Cycling Sandia Crest
Ride 13.5 miles gaining 3,912’ at 5.3% average grade
Sandia Crest, view from the top.
Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.
The Sandia Crest bike climb is on the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway (Highway 536) near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is #68 on the US Top 100 list. The climb is not a high Top 100 concentration area -- #91 Highway 82, NM is 196 miles south and #79 Wolf Creek Pass, CO is 206 miles north. This makes Sandia Crest a destination climb. However, if one is willing to ride on a bit of gravel and overlap 6 of the last five miles, Sandia Crest Backside is a nice climb and the hardest in New Mexico.
This climb takes the rider to the highest point in the Sandia Mountains, Sandia Crest. There is an excellent summary of this ride by the New Mexico Touring Society at Sandia Crest Climb, reporting a 42 and 56 mile ride which includes this climb in its description.
There is a nice gift shop and cafe at the top of the climb along with an information center.
The Sandia Crest climb enters Cibola National Forest at mile 1.2 and rides into the Sandia Mountains:
“Just east of Albuquerque, the Sandia Mountains are the most visited mountains in New Mexico. Millions of people journey into the Sandia Mountains each year. More than half these visitors ride the Sandia Peak Tram or drive the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway to take in spectacular panoramic views of Central New Mexico and to enjoy many other recreational opportunities. The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway 536, has several picnic sites with shelters and group areas for reservation.” National Forest Service - Sandia Mountains
Enter the National Forest at mile 1.2.
The climb begins in San Antonio, New Mexico which is roughly in the middle of the state on the Rio Grande River. From San Antonio we ride west into the Sandia Mountains, the most visited mountains in New Mexico.
Be sure to visit the Tinkertown Museum 1.2 miles from the start - you could also consider starting your climb from the museum parking lot and visiting the museum before or after your climb. This is a very special place!
“It took Ross Ward over 40 years to carve, collect, and lovingly construct what is now Tinkertown Museum. His miniature wood-carved figures were first part of a traveling exhibit, driven to county fairs and carnivals in the 1960s and ’70s. Today over 50,000 glass bottles form rambling walls that surround a 22-room museum. Wagon wheels, old fashioned store fronts, and wacky western memorabilia make Tinkertown’s exterior as much as a museum as the wonders within.” More
Photos by Kasia Halka
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“The Sandia Mountains are a small range east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The mountains do not have a summit. Instead, the high point is a long ridge called the Sandia Crest. At 10,678 feet in elevation, the vegetation here is vastly different than in Albuquerque that lies about 4,500 feet below. Access to the Sandia Crest is easy and this is a popular tourist destination. The best wildflower viewing is along a hiking trail that starts at the southwestern corner of the parking lot. The trail is paved for a short distance for handicapped access and then becomes packed dirt. It is relatively level and easy to walk. The trail follows the limestone outcrops along the crest and then heads into the forest so you have an opportunity to see both sun-loving and shade-loving plants.” National Forest Service - Sandia Crest
Views from the Top
When to Cycle Sandia Crest:
The road is open, weather permitting, year round. You’ll be traveling to high altitude so it is recommended this climb be done between May and September.
How to Climb Sandia Crest by Bike:
No special gearing or gear is needed for this climb. The grade throughout is mild and averages a reasonable 5.3% (steepest ½ mile is 7.8%). The road is paved from top to bottom and the weather is generally mild, although do bring at least a wind jacket with you since you will top out above 10,000’ at the Information Center. The climb itself begins at the intersection of Highway 14 and Sandia Crest Rd, Sandia Park, NM, 26 miles northeast of Albuquerque International Airport (Latitude: 35.16311Longitude: -106.34845).
PJAMM contributor Kip Taylor of Boulder, CO (and Sandia Crest KOM) provides an exceptional summary of this climb:
The Sandia Crest is a must do! If you are a resident and cyclist in Albuquerque you can see the Crest anywhere you go. It almost calls out to you to come and challenge it. Because of this it is the local climb of choice. It attracts riders of all abilities making for a fun group ride or hard day on the saddle... The higher elevation and thick forest also makes this ride a cool retreat in the hot summer months and provides nice protection from the wind on gusty days... For a shorter ride you can start at what locals call the "Triangle" which is right at the bottom of the climb... Start the Climb from ABQ and you can easily make it a 80-100 mile day on the bike... Local tip, to make this ride extra beautiful instead of taking Highway 14 which goes directly to the base of the climb, go just a bit further northeast to Gutierrez Canyon which takes you North to Frost Road. Left on Frost Road will take you directly to the Crest Climb... The Crest also plays host to the annual Bill McLain Memorial - Sandia Crest Road Race, in memory of Bill who was very well known and loved in the ABQ community. The Climb itself can be broken down into a few segments... the first half is very consistent and has some long stretches with a fairly constant grade of ~5-6%... When you get to the Sandia Peak Ski Resort base the road flattens out long enough to catch your breath... The last half of the climb is definitely the hardest as you find yourself getting over 10,000 feet and hitting steep switchbacks... the grade is also less predictable and shoots up to areas of 11-12%... the last sweeping left turn turn to the home stretch calms down to about a 3-4% grade which is just enough to finish the climb really strong... Once you get to the top you are joined by tourists, hikers and Sandia Tram riders (the Sandia Tram is known for being the longest in the world!) who love to ask questions about riding a bike to the top of this mountain! ***One final note to add... The Crest Road is being re-paved from bottom to top... this makes for great contact on your tires going up, and allows any rider a speedy and confident descent!
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