North America,  Travel

Tips on Hiking Down Sandia Peak

I am writing this blog post because reading other’s blog posts about their own Sandia experience was immensely helpful in planning my trip, and so I hope to contribute the same to other hikers in the future.

The Sandia Peak Tramway is a tram that takes you from the foot of the Sandia Mountains, all the way up to Sandia Peak, at 10,378 ft. above sea level. It’s located near Albuquerque, New Mexico and offers you a view of the entire city at the top. The cost of a ticket is $25 if you are choosing to ride it round trip, or if you decide to hike down or up it’s only $15.00.

Goals & Garbage - A photo of the Sandia Peak Tram in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Okay bye.

The tram itself is surrounded by glass, allowing passengers to look below as you ride above the mountain, unless you get smooshed in the middle and are short, like me, in which case you won’t see much but at least if it crashed to the ground your chances of survival would be higher. It’s a 15 minute ride and, if you aren’t scared of heights, it is pretty thrilling.

If you visited the tram’s website that I linked above, you may have noticed that one of their six tips about hiking is to not hike alone. I chose to ignore this because hiking down was something I wanted to do, and I didn’t have anyone who could travel to ABQ with me to partake in the experience (because they aren’t true Breaking Bad fans).

When I went to purchase my ticket for the tram, the woman behind the counter expressed concern to me that maybe I should reconsider. I believe that this tip is a valid worry, and would definitely recommend to anyone else to hike with a friend.

But… I didn’t drive 1,000 miles alone only to be dissuaded from this decision.

Instead, I focused on how to keep myself safe:

  • I read every piece of advice and literature on the trails that I could find on the internet (one of the reasons I am dedicating an entire blog post to this!).
  • I sort of familiarized myself with animals and bugs I might encounter, but a guy at a bar made me realize I could have done a better job at that (more on that later).
  • I printed out maps of the trails I’d be taking and highlighted my path.
  • I also opened my location with Google Maps, which actually shows the trails too. This was extremely useful, as the end of the hike had many switchbacks. By opening Google Maps, I could see where I was on the trail and make sure I wasn’t going the wrong way.
  • I shared my location with someone via iPhone, just in case.
  • I felt particularly safe about the trails I’d be taking, because I knew they were heavily trafficked by others.
  • I also knew that it was already not necessarily a difficult trail, just a long one.
  • I chose to wait a day after arriving, to make sure my body was acclimated to the new altitude. I also took ibuprofen because I heard it can help adjust you faster, but don’t quote me on that.
  • I purchased this beautiful, rainbow colored (and cheap too!) pocket knife because everyone back home warned me that I was going to end up like James Franco and have to cut my arm off.
  • I also purchased a first-aid kit, which depressingly came in handy (more on that later).
  • Aaaaand I brought a thousand pounds of snacks and more water than I needed. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, bring their chocolate covered Power Berries because they are the shit.
  • Other stuff I brought in my backpack: a hat, bug spray, sunscreen, a flashlight, a whistle, extra cash (you have to pay $2 to park FYI!), a selfie stick, and a pair of sweatpants in case I was too cold in my shorts (I wasn’t).Goals & Garbage - A photo of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico

While I obviously have general anxiety, I have very few ‘real’ fears. I could care less about spiders, heights, needles, clowns, murderers, failure, ghosts, small spaces, public speaking, etc. etc. etc. The only things I am legitimately afraid of are wasps, house fires, the concept of infinity, and, as I found out last year in Denver, driving through the mountains.

My god.

Why are they so horrifying? For some reason, I didn’t realize upon my arrival to ABQ that to get into the actual city, I’d have to drive in the mountains. This led to me nearly peeing my pants and almost changing my mind about hiking. When I drove to the base of the mountain, I literally said out loud “hahaha, fuck no”.

But, when I found out that a one-way ticket on the tram was ten bucks cheaper, like the cheapskate I am, I changed my mind.

The actual hike:

Even in the summer, the peak of this mountain (or any high-altitude mountain) is cold. It is about 30 degrees cooler than the base, and it’s a wise idea to bring a jacket. Even if you decide not to bring one though, if you get chilly, there is a visitor center at the peak of Sandia to warm up in. There is also usually a restaurant, though there isn’t one as of 2017 because they are renovating.  I wore a rain jacket because I had heard that the mountain weather can change on a whim, and to prepare yourself for a shower – just in case.

