New trail opens in Sandia Mountains

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s a new trail for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders to enjoy in the Sandia Mountains.

The U.S. Forest Service officially opened the Challenge Trail Extension to the public Thursday morning. The 5-mile trail extends the existing Challenge Trail further down the Sandia Mountains. It used to end at the Sandia Peak Ski Area.

“The whole trail, from top to bottom, is now about 9.2 miles,” said Russell Berman, assistant manager for the Trails and Wilderness Program with Cibola National Forest. “There’s definitely some challenging bits, but it’s nothing crazy. I would call it probably moderate to difficult.”

Berman believes the project got started in 2018. He says the U.S. Forest Service was looking for ways to relieve congestion on other nearby trails and decided on extending the trail.

“One of the biggest benefits is actually going to be spreading users out, so you’re less likely to bump into people, and you get a little bit more, like, forest to yourself,” Berman said.

Like most professionally-designed trails, Berman says planners spent months figuring out the trail’s route. Aside from popular natural features and scenic viewpoints, he says they also have to consider nearby archaeological sites, protected habitats, and water drainage patterns.

“We design it in mind for sustainability purposes, which ultimately comes down to water and erosion,” he said. ” The hope is that these trails last, you know, 50, 100 years, you know, as long as people still find enjoyment using them.”

Berman says construction began in April of 2021 after the Sandia Trails Improvement Project was approved. Volunteers with Friends of the Sandia Mountains spent nearly two years hand-carving the trail out of the ground.

“Finally being able to put a button on it and saying, this is done, this is accomplished. It just, it feels incredible,” Berman said.

Berman, Forest Service workers, and many volunteers attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning. Many of the volunteers went ahead and hiked the trail right after. Berman said he was also planning to check out the completed trail.

“I brought my bike, I’m ready to go,” he said shortly after the ceremony. “If I can do a full top-to-bottom ride, that’s the hope for today.”

Berman says the U.S. Forest Service recently completed a new system of trails near the Cienega/Sulphur area, also in the Sandia Mountains. He says construction on a new downhill mountain bike trail in the Sandias is also underway.