I've been trying to hike on lots of trails since I moved to New Mexico. Here are some descriptions of some of the better hikes I've taken.
The Sandia Mountains are directly East of Albuquerque, and the wilderness area begins a few hundred feet from where the houses end. Several trailheads are within about a ten-minute drive from my apartment. The mountains were formed by a geological rift, meaning Earth's crust split and one side got pushed up into a mountain. Consequently, the eastern side of the mountains rises very gradually, while the western side is much more abrupt. Most of the trails on the western side begin in the high desert, requiring quite a climb to get to greener climate zones.
Embudito (Spanish for "little funnel") was the first trail I hiked after moving here. It's also one of the best trails on the west side of the mountain. To get to the trailhead, take Montgomery east past Tramway. Turn left onto Glenwood Hills Dr NE, then right on Trailhead. The trail starts off in the high desert and immediately begins ascending up a hill. About three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead, you reach a small flat area where the trail seems to split. The correct path is the center one, and is usually marked with rocks. From then on, stay to the right whenever any branches veer off to the side, and you'll eventually descend to the water. Soon after that, the trail heads out of the streambed and back up the hill. The top of the hill is the two mile point, and offers great views of South Sandia Peak. This is likely as far as you'll get in the winter.
After the hill, the trail follows a stream for awhile before climbing away from the water. In the Spring, this was my favorite part of the hike due to the abundant flowers and massive amounts of green. There are also some great views of both North and South Sandia Peaks along this stretch. After two miles of this, the trail reaches Oso Pass, where it meets Whitewash Route from the west and Three Gun Spring Trail to the south. There are a few big rocks to sit on here, making it a good place to stop for lunch.
Heading east from Oso Pass, the last mile and a half of the trail takes you up to South Peak. The entire trail is covered with scrub Oak trees, making long pants desirable. I didn't have any trouble finding South Peak, but several trails intersect at the Crest about half a mile away from the peak, and this apparantly confuses some people. You'll know you're at South Peak when you have to climb up onto a rock and you find a slab of concrete with rebar sticking out of it at the top.
When I last did this in May, the entire hike took about 5 hours. I left at 7:30am to get through the first two miles of the trail before it got hot, and this seemed to help a lot. The best time of year to hike is definitely spring, as soon as the snow has melted.
Piedra Lisa Trail (South)
The other trail I like on the Albuquerque side of the mountains is Piedra Lisa. It's in Juan Tabo Canyon, at the Northeast end of Albuquerque. To get to the trailhead, take Tramway north past the tram and turn right onto FR333. If you stay to the left, it eventually turns into a dirt road. At this transition, there's a sign that says "Fee Area" and a place to pay $3 for parking. Go ahead and do it there, as there's no way to pay at the trailhead. A short distance down the road, there's a gate blocking the road and a parking lot for the trailhead.
The trail itself follows the road for awhile past the gate. Don't be fooled by the apparant trails going off the road; the actual trail has a post on the right side of the road marking the way. The trail rises up the northern canyon wall through lots of pretty greenery. At about the two-mile mark, you reach the ridge and a post pointing you to the northern half of the trail. Instead of doing that, I usually follow the ridge east until I reach one of the big rocks, then climb up that and enjoy the scenery. The northern portion of the trail isn't particularly scenic, and it ends in Placitas, so be sure to have a car waiting at that end if you want to do the whole thing one-way.
Note that portions of the wilderness to the east of the trail are closed from March through August. Someone else on the trail told me that this was because raptors nest in that area.
Piedra Lisa is great because it's much greener than many of the other trails on the west side. It's not incredibly steep either, and gives you great views of the northern half of the Sandias as well as all of Albuquerque and the desert north of it.
Tree Spring Trail
If you're venturing to the east side of the mountains, Tree Spring is the trail to beat. It's about a two-mile hike through the woods to a scenic vista of Albuquerque. It also happens to have a tiny parking lot which is usually full on weekend afternoons, so make sure you go early. Like all of the other trailheads on the east side of the mountain, there's a $3 parking fee.
There's not much to say about this one. From the trailhead, hike until the fork, where a sign should point you to the right. Hike through the woods until you reach a fence with a "Sandia Wilderness Area" sign on it, then just keep hiking west from the fence until you end up on an big flat rock with a great view of the city. When I went in the early summer, I saw plenty of gorgeous purple Rocky Mountain Irises.
Crest Spur Trail
At the top of mountain, there's an enormous parking lot and a gift shop (the Crest House). A lot of people will hike between the Tram terminal and the Crest House along the Crest Trail. It's pretty, but bet on seeing a lot of people. In my opinion, a much better bet is the Crest Spur Trail, which is primarily used to access the La Luz Trail from either the Tram or the Crest House. It's about a 1.75 mile hike one-way from one end to the other, and it basically travels along a little ledge on the side of the mountain. You can expect some great views of the canyons and of Albuquerque, and it seems a lot less crowded than the alternative trails. A note of caution, however: at the Crest House end of the trail, there's a fairly steep climb to the parking lot. If you're not used to steep trails at high elevations, you might use the much easier Crest Trail on the return trip to avoid this.
Parking, as usual, is $3.
The Pecos Wilderness includes the mountains east of Santa Fe. It provides some much more remote hikes than the Sandias, as well as taller mountains. The trails here are all at higher elevations than the Sandias, so hikes of the same length will be noticeably tougher here.
Santa Fe Baldy
The Santa Fe Baldy is a fairly accessible peak reaching 12,600 feet. The hike to the peak is very doable in a day, and the beautiful aspen forests and mountain meadows on the way make it worth the trip even if you don't get to the top. To get to the trailhead, take Artist Road (also called Hyde Park Road) east out of town. You'll eventually reach the Santa Fe Ski Area, where there's a giant parking lot and signs for the Windsor Trailhead. Thankfully, there is no parking fee here. From the parking lot to the summit is around 7 miles.
The trail starts off with a punishing climb for the first half mile or so, then reaches a wooden fence with a "Pecos Wilderness" sign on it. For the next few miles, it's all downhill until you reach the Rio Nambe. There are a few side trails that branch off, but your best bet is to stick with the Windsor. At the Nambe, you'll want to cross the river and take the prominent-looking trail that goes slightly downhill in what looks like exactly the wrong direction. It eventually changes direction and rises up away from the river.
The trail will reach a meadow where it splits. A sign directs you to the Windsor Trail and Spirit Lake or the Skyline Trail to the left. You want to head left towards the Baldy, which should now pretty much dominate the landscape to your North. Follow the trail until you get close to a saddle point near the treeline. A faint (and unofficial) trail veers off to the left here, and that's what you have to take to get up the Baldy. The steepness of the trail and the thin air makes this part extremely challengeing, but well worth the effort. From the top, you get a full panoramic view of the whole of Pecos, and on a clear day you can see the Jemez to the West and the Sandias to the South.
Expect to experience several temperature extremes on this hike. The top of the Baldy is cold and gusty, while the rest of the hike might be much warmer. Also, because the trail goes above the treeline, you want to avoid the top if a thunderstorm is forming, which happens just about every afternoon in the mid-to-late summer. The best approach is to plan to reach the summit before noon. When I did this, it took me almost four hours to reach the top, and the trailhead was a two-hour drive from my apartment in Albuquerque.
In the summer of 2007, I did a 40-mile backpacking trip from the Santa Fe ski basin to Santa Barbara campground (near Peñasco). I've written a detailed account of the trip, including places to camp along the way.