Goals & Garbage - A photo of the La Luz Trailhead in the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico
To hike from the peak to the base, you will use two trails: the La Luz Trail and then the Tramway Trail. The La Luz Trail is the longer, more scenic portion and connects to the Tramway Trail. The Tramway Trail is then the foothills trail to find your car. Altogether, this hike is about 10-ish miles long and takes, on average, 4 to 6 hours. It took me 5.

Finding the actual start of the trail was pretty confusing due to the restaurant construction, but I asked the woman in the welcome center who explained the beginning of it and off I went. Once on the trail, if it’s a sunny and summery day like it was for me, the temperature warms up immediately and your jacket is useless. I stored it in my backpack.

The beginning of the La Luz trail is beautiful. You walk alongside the mountain and have a clear view of Albuquerque and the surrounding mountains. Every now and then, hikers would pass me and we’d say hello. If hiking down, it is courteous to stand to the side while others hike up past you.

Goals & Garbage - A photo of a cactus in the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico

While there was plenty of traffic during the first portion of my hike, I still had in my mind the notion of bears. For some reason, this was the only form of wildlife I was worried about which in retrospect is ridiculous. A highly trafficked trail was enough to scare off bears to other, more secluded areas of the mountains. Regardless, since I was alone and not talking to anyone (ie. not really making a lot of noise), I clapped and sang off-key Bruno Mars songs every time I turned a corner.

I was also plenty aware that the mountain contained bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes, but this didn’t bother me as I figured they usually just eat small children (that’s their diet, right?).

The wildlife I should have been worried about were rattlesnakes. Why? Because I definitely heard one close by while I was hiking. At least, I think. At the time, I thought I was just over-hyping myself and needed to stop being so anxious. Later that night though, I met a local at a bar who told me that I was definitely right about what I heard, and that rattlesnakes reverberate so that you can’t figure out where they are actually coming from.



Anyway, on the La Luz, at the beginning of the hike you will walk through an open, exposed portion of the trail where you can enjoy the views of ABQ. You then will get to a part of the trail where you will travel into the trees, and begin to hit some rocks. The trail zig zags back and forth through these giant rocks and it is important to focus and not fall. I believe this is called the Transition Zone.

Once through the rocky area, you will reach a section of the trail called the Upper Sonoran Zone. At this point of the hike, you are totally exposed to the sunlight. Cacti increasingly pop up at this point and hundreds of butterflies flutter all around them. It’s magical. At this point of the trail, the sky was so perfectly blue and the weather so perfectly warm that I was convinced I had died and was in some weird form of high elevation purgatory.

Finally, you will reach a split in the trail. One is for Tramway Trail, and if you parked in the parking lot for the tram, this is the one you will want to take (hint, it will tell you that it is 2.6 miles. You’re almost done!).

Over it.

Remember when I said to focus and not fall earlier? I want to emphasize this even more here. Unless you’re not an idiot like me and have on proper hiking shoes, watch your step.

This trail is less dirt, and more sand. I fell three times, and once I slammed right into a cactus. This dissolved my adoration of them and I was OVER IT. I had spines all up and down my arm, including some disgustingly deep ones. This, everyone, is why you should always bring a freaking first-aid kit. Thankfully, mine had tweezers and I was able to remove all of the spines at the end of my hike. This is undoubtedly the most New Mexico thing to have happened to me all trip.

The Tramway Trail is a bit hard to follow, and offers far more switch backs than The La Luz. I had to keep opening Google Maps to ensure I was headed the right direction. An afternoon mountain storm was clearly brewing above my head as well, and I was too full of cactus spines (and bleeding) to reach into my backpack and grab my rain jacket. This led to me limp-running through the stupid sand trail until I finally concluded my hike. I have never been so happy to see a rental car.

In conclusion:

Goals & Garbage - A photo of the author on Sandia Peak, in Albuquerque, New Mexico
I am over exaggerating a little, as I always do, so don’t let my cactus and rattlesnake stories discourage you from this hike. Despite being a solo, woman hiker, I felt safe which is extremely important. There were plenty of people trafficking the trails, there was phone service, and there was abundant info online about the trails. I am so glad I went, and enjoyed the breath-taking views from the peak, the beautiful nature (even the cacti), the swarms of butterflies, and the pleasant New Mexico weather.

Oh, and I also feel like a sunburnt badass for completing it ALONE!

Questions? Concerns? Etc.? Let me know by commenting below.

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