets (which are out of ordure, so to speak). In about 80 meters the trail bends right (southeast), to gently climb the southwest side of the ridge sometimes known as Tecolote (Buzzard) Peak. 

Soon after leaving the parking you’ll encounter a mine entrance to your left. The miners must not have found what they were looking for—they gave up after a few feet—but small kids will love peering into this “cave.” You could easily turn this initial section of trail, plus the mine entrance, into a side trip during a kid-oriented exploration of the upper Sandias.


Tecolote Trail, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
A "mysterious cave" in the Sandia Mountains, not far from the Crest Highway.


Soon afterwards the trail switches back to the northwest. Once the trail reaches the top of the ridge, it switches back to the southwest. Up to now the trail has mostly been in trees; on top there will be meadows and vistas in various directions. At the end of the trail is a quarter-mile loop; take that in either direction to reach the far point of the hike (at 35 deg. 11.609 min. N, 106 deg. 23.720 min. W). Having completed the loop, retrace your steps to return to your car.


Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
The Crest Highway and crest of the Sandias, from the Tecolote Trail