“Flatlands, boulder climbing, switchbacks, ridgelines, and vistas are all part of this exciting route
— Brendan Ross
River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Sandia Foothills Open Space is open 365 days a year. From April to October, the hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. From November to March, hours are 7 am to 7 pm. Parking at the trailheads is free.
There is no shortage of outstanding trails in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, but most of the attention is devoted to the popular La Luz Trail
and its neighbors to the north. That makes the routes in Embudo Canyon an oft-overlooked gem.
This loop, made up of the two primary trails reaching into the narrow canyon, touches on just about everything that the Sandias have to offer. Runners will begin in the flatlands of the Open Space before reaching a small spring. Boulders and canyon walls then press in close to the path, requiring some scrambling and climbing depending on the route chosen. The trail then opens to a small valley in the upper canyon before ascending to a point on the Sandia range. On the way back, the loop takes a high bypass with sweeping views of the city.
Need to Know
There are no water sources along the trail, so be sure to bring plenty, especially in the hot summer months.
As mentioned in the trail description, there are a number of good bouldering routes around Embudo Spring. Some are viewable on Trail Run and Hiking Project's sister site, Mountain Project, at mountainproject.com/v/embud…
When looking for route markers, keep in mind that area trails are usually referred to by number on signs. Embudo Trail
is Trail 193 and Embudo Horse Trail
is Trail 365A. This designation will appear on the brown fiberglass markers posted beyond the trailhead.
Trails in the Sandia Foothills Open Space are very popular on weekends, especially in the warmer months. Expect to share the trail with runners, hikers, cyclists, and the occasional horse. There won't be much company east of Embudo Spring, however.
Heading east from the Indian School parking area, Embudo Canyon begins on the Embudo Trail
as a wide, gritty doubletrack. The initial half mile is an easy climb through the Open Space flatlands. Look for an interesting boulder field to the right as the trail passes a water tank and the Embudo Freeride Area
. After briefly joining the Foothills Trail, Embudo Trail
continues to the east as a singletrack, entering the canyon itself. This is where the "real" trail begins.
For the next half mile, the path will split several times. Generally speaking, the left route is the more direct option, with the right branching off to explore a little. As the canyon walls begin to close in on the trail, it becomes significantly more technical. Rocks and boulders are significant obstacles, and some areas will require some climbing. Manageable for most experienced runners, these scrambling segments are a fun and unique challenge.
Around the mile point, the trail reaches Embudo Spring and makes a hard left at a rock wall. Continue up and over the boulders, stepping carefully through segments made wet or mossy by the runoff. Some rock overhangs in this area from small sheltered caves. As mentioned earlier, stay left for a less technical route, or head right for more climbing. There are several bouldering routes here as well, for runners inclined to return to the area with a crash pad.
As the trail reaches a mile and a quarter, it breaks free of the rocky section into a wide valley near the end of the canyon. The transition from desert to mountain becomes more noticeable here as juniper and pion trees surround the winding singletrack. A couple more branches split off to merge with Embudo Horse Trail
, but continue forward past an arroyo to the back of the canyon.
At the two mile point, the trail turns north and begins to climb toward the lower saddle of the Sandias ahead. A half mile later it begins a series of six demanding switchbacks. Some minor trail debris, mostly rocks with a few roots, adds to the challenge. Take time to look west during the ascent; the canyon walls frame a nice view of Albuquerque at the base of the trail. Embudo Trail
ends at the ridgeline intersection with Three Gun Springs Trail and is a good place to catch one's breath before heading back down.
Take in the sweeping view descending back to the canyon valley, a nice reward after the strenuous ascent. Start looking for the beginning of Embudo Horse Trail
around the four and three quarter mile point; the first connection for it is across the narrow arroyo passed by earlier. A lone, unlabeled trail marker can be found about a hundred feet before it; take advantage of the GPS track here to help. A couple of other short connectors split off from Embudo Trail
a little further down as well.
The first half mile of the Horse Trail is a flat singletrack in good condition, weaving between pine trees and shrubs. The path rises above the canyon on a hillside. The first of several excellent viewpoints is found just before the trail begins a moderate descent. The singletrack then enters the boulder field seen near the beginning of the route, with some towering twenty feet over the path. Head left at the intersection with Embudo Shortcut
at the base of one particularly large rock and continue down.
For its final section, Embudo Canyon enters a maze-like section of the Foothills Open Space. Numerous trails criss-cross the area, so keep an eye out for markers indicating the continuing Horse Trail, Trail 365A. After crossing two wooden footbridges, the trail begins a half-mile clockwise circle around a large foothill. Enjoy one last view of the grassy valley to the south and iconic New Mexico houses in the neighborhoods to the west as the trail descends back to the parking lot.
The Horse Trail ends back on the Embudo Trail
, a few hundred feet from the trailhead.
Flora & Fauna
As the Embudo Canyon trails climb the Sandias, the scenery transitions from desert to mountains. In the lower areas, grasses, shrubs, wildflowers, cane cholla, and prickly pear cactus are common. As the elevation rises, various species of pine trees take over, including juniper, ponderosa, conifer, and piÃ±on. The edible nuts of piÃ±on pines are a popular ingredient in New Mexican cuisine.
Birds are the most frequent wildlife seen along the trail and can range in size from roadrunners to golden eagles. Other animals include mule deer, coyotes, rabbits, rock squirrels, lizards, and rattlesnakes. Black bears and cougars also live in the higher elevations and are a good reason to be off the trail, or at least out of the wooded sections, by dusk.
History & Background
Making up the eastern boundary of Albuquerque, the Sandia Mountains are part of the Rocky Mountain range. Over 120 miles of trails are found on the eastern slope and along the top of the mountains. Well maintained, accessible, and appealing to a wide range of trail users, the area is the most popular trail system in New Mexico. Rock climbing, skiing, hang gliding, camping, and sightseeing on the Sandia Peak Tramway are other popular attractions in the mountains. The top is also accessible via the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, a highway on the east side of the range.