Cienega Canyon to the Crest Trail

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This hike spends most of its time in a fir forest, with wildflowers below. Much of this hike is in the shade, making it a good summer hike (although it will still be hot).

To make a hike without retracing your way back, you could arrange a car on the other side and go down the west side on the Pino trail.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Cibola National Forest; Sandia Ranger District
Region: Central; Sandia Mountains.
start: 7647ft; 2331m end: 9222ft; 2811m
min: 7647ft; 2331m max: 9222ft; 2811m
elevation gain/loss: 1574ft; 480m.
Length: 5.46mi; 8.79km. One-way distance.
surface: mixed
condition: Later in the hike, some parts of the trail are severely eroded (in one area, the trail is around 2.5 ft (0.76m) below the ground level).
ease of following: There are several false trails at the beginning, probably caused by people in the picnic area exploring. Once you get away from the picnic area, the trail is easy to follow.
obstacles: None.
The picnic area (trailhead) is popular, and as a result at the beginning you should expect to see people. About a mile out from the picnic area, the number of people drops a lot. Then, when you get to the Crest trail, you will again run into more people.
Fee: $3.00.
Season: All year. Winter hiking will be fine if snow is not a problem.

Unfortunately, they lock the gate on the road to the trailhead in late fall through early spring, so to hike this hike you have to add an additional mile or so to get to the trailhead.

Dogs: Yes. On leash.
Bikes: No. Bikes are not allowed in the wilderness where most of the trail is.
Handicapped accessible: No.
Trailhead facilities: None other than parking.
Hike attractions:

When we hiked it:

Date: 2004-09-12
Time it took us: 4:05.
Usage (people/hour): 4.90. All but two of the people were either near the picnic area or on the Crest Trail.
Cleanliness: 9.


Waypoint Type Description
130148Trail junctionCienega Canyon trail junction with the Crest Trail
148195Trail junctionJunction of trails 148 and 195
CNGATHTrailheadCibola National Forest Cienega Canyon trailhead


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Albuquerque New Mexico USGS 1983 1:100000 Y from (free)
Cibola National Forest, Sandia Ranger District US Forest Service 2006 1:63360 N from Amazon (purchase) Sandia Ranger District portion
Cibola National Forest, Sandia Ranger District US Forest Service 2006 1:24000 Y from Amazon (purchase) Doc Long-Cienega enlargement area
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N from Amazon (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

Take I-40 to the North 14 exit (exit 175). Go north 5.75 miles from when you pass under I-40 until you get to a triangle of asphalt with a road heading west. There are signs on both sides of the road indicating that this is the road to the crest.

Head up this road for 1.7 miles. Turn left at the sign that says, ``Sulphur Canyon, Cienega Trailhead, Cienega Canyon''. Follow the signs to the Cienega picnic ground. When you enter the picnic ground, you want to turn right, and go as far as you can. This puts you near the starting trailhead.

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About the hike:

The concrete trail
The trail starts out as a concrete trail along a stream in the picnic area.

On the left as you head up the concrete is the actual trailhead (pictured right). At the trailhead sign, you go left. After the turn onto the Cienega Canyon trail, there are many false trails; stick with the main one (it is easy to tell which is the main trail).

If there is water in the stream, look in the water for water striders and the interesting pattern they make on the water. Look also at the interesting tree shapes along here.

Diana Northup at the actual trailhead
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As you hike up the canyon, you can see this travertine waterfall to the left of the trail. We have seen it dry (as pictured here), and with water flowing over it.

In this part of the trail, the climb is gentle; the trail is also wide.

In the spring, we found pollen all over the leaves of the plants here.

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Junction with the Faulty trail
After you have hiked for a short while, you come to the intersection with the Faulty trail. You can also see the wilderness boundary on the Cienega trail. Continue straight, into the wilderness.
The trail climbs, steeply at times. Sometimes, it is like climbing stairs, as in this area where the roots act like stairs.
Roots acting like steps on the trail
Narrow (and eroded) trail
The trail is sometimes narrow.
Along the trail, we saw this wooly caterpillar.
wooly caterpillar
Oak forest
At one point, almost all of the fir disappear. This is a good sign---you are nearing the top.
This trail saves all of the views till the end. You get a few to the east as you near the top. You also get views such as this one to the north.
View north from near the crest trail
Junction with the crest trail
When you actually reach the Crest trail, you see this post. Every time we have been here, there have been wildflowers (such as these yellow composites) around it.
If you are taking the Pino trail down, look to the right; here you can see the junction. Otherwise, return the same way you came.
The junction of the Crest trail with the Pino trail

Plants we saw along the trail:

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