Cienega Trail (No. 148) – Sandia Mountains, New Mexico

If you’re looking for a challenging hike to get your heart rate up, Cienega Trail in the Sandia Mountains is a great choice! It gains over 1,700ft in 2.5 miles, making it a great trail for training.

If you love learning about the natural history of the Sandias, then you’ll love this trails diversity of wildflowers, trees, and shrubs.

When you reach the overlook, you can see Albuquerque below, but there aren’t any other overlooks as you hike – you’re under tree cover the entire time.


  • If you have bad knees, be prepared – it’s mostly uphill or downhill. There aren’t many flat sections for your knees to rest.
  • If you have allergies and break out easily when you walk through plants, be sure to wear long pants and shirts. The last mile of the hike is overgrown and you’ll be pushing through various plants.

You may not run into another hiker on this trail – it’s not a popular as some (possibly because of it’s steep incline). It crosses Faulty Trail 195 and continues a steady climb upward to where it intersects with the Crest Trail 130 and Pino Trail 140 (which starts in the foothills at Elena Gallegos).

Trail Specs

  • Total Miles: 5 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 1,752 ft
  • Max Elevation: 9,227 ft
  • Time to Hike: 3+ hrs

How To Get There

Simply Google “Cienega picnic area Sandia Mountains” and the location of the trailhead will populate. It’s located in the Cienega/Sulfur Spring picnic area – the first stop on the left as you drive up the mountain.

When you turn into the Cienega/Surfur Spring Picnic area, turn left immediately and follow the road up the hill. The road will dead end at a parking lot – turn left. Follow this road until you can’t go anymore (you’ll see multiple parking lots along the way).

When you park, walk up the cement pathway until you see a sign that says “Cienega Trail No. 148.” This is the trail head. It follows the spring uphill for a short distance. Click here for the National Forest Service’s Cienega Trail website.

If you use All Trails to plan out your hikes, click here for their link to this trail.

Trail Maps

View Points You Can Expect Along the Trail

If you’re looking for vast viewpoints of Albuquerque or the East Mountains, this is not the trail for you. The only place it really opens up is once you reach the end of the trail… and even then, the view isn’t necessarily vast and open. But the diversity of plants you see along the way makes up for the lack of views, in my opinion!

Animals You May See Along the Trail

  • Woodpeckers
  • American Crow
  • Stellar’s Jay
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Putnam’s Cicada
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • I got a glimpse of a mouse, but not sure what kind.

Plants You Will See Along the Trail

This trail starts at a natural spring (and is on the north-facing (ish) side of the mountain), so you’ll see a lot of plants that are used to getting more water. It’s a great place to discover deciduous trees and shrubs that grow in the Sandias, along with different wildflowers that you can find in shaded areas.

Purple Wildflowers you’ll encounter:

  • Pinewoods Geranium (Geranium caespitosum)
  • Richardson’s Geranium (Geranium richardsonii)
  • American Dragonhead (Dracocephalum parviflorum)
  • Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus)
  • Silvery Lupine (Lupinus argenteus)
  • Pitcher’s Leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri)

If you want to learn how to take your kids on this hike and have them learn flower anatomy, then click here to download a FREE lesson!

Click here to download our FREE lesson on Flower Dissection

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