Tree Springs Trail lies a little further than halfway up the eastern slope of the Sandia Mountains, just east of Albuquerque. This eastern slope is much more hospitable to hikers than the mostly sheer cliffs of the western side, but any hike here still involves a significant amount of altitude change.
The rabbit’s warren of trails in the Sandias are all in the Cibola National Forest, managed by the National Forest Service and the US Department of Agriculture. You can find a complete list and map of the Cibola trails here. There’s dozens of worthwhile trails in the Sandias, and thankfully, you can get to almost all of them from the same route.
From Albuquerque, take I-40 east towards the mountains (you can’t miss ‘em). You’ll cross through Tijeras Valley to the east side of the mountains (the Sandias are to the north, the Manzano Mountains to the south), then take exit 175 towards Cedar Crest/Tijeras. Stick to the left fork to go north on NM-14 for about 12 miles, then turn left onto NM-536 when you see the big “Sandia Peak” sign on your left.
- Distance: 3.94 miles out and back
- Elevation Change: 1,039′
- Difficulty: Moderate
- USGS Topo: Sandia Crest, NM
From there, the Tree Springs trailhead is about 5.5 miles up the mountain on the left with generous parking available.
The drive up the mountain is gorgeous but can be a bit treacherous in the winter, especially if you don’t have 4-wheel drive — take it slow, and consider bringing tire chains if there’s snow on the ground.
Tree Springs Trail is a 3.9 mile out-and-back trail in the Sandia Mountains, just east of Albuquerque. The trail has a 1,039 foot increase in altitude and takes you to the crest of the Sandias. You can hike this trail on its own or as a connector to the Oso Corridor, which will take you back down the mountain, or to the 10K trail and the Crest trail at the top, which both run north-south along the crest of the Sandias.
If you do decide to hike the whole trail up to the crest, it’s wise to wear some sturdy hiking boots, as this is one of the rockiest trails in the Sandias and has plenty of ankle-twisting opportunities. Also keep in mind that this far up the mountain is generally about 10 degrees colder than it is in Albuquerque, so dress accordingly. Consider bringing some trekking poles if it’s winter, as the trail can get icy.
Once you’re at the trailhead, make sure to purchase the $3.00 parking pass from the small metal box at the entrance — or, if you hike the Sandias enough, it’s worth it to buy a Sandia Ranger District Annual Pass, which you can get for $30 at the Sandia Ranger Station (11776 Highway 337).
At the trailhead you’ll find a big sign and two vault toilets. The sign shows a map of all the Sandia trails, along with some history and regulations. The trail begins to the right, just after the sign.
Although a sign at the trailhead says that cyclists and horseback riders may also use this trail, I’ve never seen any of either on Tree Springs. It seems much too rocky for either of those things, but maybe that’s just from my hiker’s perspective.
The beginning of the hike is a slow uphill climb headed southwest that quickly becomes very rocky. In the spring you’ll see wildflowers in the sunny patches at the start of the trail, but fewer later on as the trees become denser. In the wintertime the first few yards of the trail can be treacherously icy, but it becomes much more manageable afterwards.
Keep an eye out for chipmunks, stellar jays and horny toads on this trail. You’ll hear plenty of ravens circling above, too.
Within a half mile you’ll run into the connection with Oso Corridor on the left. Oso Corridor takes you on a 2.7 mile hike up to the South Sandia Peak that goes through several beautiful meadows bursting with wildflowers and sweeping vistas to the east. This one’s a must on a clear day.
After about a mile of hiking on Tree Springs you’ll start seeing breaks in the forest to the left, where you can see the pine-covered slope of the opposite peak. These vistas are especially breathtaking just after a snowfall.
After about 0.1 miles from here you’ll come to the switchback, which will turn you right. The trail becomes a lot steeper at this point, and you’ll encounter a couple difficult patches of rocks.
As you head north there will be a couple more vistas to your right, until you hit the second switchback, about .3 miles after the first.
This home stretch up to the crest is fairly steep. You’ll shortly come across two forks in the path: the first one with no signage to help you out. Continue down the middle path. The second fork is where you can hop onto the 10K trail going either north or south. Once again, continue down the middle path to get to the end of the trail and the west-facing vistas.
The trail suddenly empties out onto a granite plateau at the crest, where you can take in the gorgeous, panoramic view of Albuquerque, the Three Sisters (the three cinder cone volcanoes to the west of the city), and the desert extending into the horizon.
To your left you’ll see the spruce-covered mountains curving west (pictured below). The views here are worth savoring, so pack snacks to enjoy at the crest while you take a breather.
Here at the crest you can also join the South Crest Trail, which will take you 1.5 miles north to Sandia Peak, where the Sandia Tram lets off.
Once you’ve had your fill of the view, you can turn around and head back down to the Tree Springs trailhead, or continue on to any of the three trails that connect.
Whatever you have in mind, it’s best to plan on being back to your car by the time the sun goes down, as the temperature can plummet in the evenings. If you want to watch the sunset from the crest, though — which I wouldn’t blame you for — just make sure you pack extra layers and a headlamp.
Guest post by Robin Babb. Robin is a freelance writer and editor living in Albuquerque. She spends a lot of time roadtripping across the Land of Enchantment and hiking in the Sandias. You can get in touch with her through her website, robinbabb.net.