Places to Visit in New Mexico
La Luz Trail, one of the hiking trails riddling the New Mexican desert around Santa Fe and Albuquerque, winds shy of 8 miles across the west face of the Sandia Mountains. If you’re a hiker, this is the place to be. Total elevation gain on the trail is 3,800 feet, and the highest point at the top (Sandia Peak) sits at 10,500 above sea level. The trail consists of 18 switchbacks that bring you up the mountain, so total climbing grade is about 12%. After the first 5.3 miles, the sand/dirt trail turns into loose flagon rock, so watch your footing. You should climb single-file if you’re in a large group, because one misstep and you’ll go careening off the cliff into the canyons below. After a few miles of climbing over loose rock, you’ll finish La Luz Trail with a few more switchbacks. At the top of the trail you can continue on to the peak, or walk another mile along the cliff to the Sandia Peak Tram. If you’re too tired for the descent and want gorgeous views of the canyons below, buy a $12 one-way ticket and ride the tram 2.7 miles down to the base camp. At the top, you’ll often find para-gliders and mountain bikers. There is a restaurant at the tram station for ravenous hikers and tourists if the snacks you brought just don’t cut it.
The hike should take anywhere from 4-6 hours, according to the workers operating the tram’s base camp, however we made it up in 3:17 with plenty of water breaks and photo stops. A round trip hike is about 16 miles, so section out a good chunk of your day for a slow, easy decent and enough time at the top.
Note of caution about altitude sickness: If you’re traveling from sea level or lower elevation and have not yet adjusted, take it easy on the ascent. The air is thin that high up, and your blood is working overtime to deliver oxygen to your cells. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or mild nausea, this is common, but take frequent water breaks and bring snacks. We climbed part way with two girls just in from Israel. The last three miles we’re extremely difficult for them, and at one point, we rested several minutes so they could get enough oxygen. Adjusting to altitude technically takes about 3 weeks not to feel a difference, so be sure to factor this into the intensity of your climb.
For non-hikers: If you want to see the breathtaking desert views but you’re not a big hiker, you can either drive up the east side of the mountain or take the tram up and down (two way ticket costs $20).
La Luz Trailhead
You can find the trailhead 5 miles off of I-25: take exit 234 to Tramway Road (or highway 556). Take your first left and follow the signs back about 3 miles until you hit the parking lot. The parking lot area for the trailhead opens at 9am and closes at 9pm (wardens don’t want people hiking the mountain at night). There is a parking fee of $3 to park your car for the day. Simply grab a hot pink envelope near the base of the parking lot by the large brown bulletin boards. Fill out your information, insert $3 and tear off the top tab. Place the top tab in the front left corner of your dash and the envelope in the locked box. If you don’t have a hot pink permit slip, plan on getting towed or booted.
The trailhead itself is a 2 mile hike from the tram’s base camp, so if you’re hiking up and tramming down, either go with someone who can park their car at the other location, or plan on hiking the extra two (easy) miles.
A Hydration System Ideal for La Luz Trail:
Try Ultralight Backpacks and Hydration systems to get your hike off to the right start, and keep you hydrated all the way through. Conveniently located chest and waist straps pull the cushioned back snug to your body, and the hose (just long enough so it’s not a nuisance) is within reach so you don’t have to remove the pack at all. Side and front pouches provide the perfect nestling place for protein-rich snacks (bring peanuts, a sandwich, or trail mix) as well as a camera, sunscreen, a hat, and other hiking gear.