Best Hikes in Cibola National Forest (NM)

Cibola National Forest Overview

Cibola National Forest is located in central to northeast New Mexico. It derives its name from the Zuni Indian name for tribal lands. The forest includes the Datil, Gallinas, Magdalena, Bear, Manzano, Sandia, San Mateo, Mt. Taylor, and Zuni Mountains.  There are four wildernesses contained within the forest: the Sandia Mountain, Manzano Mountain, Withington, and Apache Kid.  The Cibola National Grasslands, also managed here, are located in northeastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and northwestern Texas, and are 263,954 acres in size. The best hikes in Cibola National Forest described below are all a relatively close drive from Albuquerque.

StateNew Mexico; Texas; Oklahoma
Nearest Metro AreaAlbuquerque, NM
Area Size1,625,542 acres
EstablishedDecember 3, 1931
Hiking Trails618 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Cibola National Forest

(*** = Best Hikes in Cibola National Forest)

Albuquerque Trail #78 – 3.6 miles one-way
Fall Colors on Mountainair Ranger District
Near Albuquerque & Fourth of July Trails, Photo by Cibola National Forest and Grasslands

This short hike is most popular in the fall with the autumn leaves starting to change colors. Mostly shaded on the path through the forest, there are a few spots with great overlooks! It begins at Fr 55 and ends at the junction with Fourth Of July Trail which you can take to return to the trailhead. 

Domingo Baca Trail #230 – 4.8 miles out and back
Domingo Baca Canyon 4
Domingo Baca Canyon, Photo by Guy Finley

The Domingo Baca Trail 230 is 2.4 miles long, and ends at a sandy bowl-like area. Access is within the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area (Albuquerque Open Space- Foothills map), off of the Foothills Trail 365. At the official trail’s end, a rugged, unmaintained trail continues up Domingo Canyon to the TWA crash site, which is at the 3.5 mile point.

Fourth of July Trail #173*** – 5.4 mile loop
Fall Colors on Mountainair Ranger District
Fall Colors on Mountainair Ranger District, Photo by Cibola National Forest and Grasslands

Fourth of July Trailhead is located on the West/Northwest end of the Fourth of July Campground. It is just south of the Albuquerque Trail described above. Day use parking is located near the entrance of the campground by the picnic area.  The trailhead is the starting point of Fourth of July Trail which leads to the Manzano Mountain Wilderness and eventually ties in to the Manzano Crest Trail.

La Luz Trail #5137 + Crest Trail #5130*** – 15.4 miles out and back
Sandia Ranger District La Luz Trail Head
La Luz Trailhead, Photo by Cibola National Forest and Grasslands

The La Luz Trail is one of the best known trails in the Sandia Mountains. It is also one of the most challenging. The trail goes from hot desert landscape to cool Canadian forest, for a length of 7.5 miles one way. The  elevation gain is 3,200 vertical feet. It is difficult and rewarding. It begins at La Luz Trailhead and ends at the Crest Trail 130 near the Sandia Peak Tram Upper Terminal.  On your return trip, consider taking the Crest Trail north to its spur that rejoins the La Luz Trail on the way back to the trailhead.

Piedra Lisa Trail #135*** – 4.0 miles out and back
Sandia Ranger District - Piedra Lisa Trail Head
Piedra Lisa Trailhead, Photo by Cibola National Forest and Grasslands

This is a great all-season hike in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness with gorgeous views of the surrounding area. The total length of the trail is 5.8 miles one-way and typically separated into 2 different hikes from its southern and northern terminuses. This trail begins at the southern trailhead and soon leads into Juan Tabo Canyon. Towards the 2 mile point, the trail steepens sharply allowing hikers to observe great views of the nearby rock formations.

Pino Trail #140 – 9.4 miles out and back

Nice trail in the Sandia Mountains that heads west to its junction with the Crest Trail. The elevation gain can be somewhat challenging but it is mostly shaded which offers a nice break from the hot NM sun. Looking back from the top one can see the lights of Albuquerque in the distance.

Tree Spring Trail #147 – 4.0 miles out and back

This is a great, short family friendly hike with proper shade. The incline is not too steep on your way back and the canyon overlooks present some wonderful views. It passes by the junction of Oso Corredor Trail 265 and ends at the intersection of South Crest Trail 130; Tree Spring Trail 147 and 10K Trail 200.

Featured Image: Aerial View of Cibola National Forest, Photo by Joe Mabel

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