Riding the Sandia Mountains—Albuquerque, New Mexico

Riding the Sandia Mountains—Albuquerque, New Mexico

In the high desert of New Mexico you will find one of the state's largest cities, Albuquerque. A city that weaves together a rich tapestry of culture, history, and natural beauty. With a backdrop of the Sandia Mountains and a skyline painted in hues of adobe, Albuquerque captivates visitors with its unique Southwestern charm.

As a city along the iconic Route 66, Albuquerque embraces its role in the historic "Main Street of America." Neon signs, retro motels, and vintage diners pay homage to the heyday of this legendary highway. The Nob Hill district, with its eclectic shops and retro charm, stands as a testament to Route 66's enduring legacy. Also known as the hot air balloon capital of the world, Albuquerque is home to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the worlds largest, which draws spectators from around the globe every October.

Heading south out of Albuquerque, Hwy 47 and 60 showcase the beautiful Rio Grande Valley. With mountains towering to the east and west, it's quite scenic no matter which way you look. Turning north, you’ll work your way up Hwy 55 to Hwy 337. Hwy 337 is a real treat, with sweeping corners and a changing landscape as you begin climbing in elevation through dense pine trees. Watch out for Wile E. Coyote here, as he is known to make an appearance on this road.

The route then touches part of the historic route 66 before taking you to the top of the Sandia Mountains. Hwy 536, also known as the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, stretches 13 miles and ends at the top of Sandia Crest which stands 10,678 feet tall. The journey along this byway is a captivating experience, offering stunning views of the Rio Grande Valley, the city of Albuquerque, and the expansive landscapes of the high desert.

The byway is renowned for its twists and turns, providing travelers with a thrilling and picturesque ride amid pine-covered slopes. The elevation gain along the route is significant, and as you ascend, the air becomes thin. At the top, riders can park and enjoy the scenic overlook or one of the nearby hiking trails. It’s a great spot to relax and enjoy the view.

If traveling on a street bike, you’ll backtrack down the mountain and return to Albuquerque via paved roads. However, if you are on a dual sport motorcycle you can complete the route along Hwy 165, which despite its name is not much of a highway. This unimproved road stretches 16 miles to the north until you reach US 550. This part of the route closes in the winter, so check with the Sandia Ranger District before riding.

Points of Interest

Sandia Crest Overlook

After climbing switchbacks for 13 miles, you’ll reach the Sandia Crest Overlook. It sits at just above 10,600 feet and overlooks the Rio Grande Valley and the city of Albuquerque. This is a fantastic place to watch the sun set.

Unimproved SR 165

SR 165 offers 16 miles of unimproved “highway” which descends Sandia Crest to the north. The route is only advisable for dual sport motorcycles or SUVs with high ground clearance and can sometimes be closed due to weather conditions. If off-roading isn’t your cup of tea, you can bypass this section altogether.

Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum

No matter what time of year you visit Albuquerque, the Balloon Museum is open. It is dedicated to the art, culture, science, history, sport, and spectacle of ballooning. This museum features one of the world’s finest collections of ballooning equipment and memorabilia. Find it at 9201 Balloon Museum Dr NE, Albuquerque, NM, (505) 768-6020.

Facts & Information


Albuquerque is a melting pot of cultures, reflecting its Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo roots. The city is steeped in Native American history, with the nearby Pueblo communities preserving ancient traditions. While riding within Albuquerque may not exactly be exhilarating, there is a lot of great riding just on the outskirts of town. Street riders can take advantage of twisty mountain roads and nice pavement while dual-sporters have the option to explore unimproved roads in all directions.

Lunch Stop - Sadie’s of New Mexico

New Mexico is known for its green chili dishes, and some of the best in Albuquerque can be found at Sadie’s of New Mexico. This family-owned restaurant, a local favorite since 1953, serves unique signature dishes, most notably their stuffed sopapillas. Find it at 6230 Fourth Street NW, Albuquerque, NM, (505) 345-5339.

The San Mateo Inn offers a charming retreat, blending Southwestern hospitality with modern comfort. Located near historic Old Town and major attractions, the inn provides a convenient and cozy escape. With adobe-style architecture and tastefully decorated rooms, guests are immersed in the vibrant cultural ambiance of New Mexico. The inn offers roomside parking which is fenced and secure. The rooms are spacious and comfortable with plenty of area to unpack and get organized.

Best Time to Travel

October is a great time to visit this area as the desert temperatures are more tolerable, though any time in the spring or fall would make a nice visit. Keep in mind that October brings the Balloon Fiesta, so hotels will fill months in advance. However, you might catch a glimpse of the hundreds of balloons dotting the skyline around sunrise and sunset, which is a magical experience. This time of year, keep an eye out for Quaking Aspen and Bigtooth Maple trees as you make your way up to Sandia Crest, their yellow hue stands out prominently amongst the Ponderosa Pines.