Three Gun Spring Trail in the Sandia Mountains

Three Gun Spring Trail, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Heading up the lower part of the trail. Once past the spring turnoff, the trail climbs the apparent dip in the ridge near the left end of the photo.


Three Gun Spring Trail provides an in-and-out hike that can be as short and easy as you wish. The trail is on south-facing slopes so better done in cool months than in warm ones. From Albuquerque, take Central Avenue east past Tramway, as it becomes NM 333 (do not take I-40 east). At 35 deg. 3.909 min N, 106 deg. 26.529 min. W, turn left (north) across the median, then turn right (east) onto the frontage road, which bends left (north) and becomes Monticello Drive. You are now in a quiet neighborhood, so please drive slowly. At 35 deg. 4.362 min. N, 106 deg. 26.562 min. W, turn left (west) onto Alegre Drive, which ends 260 meters later. There, turn right (north) onto Siempre Verde Drive and follow that road past another half-dozen homes. Park at 35 deg. 4.579 min. N, 106 deg. 26.652 min. W (6330 feet).


The trailhead is at the north end of the parking lot. About 50 meters north of the lot, the trail bends left (NNW) out of the wash onto a low ridge, then heads just east of north. At 35 deg. 4.955 min. N, 106 deg. 26.618 min. W, the trail crosses into the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. (Just beyond the wilderness boundary fence, the Hawk Watch Trail splits off to the right.) About a mile later, as you approach the mouth of the canyon where Three Gun Spring is located, you’ll pass the first of two wood signposts. Don’t head into the canyon just yet, or you’ll struggle to get past brush and boulders. Instead, continue to the second wood signpost at 35 deg. 5.808 min. N, W 106 26.430 min. W (7190 feet). There, an informal but obvious trail branches off from the maintained trail and continues about 150 meters up the canyon bottom, to the first of the large trees at Three Gun Spring. Don’t count on finding drinkable water, however. In February 2018, the wildlife drinker at the spring was dry. In April 2023 the drinker held water, but it was way skanky.


Three Gun Spring Trail, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
The informal trail to Three Gun Spring begins to the right of the pinyon tree next to the post.


Up to the spring turnoff the hike is an easy one with a modest elevation gain (of 860 feet over roughly a mile and a half). If you continue on the main trail (by heading left at the post shown above), a series of switchbacks leads you up the the side of the local ridge. Continue upward  until you get the workout you want. If you don't want to go to the top of the ridge, look for a point with a good view of the valley and turn around there.


On top of the ridge, at 35 deg. 6.207 min. N, 106 deg. 26.554 min. W, is the junction with the Embudo Trail. The elevation there is 7910 feet, so the gain from the base of the switchbacks to the ridgeline is 720 feet. If you’re still not ready to turn back, Three Gun Spring Trail extends northward beyond the junction to Oso Pass, providing connections to other trails and a route to South Sandia Peak. 


The lower part of Three Gun Spring Trail heads north on a low ridge, with shallow south-draining swales to either side. To turn an in-and-out hike into a loop hike, you can drop into either of those swales to follow unofficial but obvious trails back to the trailhead. Just be sure to cut back over to the main trail as you draw near where you parked (i.e., before you go traipsing onto private property). The local network of trails shows up well on Google Earth.


Three Gun Spring Trail, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
The side trail to the location of the (dry at the time) spring