Piedra Lisa Trail

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This trail in the northwest portion of the Sandias takes you to places with excellent views of the Sandias and the Jemez. When we hiked, the view of the snow on the mountains against the deep blue sky was spectacular. When snow is not an issue, this is an excellent winter hike, although if done early it would be good in the summer as well.

This trail requires a car at both ends (or hike there and back).

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Cibola National Forest; Sandia Ranger District
Region: Central; Sandia Mountains.
start: 6929ft; 2112m end: 6043ft; 1842m
min: 5961ft; 1817m max: 7979ft; 2432m
elevation gain/loss: 1564ft; 477m.
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Length: 6.28mi; 10.10km. One-way distance. Twice as long without a car at both ends.
surface: mixed dirt/rock
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: None
Fee: $3.00.
Season: All year. This trail will be hot in summer. Winter options depend on the amount of snow in the mountains. You may want instep crampons or other snow-crossing aids in the winter.
Dogs: Yes.
Bikes: Unknown.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: From the south trailhead to the high point, the trail is heavily used. The north 2/3 is less heavily traveled, but still has plenty of people.
Trailhead facilities: trash can(s). At the south trailhead. vault toilet(s). A functioning vault toilet is at the south trailhead. A heavily vandalized vault toilet is at the north trailhead.
Hike attractions: scenery, wildflowers.

When we hiked it:

Date: 1999-09-11 2004-01-18
Time it took us: 4:15. 4:30.
Usage (people/hour): 0.00. People per hour not recorded. 5.88.
Cleanliness: 9. 9.


Waypoint Type Description
PLTHNTrailheadPeidra Lisa north trailhead
PLTHSTrailheadPiedra Lisa south trailhead


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Albuquerque New Mexico USGS 1983 1:100000 Y from sar.lanl.gov (free)
Cibola National Forest, Sandia Ranger District US Forest Service 2006 1:63360 N from Amazon (purchase) Sandia Ranger District portion
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:

To get to the south trailhead:

Take Tramway north from I-40 or Tramway east from I-25. You are heading for the ``corner'' of the mountain. Tramway makes a turn from northbound to westbound (or eastbound to southbound, depending on your direction of travel). Near this corner is a sign which says: Forest Road 333, Tierra Monte, La Cueva PG, Juan Tabo PG. Take this road 2.0 miles to where it turns to dirt at the junction with Forest road 333D. Another 0.3 miles and the road ends in the trailhead parking lot (actually, the road does not end, but you come to a locked gate that prohibits you from going any further).

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To get to the north trailhead:

Take I-25 exit 242 (Placitas and NM 165). Head east 2.8 miles to a road which may be Forest road 445. Take this road approximately 2.0 miles to a Y, which may have a sign (it was lying beside the road when we last hiked this trail). Go left at the Y and you are at the trailhead parking.

About the hike:

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This description is the hike from south to north. If you are going the other direction, backwards this read.

From the parking area, you hike up the road. As you hike up the boring road, look to your right for the first of what will become a long string of great views of the Sandias.

A signpost says you have a 0.25 mile hike, but my GPS said it was more like 0.44 miles. Here is what might be called the real trailhead.
Sandia Crest from the Piedra Lisa trailhead
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After a short bit more hiking, you arrive at a junction and the sign indicating you are about to enter the Sandia Mountain Wilderness.
Most of the trail is decomposed granite. However, keep your eyes open for other, interesting rocks, such as this one which is full of mica.
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This part of the trail is especially good in the winter; it is south-facing and open enough that any snow is likely to melt quickly. It also climbs rapidly.
The climb is such that by the time you reach the high point (pictured here), you have climbed 1255 ft, which is about 80% of the total climbing you will do. You have done it in 1/3 of the hiking distance.
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The other side faces north, and snow is more likely to remain. Hike carefully, if the conditions are icy. Lower down, you will hike out of the snow unless it is recent or unusually heavy.
On the other side, you get nice views of Albuquerque. It was hazy looking that way, so we took no photos. On this side, you get nice views of the Jemez mountains.
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The snow gives you the ability to see more animal tracks.

The further you hike, the less likely you are to find snow on the trail.

At about halfway, you will come across a sign indicating that you have reached the half-way point in your hike. Do not believe the distances, because our GPS indicates a longer hike than the published distance.

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On this side of the high point, the trail goes up a ridge and down the other side several times. Each of these ridges is notably lower than the first one you climbed (after all, you only have 20% of the elevation gain remaining). On this side, as you get closer to the trailhead, you will also run across multiple versions of the trail. We took a wrong turn once, and then met up with the real trail again a few minutes later. The real trail is less steep than these alternate versions. One of these meeting places of alternate trails is near this large outcrop of quartz.
You still get good views of the Sandias from this side.
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We wondered why the lichen only grew in the cracks of this rock. Does it not like the taste of the rest?

Plants we saw along the trail:

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