72 Hours in Albuquerque
The ultimate guide to one of the Southwest’s best under-the-radar mountain towns
You don’t have to look very hard to see that the high-desert city of Albuquerque is an adventure stronghold. Nestled in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, the city’s skyline to the east is framed by 10,000-foot peaks. To the west, you’ve got the Rio Grande and the lush corridor that parallels it. And with over 310 days of sunshine per year and hundreds of trailheads, crags, and creeks within a few hours drive, there’s a lifetime of mountain biking, hiking, climbing, paddling, and fishing to be had.
What really makes this outdoor paradise stand out, though, is the culture. There’s a vibrant culinary scene that includes fresh takes on the state’s legendary red and green chile and a bustling craft-beer scene. Route 66 cuts right through town, and the city’s famous hot air balloons fill the sky. It’s also one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country, a place where Native American, Hispanic, and Latino influences are part of everyday life. Where to start? If you only have one weekend to explore the city, here’s how to make the most of it.
In less than 15 minutes of leaving baggage claim, you can be on the stunning rooftop at the Hotel Chaco. The open-air patio restaurant, Level 5, is the perfect place to relax as the sunset paints the Sandias pink. (Order the signature cocktail, the Sandia Spritz.) Don’t miss the New Mexico–inspired Gallery Hózhó in the hotel lobby, then head a few miles north to the peaceful haven of Los Poblanos, a historic inn located on 25 acres of gardens, lavender fields, and cottonwood trees. Check into one of its farm rooms, tranquil escapes with wood-burning fireplaces, before heading to the onsite farm-to-table restaurant, CAMPO. The chef serves seasonal dishes using organic ingredients from the property’s farm, as well as from local farmers. If it’s on the menu, try the native beef ribeye.
Saturday Morning: Biking or Hiking
No matter which adventure you choose, start things off with a cold brew and breakfast burrito at Humble Coffee Company downtown.
Option #1: Biking
“The biking scene in Albuquerque is awesome and hugely untapped. We pretty much have everything cyclists would want: mountain biking, amazing road cycling, and urban cycling throughout the city,” says Heather Arnold of Routes Bicycle Tours and Rentals. If you don’t have a bike, rent one from Routes, which has the largest selection of bikes in the state, from road bikes to mountain bikes and city cruisers and even tandems. The staff will provide you with ideas and maps so you can get out and explore however you’d like. A can’t-miss cruise is the pleasant Paseo del Bosque, just one mile from the shop. The 16-mile paved path runs through the Rio Grande’s cottonwood forest. You’ll pass by public art displayed at Tingley Beach and the sprawling botanic gardens of the ABQ BioPark. (Routes offers this as a ten-mile tour every day at 10 A.M. if you prefer having a guide).
If you want a more high-octane adventure, take your mountain bike (rent one from Routes if you didn’t bring yours) and head for the singletrack in the foothills. The Elena Gallegos picnic area is a great place to start. It has beginner options as well as more advanced trails with fun rock hopping. The East Mountain Trail System is also worth checking out. There, bikers can explore the area with rides that range anywhere from 5 to 60 miles.
Option #2: Hiking
You’ll feel like you’re a world away from the city when you’re hiking in the foothills of the Sandias. The 6.5-mile La Luz Trail #137 offers the best of everything: incredible views of the city and the jagged peaks above while meandering through the Cibola National Forest. After gaining 3,500 feet up to the ridge and soaking in the panoramic views, take a different kind of scenic route back down with a ride on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. (In the winter, there’s a full-blown ski area up on Sandia Peak.)
If you’re looking for a more mellow day, or want to mix in some history, then head to the Piedras Marcadas Canyon Trail (2.5 miles round trip) or Rinconada Canyon Trail (1.5 miles round trip) located inside Petroglyph National Monument. You can see hundreds of images that were carved into stone by those who traveled through the Rio Grande Valley over the past several thousand years.
Immerse yourself in culture at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and learn more about the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico. (If you’re there on a weekend be sure to catch one of the Native dance performances.) Grab lunch at Indian Pueblo Kitchen to taste the flavors of Indigenous cuisine as prepared by Executive Chef Ray Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo, Odawa). You can’t go wrong with a Tewa taco or blue corn enchiladas.
The craft-beer scene in Albuquerque is booming, and the city has one of the highest numbers of breweries per capita in the country. “A lot of the breweries that are being built are revitalizing entire neighborhoods and quadrants of the city,” says Leah Black, executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild. “Plus, with 300 days of sunshine per year, we have amazing patios to enjoy your beer on across the city.” (Pro tip: the IPAs pair well with New Mexico’s spicy cuisine.) Grab a beer at any one of the city’s award-winning breweries, from Steelbender Brewyard and Nexus Brewery to Rio Bravo Brewing and the Native American woman-owned Bow & Arrow, which, Black says, “brews all types of beers, but specializes in sours and feels like an authentic German beer hall.”
You can’t visit New Mexico and not sample the local fare. New Mexico is the chile capital of the world, and the state spells it the right way (with an E). Expect servers to ask what kind you want (the correct answers are red, green, or “Christmas” meaning both). You’ll find classic dishes—like chile rellenos and stuffed sopapillas—at local favorites such as El Pinto, Duran’s, Sadie’s, Papa Felipe’s, Monroe’s, or Church Street Café.
Before you head out to the day’s main event, wake up and stretch your legs by grabbing your bike for a cruise over to Bike In Coffee at Old Town Farm for a latte under the trees or in the flower garden.
Option #1: A Climbing and Fishing Adventure in the Jemez
An hour and a half north is the Las Conchas Trailhead in the Jemez Mountains. This lush area is great for a group with diverse interests. Rock climbers should head for the Cattle Wall in the middle of a grassy meadow, which has routes for beginners and advanced climbers alike, ranging from 5.6 to 5.11. Anglers should bring their rod and fish the East Fork of the Jemez for brown trout, and hikers will enjoy walking along the riverside trail. The green, grassy landscape will definitely make you want to have a picnic, so don’t forget a blanket and some fun snacks.
Option #2: Paddling the Rio
With the Rio Grande running right through the middle of town, access couldn’t be easier. “The Rio Grande is the lifeblood of the state,” says Corey Spoores of MST Adventures. “If you paddle it you can expect to have a nice, relaxing day on the water punctuated by magnificent scenery and views of the Sandias. And the wildlife around the bosque––birds, porcupines, coyotes, sandhill cranes––is really nice.” Since there are no rapids on the river, it’s the perfect place to kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Rent a paddleboard from MST Adventures and run four miles of the river from Bernalillo to Siphon Beach. “That’s a really great way to spend two hours,” Spoores says. “There’s a good flow all year long, and the river is nice and narrow, around 125-feet wide.” Spoores also recommends MST’s full-moon tour, which takes to the water during the quiet and tranquil early evening hours.
It’s time to celebrate a successful weekend by having a fun, casual dinner at one of the city’s new food halls where everyone can find their perfect meal. There’s something for every eater in the endless options at Sawmill Market, 505 Central Food Hall, Tin Can Alley, or Green Jeans Farmery.
Visit Albuquerque welcomes you to experience exhilaration in the natural beauty of the Southwest. Combine your next outdoor adventure with Albuquerque’s spectacular weather, authentic cuisine, and diverse history and culture. Whether you’re hiking a mountain trail or relaxing at a Downtown brewery, Albuquerque will change your perspective.