One of the great things about living in Albuquerque is the weather. This gives you so many opportunities to be outdoors in nature. With the Rio Grande on one edge of the city, and the Sandia Mountains on the other, we are literally surrounded by beauty. As a budget-conscious family with a desire to stay active, trail walks have become one of our favorite low-cost family activities. I’ve listed a few of our favorite places to explore in and around the Albuquerque area below – Click the link on each spot for a map to its location.
NOTE: Carlito Springs is currently closed and undergoing improvements. Check this website for updates about the project.
A good friend turned me on to this little gem just recently, and we’ve already done it three times. Carlito Springs is just a hop, skip and a jump away in Tijeras, NM. It’s a quaint little mountain town about 10 minutes east of Albuquerque. Once you park your car and hit the trail, there’s an immediate fork in the road. My suggestion is to turn LEFT. I would guess the hike itself is maybe a mile or less each way. And when you get to the top (after several bridges and switchbacks), there are a handful of gorgeous pools of water (hence why it is called Carlito Springs.)
A few notes of caution: There are some steep drop-offs with no railing, so clumsy-footed toddlers need hand-holding or a spot in the hiking backpack. There is also a good amount of poison ivy along the trail leading up to the springs. Talk to your kids about staying away from greenery. Once you reach the top, the springs are open pools of water, so young kiddos need to be closely monitored. Lastly, we had a visit from a rattlesnake the last time we were up there! We kept our distance and he didn’t bother us, but be aware that you may come across wildlife. Don’t let any of that scare you though – this is a seriously beautiful hike, and totally worth the uphill climb it takes to get there!
This spot holds a special place in my heart. My husband’s family has been picnicking here for as long as he can remember. I’m so glad they introduced me and my family to this lovely little getaway. This picnic area is nestled in the Sandia Mountains, just past the Tinkertown Museum. Cienega Picnic Area is a great place to spend a good chunk of your day. Bring lunch and some outdoor activities! Our family plans an annual picnic here each year in the early fall.
Once you drive in to the picnic area, there are several different parking areas and a bunch of different designated picnic spots. We have a spot we keep going back to time and time again, because it has a little creek with a bridge, and some small trails that go out into the forest and then loop back around. It’s a large area with two grills, four tables, some open space for games (bocce ball, frisbee, horseshoes, etc.), bathrooms (okay, latrines…) nearby. And it easily accommodates our large shared family gatherings. My only notes here would be to pack the bug spray (especially if there’s been a lot of moisture), and to bring a few dollars cash for the national parks fee, which you pay via envelope when you enter the grounds.
The Alameda Open Space is just opposite the paved Bosque trail at Alameda – you use the same shared parking lot. There are a series of gravel trails that wind through the space. There’s also a small pond and a larger, constructed “wetland” for the Bosque wildlife to enjoy. Depending on the time of year, you might spot frogs, toads, cranes, ducks, geese, etc.. The last time we visited, we witnessed a mama quail run by with her gaggle of babies dashing along behind her – it was just too cute!
Because you’re in the Bosque, you can enjoy lots of shade from the massive cottonwoods all around. With the beautiful backdrop this spot provides, it has been one of our top picks for family photos over the past several years. There are spots to stop and picnic, and lots of little placards identifying plants and animals you may find along the trails. Plus, you can make the stroll as long or as short as you want to. Which is always nice when there are unpredictable little ones involved.