I grew up in Albuquerque and never knew what treasures lie in our city’s East Mountains. My husband grew up in Tijeras and introduced me to the beautiful world that exists just a short drive from the city. We moved to Tijeras in 2008, a week after my first son was born.
At first, I felt like there were things in the woods watching me, like I was out in the middle of nowhere. I spent so much time driving to Albuquerque to be among my familiar places and faces. However, after well over a decade of winters, play dates, school days, and summers, I’ve become a confident East Mountain mama. If you’ve never checked out the East Mountains or are new to the area, grab a Starbucks and come along. I promise we’re gonna have a good time!
Let’s start with something really easy. Check out these two lovely, locally-owned places to enjoy coffee in Albuquerque’s East Mountains.
Roots Farm Cafe
At Roots Farm Cafe, they grow a ton of what they sell. They also purchase locally sourced products. Their coffee is awesome and goes even better with a buttery muffin, peanut-butter banana toast, or breakfast burrito. They’ve got a cozy cabin with a fireplace as well as porch-seating available.
Cabra Coffee is the real deal for coffee and tea connoisseurs. Your kids will love the hot chocolate, too!
Ok, ok . . . I know you might not necessarily be a “hiker.” Honestly, neither am I. I trudged up Mt. Princeton with an amazing friend one time, and I decided that “hiking” is most certainly not a thing that I do. However, I do enjoy a good walk out in the forest, especially with my kids. There has not been a single time that we’ve ventured out on a trail in the East Mountains that we haven’t all been VERY glad we did it!
Plus, you do not need fancy shoes, backpacking equipment, or any kind of special knowledge to just go outside and walk. My friends’ kids have hiked all of these trails in dresses and jellies. It’s a great way to spend a morning. And again, I AM NOT outdoorsy. Give it a try. I promise you will enjoy these trails as will your kids.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you bring $3.00 cash for a day pass to park at each of these trails as they are maintained by the National Forest Service! You can also purchase one online here.
This is an easy hike with some beautiful blue pools at the top! There is zero bushwhacking, a few fun bridges, and lovely tree cover. This is one that any kid who can walk will love.
You’ll have a short 20-minute drive from Tramway to get to this one. It’s well worth it!
Notice how little these guys were (4, 6, and 9), and they loved this trail!
Lower Pine is in our neighborhood and was the first trail I ever tried out on my own. I regularly take the kids up . . . just a mile and back. It’s a bit steep at the beginning but is beautiful in summer and spring. It can get a bit hot in places, so be prepared for that, and turn around when you’re ready to be done. Confident walkers will love scrambling up the first part which is quite rocky! This one might be a pain for pre-walkers and their moms unless they’re in a carrier.
This one is only 15 minutes from Tramway. You can stop at Roots Farm for lunch on the way back!
Here are my kids with their cousins in 2020. This rock is about a mile up the trail, so it’s an easy turn-around point.
Tree Spring is one of the trails that comes off the Sandia Crest road in Cedar Crest. It is a bit of a drive but is, by far, my kids’ favorite trail. Your willingness to drive a bit more (about 45 minutes from Tramway) will be rewarded with moss-covered rocks, beautiful tree cover, and even a small “waterfall” (remember that we ARE in a desert, friends!) if you go far enough.
Look at all that GREEN! We always look forward to climbing up that big rock that marks a mile up the path.
If you enjoy hiking but don’t want to drive all the way up to the East Mountains every time, check out ABQ Mom’s guide to family-friendly trail walks.
Ten 3 is not your typical dining experience. To eat there, you’ll ride the tram that goes up to Sandia Crest! We recommend going in the evening. It’s a bit on the fancy side but great for a big date night.
Ribs is a great place to stop after a hike on one of the Sandia Crest trails. Delicious barbecue awaits you as well as a full bar and even a sand volleyball court outside. This is casual mountain dining at its best. Ribs is owned by a family that lives in Cedar Crest, so when you go, you’re investing in our local business scene.
Greenside Cafe is owned and operated by the same people who own The Range Cafe in Albuquerque. The spacious cafe boasts a wide variety of New Mexican and American cuisine. There really is something for everyone here. I highly recommend the burritos.
Special Stuff To Do
Wildlife West Zoo
Wildlife West is NOT your typical zoo, my friends! This place cares for and houses only animals native to our East Mountain area. The wonderful thing about Wildlife West is that you can get up close to the animals and they are not generally afraid of humans. You’ll be able to reach out and touch deer, discover the playful side of coyotes, watch a bear devour a watermelon, and get stared down by a mountain lion! Take water and be prepared to be out in the sun!
Capulin Snow Play Area
Want to take the kids sledding or tubing for REAL? Come on up next time we get a good snowstorm. Capulin is relatively close to the Sandia Ski Area, right up the Sandia Crest Road. You will need to bring your own sled. Don’t forget to bring $3.00 for your parking pass.
Bring your family up to enjoy a picnic in the clean mountain air, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the forest! There are several beautiful picnic grounds in the East Mountains! Here are a few of our favorites:
Here we are at Cienega. See how pretty it is? Photo Credit: Mosey Photography
If your party is relatively small (10 or fewer), you’re pretty safe to bet that you can just show up and grab a table anytime. If you want to have a large event, you’ll need to reserve your spot at http://www.recreation.gov. Bring a horseshoe set, your camp chairs, a small fire pit, and your s’mores supplies. Hike up one of the trails if you like. You’re sure to have a blast.
McCalls Pumpkin Patch
McCalls Pumpkin Patch is SO MUCH FUN! Come up in October and take a hayride out to the fields. Pick your pumpkin, set it in the car, and let the real fun begin! Your kids will go bonkers for the fort, slides, and castle. They can take a little train ride, play in a corn pit, and feed the crazy goats. Bring your older kids on a Friday or Saturday when the sun goes down for a spooky run through the haunted corn maze. Stay for lunch and make sure to get some homemade doughnuts afterward!
Alright, my friends, you have everything you need to begin exploring the beautiful East Mountains of Albuquerque. There is so much more to do and see than I’ve listed here, but I’m confident you’ll find that out as you gain confidence exploring our lovely community. Pick something and block out a couple of hours this weekend to check it out. You may just find yourself looking for homes up there like we did!
Originally published July 2021.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.