East Mountains: Everything Is Greener on the Other Side of the Sandias

Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
A View of Albuquerque From the Top of the Sandia Mountains

Usually this time of the year, we set aside time for vacation away from home. This year we decided to stay put and take short excursions around ABQ. Enjoying the outdoors is one of our favorite things to do, especially hiking. It’s a great family activity to do, and even more so if you have a dog. We are fortunate to have over 25 trails so close to us in the Sandia Mountains. Instead of doing the La Luz Trail on the west side of the Sandias, we chose the greener east side for our recent hike.

My husband decided on the Cienega Trail because he wanted to see if this was the trail he used to hike as a child with his family; “there were wild strawberries along the trail.” This trail is located about 1.7 miles from the entrance of the Cibola National Forest at the intersection of NM 14 (The Turquoise Trail) and Highway 536 (road up to Sandia Peak Ski).

Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
Sign at Entrance to the Cibola National Forest
Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
Highway 536 to hiking trails and skiing
Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
Pay station (bear warning)
Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
Board on the right has trail maps and information

The east side of the mountain is greener because it receives more precipitation. It contrasts sharply with the sandy/rocky terrain of low brush and cactus on the west side. There are tall trees and grass, wildflowers, and water in the brooks at this of the year- it’s refreshing. Our hike began at 10 am. The weather was perfect- blue skies, no wildfire  smoke, the temperature in the 70s, and a little breezy. In my opinion, this time of the year and September/October are prime times for outdoor activity. This trail is rated as difficult (moderate by some), and at the time, I did not know it. While I was hiking up, every time I stopped to catch my breath I kept thinking to myself, “I am so out of shape, I need to work out more!” It took us about 2 hours to climb up 2000 feet in elevation to the top.

Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
On the trail near the start

We were well rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. It was a clear view for about 80 miles in three directions. With binoculars, we were able to locate our home down below. After resting for a while, we decided to head back down the same trail in order to make it back into town for another event. Otherwise, we could have taken the Crest Trail and down the Oso Corredor Trail back to our car for a longer hike. The entire hike took about 3.5 hours for a total of about 4.25 miles and we encounter a total of 7 people and 1 dog.

Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
Resting at the top and enjoying the view
Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
At the top
Hiking the Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains
On our way down, dog waits for the rest to catch up

While we did see wild strawberry plants along the trail, my husband is still not sure if this was the trail of his childhood days. No matter, it was a morning well spent and I got a good workout!

#33cccc;">Tip: Click here for the Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide.

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