Cibola National Forest
Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region
2,103,528 acres (1,633,783 federal/ 469,745 other)
Cibola National Forest is spread across many mountain ranges in central New Mexico, including the Bear, Datil, Magdalena, San Mateo, Gallinas, Manzano, and Zuni Mountains. Due to their proximity to Albuquerque, the most visited are the Sandia Mountains, which have a ski resort that is only open during good snow years. You can reach the top by riding the aerial tramway (admission fee), driving Sandia Crest Scenic Byway (fee), or hiking La Luz Trail that climbs 3,800 feet in elevation.
Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, Tajique Canyon, Continental Divide Loop Auto Tour, Mt. Taylor, Cienega Canyon Picnic Area, McGaffey Lake, Mt. Withington, Kelly ghost town, South Baldy Peak, Whitehorse Canyon, Paxton Cone, La Luz Trail, Kiwanis Trail
Sandia Peak rises to 10,678 feet in elevation, dominating the skyline east of Albuquerque. The mountain makes a great backdrop for photos during the International Balloon Fiesta held every October, but we can imagine it would also be fun to watch the balloons launch or do their night lighting from the summit. Once atop the busy peak, the North Crest, 10K, and South Crest Trails are all good hiking options that do not lose too much elevation. Some hikers choose to ride the aerial tramway up and then take a steep trail back down to the parking lot (trekking poles recommended).
In the Manzano Mountains, both the Red Canyon (3.5 miles one-way) and Fourth of July Trails (two miles) climb to the 22-mile-long Crest Trail, which offers stunning views along its length. Further south, the Crest Trail also accesses 10,098-foot-tall Manzano Peak. In the San Mateo Mountains north of Interstate 40, a trail (six miles roundtrip) summits 11,301-foot Mt. Taylor, an extinct stratovolcano that is one of four mountains sacred to the Navajo.
The “sky islands” of Cibola National Forest rise high above the surrounding landscape, providing habitat for numerous isolated and rare species. Mule deer and pronghorn are the two main large ungulates found in Cibola National Forest, while its carnivores include black bears, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions. Due to its proximity to the Rio Grande Valley, many migratory birds pass through the National Forest during the spring and fall. If you take the Sandia Peak tramway, watch for birds of prey flying the updrafts along the steep mountain grades.
From either the point where the Sandia Peak aerial tramway unloads passengers or the end of the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, it is an easy one-hour roundtrip hike through the subalpine forest to the Kiwanis Cabin and its awesome views.
There is a day-use fee to park along the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, although you can use the America the Beautiful Pass. Sandia Peak Tramway tickets are about $29 roundtrip.
The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway is paved to the top, but Road 165 offers a rough dirt road alternative partway up. Most of the roads in the Manzano Mountains are well-maintained gravel.
The Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque are a great place for dispersed camping, and there are also several campgrounds.
Apache Kid Wilderness
Manzano Mountain Wilderness
Sandia Mountain Wilderness
Carson National Forest (New Mexico)
El Morro National Monument (New Mexico)
Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)
Nearest National Park
Rocky Mountain juniper, alligator juniper, Engelmann spruce, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, subalpine fir
Flowering Tree Species
Gambel oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth maple, boxelder, New Mexico locust, Fremont cottonwood, netleaf hackberry
Explore More – How did the Manzano Mountains get their name?
Learn more about Cibola and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods
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